Neuropsychological studies in brain-injured patients with aphasia and children with specific language-learning deficits have shown the dependence of language comprehension on auditory processing abilities, i.e. the detection of temporal order. An impairment of temporal-order perception can be simulated by time reversing segments of the speech signal. In our study, we investigated how different lengths of time-reversed segments in speech influenced comprehension in ten native German speakers and ten participants who had acquired German as a second language. Results show that native speakers were still able to understand the distorted speech at segment lengths of 50 ms, whereas non-native speakers only could identify sentences with reversed intervals of 32 ms duration. These differences in performance can be interpreted by different levels of semantic and lexical proficiency. Our method of temporally-distorted speech offers a new approach to assess language skills that indirectly taps into lexical and semantic competence of non-native speakers.