Who’s speaking? Intelligibility, Comprehensibility, and Accentedness in a multilingual classroom

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Crewson, Kelsey
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Kachru’s World English (WE) framework from 1985 situates English as an ever-evolving language with different accents and reveals natural phonetic speech differences that stem from a learner’s first language (Zhang, 2019). In an English for academic purposes (EAP) classroom, international students come to study English as an additional language (EAL) with different first languages and use English as the primary means of communication. The problem is that many EAL students have had little to no previous exposure to WE varieties. Differences in EAL accents may result in a breakdown in communication for students during class. This study explored the impact of accented English on Non-Native English speakers (NNS) studying EAP at a private language school in Halifax, Canada. A qualitative approach was used, with three students completing a questionnaire, a comprehension assessment, and a semi-structured interview. Thematic analysis from the interview data identified twelve themes as common difficulties for NNS, which included the negative impact of unfamiliar accent pronunciation and vocabulary that leads to a breakdown in comprehension. Thematic analysis also revealed that the familiarity of the accent strongly impacted the ease of understanding the accent. This study highlights the necessity for exposure to WE varieties during class time and an understanding of accent difficulty for teachers. This study accentuates the importance of WE exposure for NNS students to foster success and confidence in interactions to reach their goals.