‘What did they say?’ : examining the effects of lecturers’ accents in English on the actual and perceptual listening comprehension abilities of international students in a culturally diverse Australian university
The rapid growth in numbers of international students studying at Australian universities has resulted in a substantial increase in cultural and linguistic diversity within the higher education sector. As a result, the teaching and learning environment has also become culturally and linguistically complex, with many teachers and students now communicating in English as a second language (ESL); hence with accented speech. This small-scope study explored the effects of accented speech on the listening comprehension skills and abilities of ESL students at an international university campus. The students’ written and verbal responses were recorded and, while it may not be possible to generalise from findings based on such a small sample, key issues nevertheless emerged: the perceptual level of difficulty in comprehending accented English may not align with actual comprehension ability for a range of reasons; the degree of proximity between the first language of second language English speakers and listeners may not have a strong effect on enhancing comprehension, and international students' expectations about Australian teachers' accents may not align with the realities of a multicultural community and workforce. Recommendations are subsequently provided on the basis of such indicators to assist universities to develop greater awareness amongst their teachers and learners of the cognitive- and the socio-linguistic issues involved in teaching and learning in English as a second language within an Australian university context.