The effect of nonnative speaker accent on EFL students' listening comprehension
Date: 12 October 2009
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
EdD in TESOL
With the increasing demand for English language proficiency in today’s global environment, comes a need for trained English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) teachers. Many countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are establishing bachelor and master degree programs in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of other ...
With the increasing demand for English language proficiency in today’s global environment, comes a need for trained English as a Second or Foreign Language (ESL/EFL) teachers. Many countries such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are establishing bachelor and master degree programs in the field of Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages (TESOL). The majority of students in these programs are nonnative speakers of English. While these new graduates should be able to fill the growing demands for English teachers in tertiary and non-tertiary institutions within the UAE, they and other experienced nonnative English speaking teachers (NNEST) are often not hired. Most often this is due to a nonnative speaker bias, the view that only native English speaking teachers are better suited to teach English. This bias extends particularly to the teaching of oral and aural skills. There is a belief that accented English is difficult for students to comprehend especially in academic listening which implies that nonnative teacher accent can hinder ESL/EFL student listening success. However, current research has not provided empirical evidence to verify or disprove this opinion. Current research on nonnative speakers and listening comprehension has been based on teacher and student self-perceptions and attitudes towards nonnative speaking teachers (Butler, 2007; Flowerdew, 1994; Friedrich 2000; Huang, 2004; Major et al., 2002; McKenzie, 2008; Moussu, 2002). However, there is little quantitative data to support if and how these attitudes and perceptions may or may not correlate to EFL student listening performance. This thesis will attempt to resolve this deficiency. Another issue this thesis will undertake which has not been examined widely is the effect of nonnative speaker accent on academic listening. Various studies have been conducted on student difficulty in comprehending academic lectures from native and nonnative speakers (Ferris & Tagg, 1996; Flowerdew & Miller, 2005; Huang, 2004; Lynch, 1994; Powers, 1985; Richards, 1983; Vogely, 1995). Yet, currently, the literature is sparse on the influence of nonnative speaker accent as a factor, or effect, in the listening comprehension of L2 students’ understanding of academic lectures. Further, existing research in NNESTs is also missing empirical or quantitative evidence which proves or disproves the prevailing theory that native inner circle English accents are significantly better for EFL student academic listening comprehension. Thus, another goal of this thesis is to provide evidence to disprove this assumption. Finally, this research will provide qualitative data to understand how students view accent as it relates to their academic achievement and prospective careers. This thesis will propose new empirical data relating to nonnative speaker accent and listening comprehension in ESL/EFL. It will provide evidence that there is no significant effect of accent on academic listening test scores for EFL students enrolled in a university foundations program at UAE University. In this research, six EFL professionals (from China, Egypt and the USA) and 108 EFL students participated in the study. The female students were between 18-20 years old, from the UAE, and studying at the Under Graduate Requirements Unit at UAE University in Al Ain, UAE. All students responded to a pre-test questionnaire in a Likert scale format. A week later, the students listened to one recording, took a corresponding exam, and answered a post-test survey. Two to three days later, 18 randomly selected students were interviewed. The interviews consisted of open-ended questions. The data were analyzed both quantitatively and qualitatively. Analysis of the quantitative data shows that the majority of participants considered native speakers of English easier to understand, specifically in terms of pronunciation and understandability, but had no opinion as to whether a non-native speaker was easier to understand than a native speaker. As per the listening test scores, there were no significant differences between the six groups of students who had listened to six different speaker accents. Analysis of the interviews shows that students have no bias against nonnative English teachers. In fact, several students favored Arab nonnative English speaking teachers to translate vocabulary and complex ideas from English to Arabic. These students also demonstrated an unrealistic grasp of their need to understand the varieties of English they will encounter in their future workplaces.
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