The present study examines the relationship between second language (L2) proficiency and
pausing patterns (i.e., pause duration, frequency, and distribution) in the speech of 30 Russian
speakers of English performing two oral tasks—a topic narrative and a cartoon
description—in Russian and in English. The subjects were divided into two oral English
proficiency groups, high and intermediate, on the basis of a standardized test of spoken English.
Baseline data were collected from a control group of 20 native English speakers. Statistical
analyses were performed to determine: (a) the native norms of pause duration, frequency, and
distribution for Russian and English on the two experimental tasks; (b) the effect of the level of
L2 proficiency (high and intermediate) on the pausing of Russian speakers in English; and (c) the
differences or similarities in pausing exhibited by native English speakers and native Russian
speakers (with two different levels of English proficiency) when speaking English. The results of
this study indicate that English and Russian informal monologue speech can be characterized as
having different pausing conventions, thus suggesting that crosslinguistic differences involve,
among many other aspects, contrasts in pausing patterns. Additionally, L2 proficiency was found
to affect the pause duration of advanced nonnative speakers in that they were able to adjust the
duration of their pauses in English to produce a nativelike pausing norm. It was also found that
even highly proficient L2 speakers pause more frequently in their L2 than in their first language
(L1). The examination of pause distribution patterns suggests that persons of intermediate to high
L2 speaking proficiency make the same number of within-constituent pauses as native speakers.
Overall, the findings of this study support the view that adherence to the target language pausing
norms may lead to the perception of nonnative speech as more fluent and nativelike. The findings
also highlight the importance of exposing L2 students to a richer variety of situations that
illustrate native patterns of verbal communication.