With the ascendency of English as a global lingua franca, a clearer understanding of what constitutes intelligible speech is needed. However, research systematically investigating the threshold of intelligibility has been very limited. In this article, we provide a brief summary of the literature as it pertains to intelligible and comprehensible speech, and then report on an exploratory study seeking to determine what specific features of accented speech make it difficult for global listeners to process. Eighteen speakers representing six English varieties were recruited to provide speech stimuli for two English listening tests. Sixty listeners from the same six English varieties took part in the listening tests, and their scores were then assessed against measurable segmental, prosodic, and fluency features found in the speech samples. Results indicate that it is possible to identify particular features of English speech varieties that are most likely to lead to a breakdown in communication, and that the number of such features present in a particular speakers’ speech can predict intelligibility.

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