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Listening to some example French conversations between an experienced, fluent speaker and an inexperienced learner, I noticed by chance that the experienced speaker differentiates between similar vowel pairs (such as the 'o' and 'e' sounds in 'comprend'), while the learner does not. In working on my own pronunciation, I had not thought of paying attention to differentiating similar vowel sounds rather than merging them as a particularly important feature.

How significantly does merging similar vowel sounds contribute to perception of fluency (or inexperience) to listeners, most specifically in the French language?

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    That particular pair is quite important for grammatical and semantic distinctions (-ons vs. -ant, for example), so I would expect it to be salient... – Luke Sawczak Nov 12 '17 at 3:02

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