ERG SES C 06, Migration and Education
Australia, along with other English-speaking countries, provides cross-border education on a commercial basis to increase revenues (Sawir, Marginson, Forbes-Mewett, Nyland, & Ramia, 2012). The market-driven approach in higher education has resulted in adopting a low language proficiency threshold for entry for second language (L2) students, often recruiting academically less prepared students, leading to less welcoming campus environments (Heng, 2017). The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is widely used to evaluate L2 students’ readiness for their future study in Australian institutions; however, while language proficiency is vital for L2 students’ academic success and social functioning, their success requires more than language proficiency (Phakiti, Hirsh, & Woodrow, 2013).
When international students select to study in Anglophone countries, they are frequently labelled as non-native English speakers defined in language contexts in which one language is dominant, accents are a crucial indicator of difference (Kettle, 2013). L2 students’ accent and style of speech can be devalued, often resulting in weaker positions in academic settings (Kayaalp, 2016). First language (L1) students are positioned as ‘superior’ or ‘dominant’ group; whereas, L2 students are regarded as ‘inferior’ or ‘minority’ group (Kayaalp, 2016). Accentedness is conceptually distinct from language proficiency, which indicates how proficient one is with a language (Cook, 1999). Nevertheless, accents have been blamed for miscommunication, and can be a potential trigger for stereotypes, racism and other types of discrimination (Derwing & Munro, 2009).
There are significant gaps in the literature on international students’ higher education experience related to accented English. Numerous studies have confirmed that L2 students have to deal with accent-associated challenges at two levels: (1) their accent and that of their interlocutor, potentially resulting in communication breakdowns; and (2) perceived accent stereotypes and discrimination (Kettle, 2013; Lee & Rice, 2007; Sawir et al., 2012). However, little research has focused solely on accent-specific issues, and even fewer studies have addressed such issues alone. To address this gap, this study spotlights the experiences of East-Asian international students from English as foreign language (EFL) countries. This study respond to the research question: what is the lived experience of L2 East-Asian international students as a foreign accented speaker in Australian higher education? Paying attention to their challenges, coping strategies to mitigate those challenges, and their views on faculty members, peers and institutions is crucial to develop a more equitable way of shaping their experiences, and support the students study outcomes.
This research builds on the findings from a broader mixed methods phenomenological research approach, framed within Martin Heidegger’s philosophy of interpretive phenomenology, also known as hermeneutics. Heidegger’s philosophy on what it means to be a person suggests that personal meanings determine individual’s interpretation of the world in which they live (Heidegger, 1962). It is a process as well as a method used to elicit human experiences and relations that are usually hidden. The phenomenon of investigation of this study is L2 East-Asian international students’ lived experience of being a foreign accented speaker at a single Queensland university. The phenomenological framework enables us to understand the lived experience that is not necessarily relegated to the areas of mere common sense. Data collection included two phases, i.e. quantitative and qualitative. This study reports on the findings from the initial quantitative phase, used to inform the phenomenological focus of the second phase of the research. Data collected from both online and paper-based surveys included close-ended and open-ended questions. This survey requested responses in four major areas: - Background information including gender, age, nationality and academic level - Backgrounds using English - Social and academic communication experiences on campus - Campus climate: Perceived accent stereotypes and linguistic discrimination on campus The data were entered into SPSS (v25). The data were analysed using both descriptive and inferential statistical analysis. Open responses regarding coping strategies were analysed through a thematic analysis using Nvivo (v12) with a frequency analysis of themes then undertaken in SPSS allowing a comparison of approaches across; for example, across strategies used students’ accent strength.
Both communication and comprehension barriers encountered by the students on campus were addressed in two different ways: (1) level of difficulty, and (2) frequencies of the barriers. When measuring the level of difficulty, initial results show that perceived proficiency in English was a more salient determinant in shaping students’ experiences than accent strength. There was a difference among the four student groups (e.g., poor, average, good, very good). For example, less proficient students perceived bigger barriers to be understood, and to understand others, when participating in interactive classroom activities. By contrast, proficiency in English did not seem to greatly reduce the frequencies of the barriers as no differences were observed within the groups. The incidence of accent stereotyping and discrimination was noted most in less proficient students regarding their interactions on campus. Both direct discrimination (e.g., being mocked or ridiculed for accents) and indirect discrimination (e.g., being less respected and excluded in class) were perceived by less proficient students. Perceived discrimination has been linked to other issues such as students’ academic motivation and achievement. There was a difference between gender groups in the analysis of the responses to the consequences of perceived discrimination. L2 students deployed diverse verbal (e.g., paraphrase, ask for clarification) and non-verbal (e.g., have self-confidence) coping strategies to mitigate accent-associated challenges. While a common assumption in the literature is to assume that proficient students would have more diverse and complex strategies than less proficient students, deployed strategies did not seem to greatly differ based on proficiency in English, although differences in the proportion of each group applying them did. In conclusion, this study provides insights that can inform future policy and practices in supporting L2 students. Reaching a deeper understanding of international students’ academic challenges is an imperative step towards improving curricula and teaching methods.
Cook, V. (1999). Going beyond the native speaker in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 33(2), 185-209. doi:10.2307/3587717 Derwing, T., & Munro, M. (2009). Putting accent in its place: Rethinking obstacles to communication. Language Teaching, 42(4), 476-490. doi:10.1017/S026144480800551X Heidegger, M. (1962). Being and time. Oxford, England: Blackwell. Heng, T. T. (2017). Voices of Chinese international students in USA colleges: 'I want to tell them that . '. Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 833-850. doi:10.1080/03075079.2017.1293873 Kayaalp, D. (2016). Living with an accent: a sociological analysis of linguistic strategies of immigrant youth in Canada. Journal of Youth Studies, 19(2), 133-148. doi:10.1080/13676261.2015.1052050 Kettle, M. (2013). The right to a voice and the fight to be heard: The experience of being an ESL user in Australia. Paper presented at the In 13th International Pragmatics Conference (IPrA): Implicit discrimination in public discourse symposium, New Delhi. Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381-409. doi:10.1007/s10734-005-4508-3 Phakiti, A., Hirsh, D., & Woodrow, L. (2013). It's not only English: Effects of other individual factors on English language learning and academic learning of ESL international students in Australia. Journal of Research in International Education, 12(3), 239-258. doi:10.1177/1475240913513520 Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Forbes-Mewett, H., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2012). International student security and English language proficiency. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(5), 434-454. doi:10.1177/1028315311435418
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