An Exploratory Study of Undergraduate College Students' Perceptions and Attitudes toward Foreign Accented Faculty

Article excerpt

The findings of an exploratory survey related to students' perceptions of factors, including accent and pronunciation, influencing their learning were presented. Data were collected from students through a self-administered questionnaire at one Southeastern University. A big majority (82.4%) of the respondents indicated that instructors' "knowledge of subject" is very important and extremely important in classroom learning. "Accent" and "pronunciation of the instructor", however, were rated by 42.9% and 48% of the respondents, respectively, as very important and extremely important. Furthermore, 29.7% of the respondents agreed with the statement "Foreign accent of a faculty does not affect my ability to learn". The limitations of this exploratory research and strategies for faculty and students were discussed.


Every human who speaks a language has an accent, and every human who listens to others talk perceives an accent. This is true for both regional accents within the same language group, and for foreign accents. Regional accent problem could exist when, for example, an instructor from Northeast teaches at a university in the South and vice versa. However, this is not likely to be recognized as a problem by students, because the type of accent differences does not obscure meaning as they do with mother tongue interference (Marvasti, 2005). Researchers generally agree that the vast majority of adults who learn a second language will speak with an accent (Scovel, 1988, and 2000). In a comprehensive review of the critical period literature, Long (1990) suggested that nearly all individuals who start learning after the age of 12 have a detectable accent. Munro (2005) defines Foreign-accented speech as "a non-pathological speech produced by second language users that sound noticeably different than the speech of native speakers".

During the 1992-1993 school year "Open Doors" recorded that over 440,000 international students attended programs on American college and university campuses (Mathai, 1994). These students generally represent the best and brightest from their countries. In fact, as many as 25% will return to national leadership positions in education, business, science, the military or government (Mathai, 1994; Lau, 1984). Foreign students receive a disproportionately higher shares of doctorates awarded in many fields. In 1996, non-resident aliens received 23.8 percent of the doctorates in the social sciences; 26.9 percent in the life sciences; 35 percent in the physical sciences; and 48.9 percent in engineering. While numbers of internationals continue to increase each year on our campuses, fewer and fewer American students are taking classes in mathematics and sciences especially at the graduate level (Varis, 1997). This means more graduate teaching assistant positions will become available for these international students and many Ph.D.s will stay in the States and become academicians. In fact, during the 2001-2002 period, the share of foreign born faculty in colleges and universities was 24% of the total and is projected to increase (Marvasti, 2005).

This paper has four objectives. First, we will try to develop a simple conceptual framework to explain the factors influencing student learning in the classroom. Second, we will examine advantages and disadvantages of having foreign-accented faculty. Thirdly, we will present the findings of an exploratory survey related to students' perceptions of factors influencing their learning, their attitudes toward learning from foreign-accented instructors, and their behaviors to deal with foreign-accented faculty's teaching to maximize their learning. Finally, strategies for faculty and students will be provided. It is, however, not our intention in this paper to evaluate the whole job performance of foreign-accented faculty in the U.S academic institutions.

Background Information and A Conceptual Framework

The existing literature mainly dealt with the performance of foreign teaching assistants from linguistic, presentational and cultural deficiencies perspectives. …


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