Date of Award

5-1-2010

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

First Advisor

HALLIDAY, LAURA

Second Advisor

ERNST, CHERYL

Abstract

As international student enrollment has increased at US universities since late 1950s and early 1960s (Taylor & Angelis, 2008), international students at the graduate levels have taught an increasing number of undergraduate courses. As Bailey (1983) recognized early on, a "foreign TA problem" has developed due to various misunderstanding in the accent and culture of International Teaching Assistants (ITAs). This so called "problem" has led to numerous studies on the subject. The main focus of this study was to investigate undergraduate students' perceptions and attitudes toward the foreign accentedness of ITAs. Different from previous research which largely studied the perspectives from North American undergraduates, this study examines data from two groups of participants: 34 native (18 male; 16 female) and 32 nonnative (18 male; 14 female) English-speaking undergraduates. In order to examine this complex topic fully, three research foci were generated, including undergraduate' overall perceptions and attitudes to ITAs, their evaluations of the comprehensibility and intelligibility of ITAs' foreign accents, and their awareness and appreciation of the value of intercultural communication. The research instrument was a survey questionnaire that inquired into participants' answers to the aforementioned research foci. In addition to the general demographic information, participants had to circle or mark their answers to 20 statements, presented in 5-point Likert scales, and to write down their responses to 2 open-ended questions listed in the end of the questionnaire. This was a study of mixed-design which included quantitative and qualitative data analyses. For the quantitative part, the data gathered from 5-point Likert scales were analyzed through univariate analyses of variance (ANOVAs) and correlation analyses. The data of written responses from 2 open-ended questions were analyzed through content analyses as the qualitative part of this study. The results of this study shed a positive light on the research of ITAs. From the quantitative analyses, neither nationality nor gender showed statistically significant differences, but both groups of participants revealed moderate-high positive attitudes/perceptions to ITAs, evaluated ITAs' foreign accents slightly lower but still positively, and displayed moderate-high positive awareness/appreciation of the value of intercultural communication. Moreover, it was found that participants with higher awareness of intercultural communication showed more positive attitudes and rated ITAs' foreign accents higher. Both consistent and intriguing findings were discovered from analyzing participants written responses. In a similar manner, both groups of participants responded with more positive than negative comments to describe their personal experiences with ITAs. In contrast, more negative reports were written when the participants described their classmates' reactions toward ITAs. This inconsistency might have resulted from the conflict between avowal and ascription of participants; ethnocentrism was also revealed from the comments of some participants. The results of this study provide insights for ITA training programs when evaluating and screening ITAs' competence in spoken English and they also serve as a reference for ITAs in preparation for future teaching assignments at US institutions.

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