Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Accent Assessment: A Preliminary Study of Scaling Validity

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Accent Assessment: A Preliminary Study of Scaling Validity

Article excerpt

Abstract

Direct Magnitude Estimations (DME) and Equal Appearing Interval (EAI) scaling techniques were used to compare listeners' perceptions of the extent of accent from recorded speech samples of international students enrolled in a United States university who spoke English as a second language. Twenty five international students served as speakers by reading the same brief passage for recording purposes. Twenty five American-born students with no formal training or experience with accents or accent reduction rated the extent of the accent on each of the spoken samples using both scaling techniques. Statistical analysis of the listener's perceptions indicated no significant differences between the DME or EAI scaling procedures and a scatterplot comparing the data sets for each technique produced a significant linear relationship between the data for the two techniques. Based on these findings it would appear that either technique could be employed to obtain a valid assessment of the extent of accent in international students. An EAI scaling technique would appear to be the technique of choice because of the ease of administration. However, future study is needed to refine the technique into a clinical procedure for routine use in assessing the extent of perceived accent and gauging the success of accent reduction intervention.

Key Words: Accent Assessment, International Students, DME, EAI, India

Institutions of higher education in the United States recognize the inherent value of recruiting the best and brightest students from around the world (Institute of International Education, 2011). The number of international students enrolled in American universities is increasing. A 2007 report on enrollment showed a record 623,805 international students were enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities (Association of International Educators, 2009). Recent data reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Fischer, 2009) indicated that for 2008-2009 there were 672,000 foreign students enrolled in American universities. In 2010/11, the number of international students enrolled in American universities had swelled to 723,000 (Marklein, 2011). These international students facilitate the preparation of American students for a globally connected marketplace by sharing their various cultures, perspectives, and ways of thinking. However, the continuing influx of international students into institutions of higher education in the United States poses verbal communication challenges for the institutions and the international students. English as a second language is often spoken by the majority of these international students and their accents can jeopardize effective communication. Even after gaining sufficient English language literacy skills to successfully matriculate in academic programs in U.S. colleges and universities, the intelligibility of conversational speech among international students may be significantly compromised in academic and social contexts by their accents. Accordingly, institutions of higher education should share some portion of the responsibility for assisting foreign students as they pursue opportunities to overcome accent-based communication barriers.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (2009) defined accent as "the unique way that speech is pronounced by a group of people speaking the same language." Despite the number of individuals presenting themselves for accent reduction, Shah (2007), in the development of a prototype accent assessment tool, reported that none of the 13 protocols reviewed for assessment of foreign accent were evidenced based, norm referenced, or standardized. Accent reduction, sometimes referred to as elocution or accent modification, should begin with a systematic, valid and objective assessment of the accent prior to formal intervention. In short, a suitable instrument is needed that can reliably quantify deviations in the individual's current accent from the target reference accent and from which progress in accent reduction can be gauged. …

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