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Navigating Foreign Accents: Challenges and Perceptions in a Globalized Society

Section 1: Background

Many people, including students and professionals, move from their countries to others in order to find and take advantage of the learning and employment opportunities available in those countries. This results in the increased likelihood that they may not be native speakers of the main language(s) spoken in their countries of residence, and that they speak with foreign accents (Baquiran & Nicoladis (2020). However, despite the rising interlinguistic as well as international exchange due to globalization that has caused non-native (foreign) accents to become a vital aspect of communication in today’s globalized society, foreign accents have been found to often give rise to negative perceptions and bias towards speakers with foreign accents (Pantos & Perkins, 2013; Roessel, Schoel & Stahlberg, 2018). English speakers with different first language or those from different geographical regions have regional of foreign accents which are easily discernible, and which can be used to establish their identity, whether ethnic, geographical, regional, or linguistic.

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It has been well established and documented that individuals (listeners) judge others (speakers) with accents that are different from their own, resulting in the listener having a preconceived prejudice against the speaker, which in turn brings about ubiquitous impacts to the speaker (Shah, 2019). For example, listeners, on the basis of their own regional background, language and accent, usually tend to infer speakers’ attributes on the premise of their predetermined opinions and perceptions regarding those accents (Huang, Frideger & Pearce, 2013; Lev-Ari & Keysar, 2010). Among the speakers’ attributes that listeners judge based on their accents include competence, attractiveness, intelligence, and trustworthiness (Dailey, Giles & Jansma, 2005). The listeners’ preconceived judgments and biases bring about significant and ubiquitous consequences on the speakers’ social, emotional, academic, economic and vocational status. Various studies illustrate that non-native English speakers with foreign accents experience prevalent discrimination, especially in relation to education, employment, healthcare and other areas (Fuertes et al., 2012; Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010; Gluszek & Hansen, 2013). For instance, these individuals are discriminated against while trying to obtain employment, housing and other basic needs, experience poor customer service, experience poor evaluations of their competence and job performance, usually tend to have concerns over their safety and experience as patients due to the difficulty they experience in communicating with their physicians and care providers who have different accents they cannot easily understand, leaning difficulties due to class instructors with strong accents, and experience judgements of criminality and linguistic or ethnic profiling (Divi et al., 2007; Hill & Tombs, 2011; Jirwe, Gerrish & Emami, 2010). However, while non-standard accents typically receive negative evaluations and judgements (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010), some of them may be perceived positively (Lindemann, 2005). Lippi-Green (2012), for example, found that non-British English speakers often positively evaluated speakers with a British accent.

Given that most individuals who do not grow up in their current countries of residence, and therefore the target language, often maintain and demonstrate a distinct accent (Birdsong, 2006), non-native accents can largely be perceived as a natural and inevitable component of internationalization and global communication. However, besides simply referring to a certain manner of pronunciation, accents carry intriguing conspicuousness (Roessel, Schoel & Stahlberg, 2020). According to Kinzler, Dupoux & Spelke (2007), social categorization and preferences on the account of accents appear early in life. This is true for both monolingual and bilingual children (DeJesus et al., 2017; Souza, Byers-Heinlein & Poulin-Dubois, 2013).

Kinzler & DeJesus (2013) found that children evaluated speakers’ personality and social desirability (or attractiveness) based on the influence of their attitudes and perceptions toward accented British English. A similar study by Kinzler et al. (2009) also found that social preferences were guided and influenced by accents, thereby implicating accents as a marker of in- or out-group membership. According to Tsurutani (2012), who investigated Japanese people’s attitude towards Japanese speakers with foreign accents, and suggests that foreign accents are typically associated with less education, and being less reliable and less interesting. Tsurutani’s (2012) study demonstrated that Japanese speakers with foreign accents were rated lowly in terms of their integrity and competence relative to the native Japanese speakers. Another study by Said (2006) obtained findings which demonstrate that native English speakers had a more positive attitude towards standard English speakers compared to non-native speakers who demonstrated positive attitudes toward English speakers with foreign accents. Accents, therefore, contribute to in-group or out-group memberships by influencing how (either favorably or unfavorably) people behave towards others who they share or do not share accents (an in-group identification) with.

Accents have also emerged as a marker for the evaluation of an individual’s perceived competency in terms of jobs and income. While a native British English speaker may be perceived as intelligent and competent, speakers of British English with foreign accents may be judged as less intelligent and less competent. Studies conducted previously suggest that the strength of a non-native English speaker’s accent had a negative correlation with their income while working in their countries of residence (Hosada, Nguyen & Stone-Romero, 2012). Native British English speakers also usually judge non-native speakers with foreign accents as being less competent for certain jobs, especially high-status and high-income ones, but more suited to the low status and low-income ones. This, Hansen & Dividio (2016) partly attribute to the perception of individuals with foreign accents as difficult to understand and thus difficult to work with.

In general, studies demonstrate that foreign accents bring about negative perceptions of people toward others’ competency, as well as their emergence as a stigma and cause for prevalent discrimination. These negative perceptions towards foreign-accented English speakers occur across multiple levels, including implicit distancing (Reid et al., 2012) and non-conformity (Mazzurega, Paladino & Vaes, 2013), which result in discrimination tendencies, for example during incidental encounters and in seeking housing, education and employment. These are the key contexts in which foreign-accented non-native English speakers experience prevalent discrimination (Fuertes et al., 2012; Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010; Gluszek & Hansen, 2013). Additionally, speakers with foreign accents, even those perceived as attractive, such as French, besides facing discrimination and downgrading, also experience competency stereotypes, whereby they tend to be deemed as incompetent (Cargile et al., 2010; Huang, Frideger & Pearce, 2013; Mai & Hoffmann, 2014). It is therefore postulated that the extent, rather than the occurrence or direction, of the negative perceptions and judgements toward foreign accents is moderated by the accents’ differential attractiveness and related group stereotypes (Hendriks, van Meurs & Van Der Meij, 2015). In this light, the purpose of this study is to investigate the manner in which individuals’ attitudes towards foreign-accented non-native English speakers impact on their perception of their competency. The three main accents that this study will focus on are: BBC English, Eastern European and Indian English accents.

Section 2: Proposed Methods/Procedures

2.1 Study Design

Given that it is quantitative in nature, this study will draw on quantitative research methods that will facilitate the collection of both primary and secondary quantitative data. To effectively conduct and complete the study, the researcher will also employ both cross-sectional and descriptive research designs. The descriptive research is chosen since, according to Gray (2019), it promotes the ability of the researcher to determine and report the values, thoughts, attitudes and behaviours demonstrated by participants in relation to the topic or phenomenon being investigated, as well as an accurate and effective interpretation of the study’s findings. The researcher will also use the cross-sectional design given that it is more appropriate to this study, which is cross-sectional in nature, relative to others such as longitudinal research design. This is because the data to be used for the conduction and completion of the study will be collected within a single time point (Sekaran & Bougie, 2016). In combination, the two research designs, by facilitating the collection of both primary and secondary data, will contribute to the overall quality and accuracy of the study, thereby improving its reasonableness.

2.2 Target Population and Participant Sampling

The study’s target population will comprise native English speakers and non-native English speakers with foreign accents in the UK. in order to investigate this target population, the study will use a sample size of 50. The acquisition of the aforementioned sample size will be undertaken through a sampling procedure, which can be categorized as either probability or non-probability sampling procedure. For the purpose of this study, the non-probability sampling procedure will be employed, particularly the purposive or convenience sampling. Purposive sampling will be used since, in spite of not requiring any special characteristics or traits from the participants, they need to be English speakers, either native or non-native, and living in England. Therefore, through a purposive sampling, the researcher will be able to identify and recruit native and non-native English speakers living in England (Zhi, 2014), unlike with certain probability sampling techniques, such as random sampling that would result in the selection of even participants that are non-English speaking.

2.3 Data Collection

The completion of this study will involve the collection of primary as well as secondary data. Norris et al. (2015) defines primary data as that which the researcher collects first hand in the course of carrying out the research, and secondary data as that which was collected earlier or previously by another researcher, and which is currently available to the present researcher for his/her reference, analysis and review. The researcher will collect and use secondary data through a literature review of previous studies, and from existing journals and articles. For primary data, questionnaires that comprise both closed and open-ended questions will be employed. Questionnaires will be used as the main primary data collection method due to its effectiveness and appropriateness for the collection of various types of data from many participants (a large sample size). According to Testa & Simonso (2017), questionnaires are also cost-effective, quicker and easier to use in comparison to other techniques, such as interviews.

2.4 Data Analysis

As a consequence of its employment of quantitative data, the collected data will be analyzed through the use of a descriptive statistical analysis method. Therefore, the key analysis method that the researcher will use to analyze the primary data collected is the SPSS software.

Section 3: Summary of Expected Results/ Discussion

It is the researcher’s expectation that the study will, through its finds, demonstrate, as has been established by previous studies, that people draw on their preconceived biased judgement of other people with foreign accents to infer their traits. As a result of these predetermined biases toward foreign accents, non-native English speakers with strong accents will be judged negatively in relation to certain traits, such as trustworthiness, attractiveness, intelligence and competence. It is the study’s expected finding that these biased attitudes and judgements of non-native English speakers will in turn have negative impacts on their academic, social, emotional, vocational and economic status. This is due to the difficulty and pervasive discrimination that the foreign-accented non-native English speakers will often experience in the various spheres of their lives, for example, with regard to obtaining education, employment, housing, health care and other basic needs. These speculative findings, if obtained by the study, will support and be in agreement with those obtained by previous studies (e.g. Fuertes et al., 2012; Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010; Gluszek & Hansen, 2013; Mai & Hoffmann, 2014; Pantos &Perkins, 2013; Roessel, Schoel & Stahlberg, 2018). It is therefore, this study’s expectation and prediction that an an individual or employee in any professional field who speaks with a foreign accent would be judges as less competent relative to their counterparts who speak with native or standard accents.

This study is therefore of vital significance as it will highlight the impacts that predetermined negative judgements of people with foreign accents have on them, in relation to acquisition of jobs, healthcare, housing and education services, how they are viewed/perceived and the degree of respect that they receive. This way, it would be possible to develop strategies through which both speakers and listeners can be helped to become aware of these prejudices, and to train foreign-accented non-native English or other language speakers to manage these biases as an aspect of their daily lives.

Section 4: Ethical Considerations

Before participating in any research, a participant must give their signed written informed consent and the researcher must also assure the participants of their safety, privacy and confidentiality, as well as the use of the data they provide for research purposes only and the participants’ right to withdraw their participation at any point during the research without having to explain themselves. Therefore, in this regard, the researcher will have to critically evaluate and take into account any ethical implications that might arise from his conduction of the study. This will include conducting the research in line with the stipulations of the BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct, and ensuring that the study corresponds with the four principles of ethical research it outlines (“Code of Ethics and Conduct ǀ BPS”, 2022).

With regard to obtaining participants’ informed consent, the researcher will need to develop a consent form which he will present to the participant for their evaluation and signing, if they agree to take part in the research. in order to sign the consent form, the participants will also have to first be provided with a participant information sheet that outlines the study and what I twill involve. The participant information sheet will include multiple detail sections: the researcher’s introduction of themselves and their study, the purpose of the research, why the participant has been invited and/or chosen to take part in it, what their participation will involve, whether participants can change their mind, the disadvantages (if any) of taking part in the research, how the information they provide will be kept confidential and secure, and what will happen to the results of the study.

In the participant information sheet, the participants will be able to identify the title of the study and be informed of its purpose- to investigate the attitudes that native English speakers have towards foreign-accented non-native English speakers, and how these attitudes contribute to the formers’ perceptions of the latters’ competency. The participants will also be told that they have been invited to participate in the research since they meet the established inclusion criteria, as well as informed of the need for them to accurately fill in a questionnaire as part of their participation.

Additionally, the participants will be assured of their ability and right to withdraw their participation without the need to explain or any disadvantage or negative consequence to them. Participants can withdraw their participation by simply informing the researcher, or closing the questionnaire if it is an online one, as in this case. The data of participants who withdraw will not be included in the research. Moreover, participants who choose to withdraw their data from being used even after fully participating in the study can request for this within 3 weeks from the day the data was collected, after which point it would be impossible given that data analysis will have begun. This study bears no possible disadvantages to the participants.

For security and confidentiality purposes, the participants will not be able to be identified based on any materials or records they fill in, apart from the informed consent that they will sign. The signed informed consent forms, which contain their personal information, will be stored securely and away from the data collection area. Participant privacy and confidentiality will also be ensured by the anonymization of their filled questionnaires through the use of pseudonyms, participant numbers or letters, which will make it impossible to identify the participants on the basis of their responses. The security of participant data will be ensured by storing them in personal electronic devices, such as laptop or computer, that only the researcher or authorized research team members can access, and the (digital) data encrypted and backed up in the researcher’s and UEL’s OneDrive account. Paper-based records and data will also be secured by locking them in a safe that only the researcher or authorized research team members have access to. Besides the researcher, his supervisor will also be able to access and see the anonymized data, and the data collected, except for the anonymized questionnaires and participant information, will be retained for three years after the study’s completion, after which point will be deleted and/or destroyed.

The participants will also be informed of the study’s review and approval by the School of Psychology Research Ethics Committee who will ensure that it conforms o the British Psychology Society research ethics standards, as well as its public availability of the research on the university’s online repository. Finally, the participant will be provided with contact information through which they can seek further information or raise concerns regarding the research or its conduct.

After carefully going through the participant information sheet, an individual can choose to agree or decline to take part in the research. Participants who agree to participate in the research will sign the informed consent form. By ticking to confirm that they have been provided with a copy to keep, and read and understood the various aspects of the information sheet, including having had the opportunity to evaluate the information, ask questions, and have the questions answered to their satisfaction, the voluntary nature of their participation, what their participation involves, their ability to withdraw from the study at any time, what happens if they withdraw, how their privacy, confidentiality and security will be ensured, and their agreement to participate in the study, the participants will write their name and append their signature in the provided space to signal their informed consent.

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After their participation in the research, participants will be provided with a participant debrief sheet. The 2018 BPS Code of Human Research Ethics outlines that it is vital to appropriately debrief participants, particularly following a research that involved any form of deception or withholding of information (“BPS Code of Human Research Ethics”, 2022). Besides simply providing information regarding the research, debriefing also enables researchers to take into account and monitor any possible adverse effects that the research might have had on the participants, as well as provides opportunity for participants to raise these issues or similar concerns and a way for the researcher to provide the participants with information regarding support and resources they could find useful in such instances. All this will be included in the participant debrief sheet.

References

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