Attitudes of Saudi EFL students toward American and British accents
Alenezy, Eiman Nassar
California State University at Fresno, College of Art, Fresno, United States of America
Abstract: This study aimed to examine the attitudes of 63 Saudi female students who study English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Saudi Arabia toward British and American accents. Methods used in this study was Verbal Guise Technique (VGT), a subsequent development of Matched Guise Technique (MGT). These were indirect methods of measuring participants’ attitudes toward different groups. The materials used in the present study required a set of two studies using the same British and American stimulus recordings – the first to identify a set of relevant traits for the rating scales and the second to collect actual ratings on those scales. Thus, the results showed a preference for British accent and female speakers, particularly in terms of status, despite participants’ inability to distinguish British and American accents consciously. This suggests that conscious ability to distinguish speakers’ dialects and identify their nationalities is not a necessary precondition to having different (unconscious) perceptions of those speakers. The bases of the unconscious perceptions found in this thesis remain a mystery.
Keywords: Attitudes of EFL, British accent, American accent, Verbal Guise Technique, Matched Guise Technique, unconscious perceptions.
This study stated one problem of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) students which is accent; typically, American or British. The examined problem of accent is faced by EFL student during their stage of learning English. The concern is rose when specific questions come across their minds when they hear the different accents such as what accent – is easier to understand, which is considered more “standard,” and ultimately which they should try to model? This answer for these questions was answered by the attitudes of Saudi female EFL students in the English Department at a Saudi Arabian University toward American and British accents by (1) seeing how they rated male and female speakers with each accent on various traits, such as confidence and friendliness, (2) testing their ability to identify each accent, and (3) asking directly which accent they prefer to model. This study is significant deduct the relation between the EFL students’ conscious ability and their unconscious attitudes, and how this affects their judgments of accent in relation to their social and educational levels. Problem Statement: One of the major problem for EFL students in perceiving English is varieties of English accents. EFL students mostly exposure to American and/or British accent during their academic journey of learning English. Thus, perceiving these accents could affect EFL students` comprehensive and perception.
This study focused on EFL students in Saudi Arabia in Northern Border University. This type of study is needed for two reasons; limited research in EFL attitudes toward native languages and their varieties in general and EFL attitudes whose (L1) first language is Arabic in particular. Moreover, the findings of this study would contribute in the development of the methodology of teaching English as a foreign language in Saudi Arabia`s universities.
Several methods have been suggested in order to examine language attitudes. Probably the most effective one: Verbal Guise Technique (VGT) which is a method developed based on Matched Guise Technique (MGT). VGT is the best method to deduct the inner truth behind preferring one accent over another. The following questions are the main concerns of the study:
- Are EFL students in Saudi who speak Arabic as their first language able to identify varieties of English speech (American and British accents)?
- Do EFL students have different attitudes toward American and British accents?
- What traits appear to be significant in EFL students` attitudes toward American and British accent?
Aim of the study: To detect the attitude of EFL students toward the American and British accents, and which accent do they prefer and in which bases. These bases could contribute to choose the best accent for teaching EFL students in Saudi Arabia` universities.
- To clarify the hidden attitude toward American and British accents by VGT method.
- To test EFL students` ability of distinguishing the two accents through a rating scale questionnaire.
- To analyze the ratings that EFL students would gave the two accents.
- To conduct the study in two stages; preliminary stage to guarantee the validity of the main stage.
- LITERATURE REVIEW
The Matched Guise Technique and Verbal Guise Technique:
Since the advent of the Matched Guise Technique (MGT; Lambert, Hodgson, Gardner, & Fillenbaum, 1960), language attitudes – defined as “speaker-internal psychological tendencies which are expressed by evaluating particular entities (e.g. a dialect or an ethnic group) with a degree of favor or disfavor” (Eagly & Chaiken 1993, p. 1) – have been the topic of countless studies. Lambert et al.’s original (1960) study focused on English and French speakers in Quebec, Canada. To minimize the effects of voice and message, and thereby isolate listeners’ attitudes toward speakers of the languages in question, perfect French–English bilinguals were recorded reading the same neutral passage in each language. English- and French-speaking subjects then rated each of the English and French guises on a variety of traits, believing all had come from different speakers. Both English-speaking and French-speaking subjects rated the English-speaking guises significantly more favorably in terms of appearance, intelligence, dependability, ambition, and character. However, each language group rated its own language guises significantly more favorably in terms of kindness.
In addition to being used to compare attitudes toward different languages, such as French and English in Quebec (Lambert et al., 1960; Lambert, Frankel, & Tucker, 1966; Genesee & Holobow, 1989) and Hebrew and Arabic in the Middle East (Lambert et al. 1965), the matched guise technique has been used to compare attitudes toward standard versus non-standard varieties of the same language, including African American English (Hensley, 1972; Johnson & Buttny, 1982) and Chicano English (Arthur, Farrar, & Bradford, 1974; Bouchard-Ryan & Carranza, 1975; Bouchard-Ryan, Carranza, & Moffie, 1977).
Despite its power, a significant limitation of the MGT is the need to find perfectly bilingual or bidialectal speakers who can produce the stimuli, since such speakers may be difficult or even impossible to find for certain pairs of languages and dialects. This limitation prompted the subsequent development of the Verbal Guise Technique (VGT; Cooper & Fishman, 1974), which is identical to the MGT except that all of the stimulus recordings come from different speakers. Both the MGT and VGT are indirect methods of measuring participants’ attitudes toward different groups, and are highly useful insofar as they “…can reveal prejudices that might not – or, indeed, cannot – be expressed in other contexts” (McKenzie, 2008, p. 65).
Language attitudes of non-native speakers:
There is relatively little research on non-native speakers’ perceptions of different native accents/ dialects. Chiba, Matsuura, and Yamamoto (1995) examined 169 Japanese EFL students’ perceptions of various native and non-native accents of English, including those of two American speakers and one British speaker. The Japanese listeners rated native speakers more favorably than non-native speakers, but their ratings of American speakers vs. British speakers were not significantly different. Moreover, although listeners were able to identify native vs. non-native speakers, they could not reliably distinguish American vs. British speakers.
McKenzie (2008) examined the language attitudes of 558 Japanese college students toward English speakers with six different accents – vernacular Glaswegian, Standard Glaswegian, Southern U.S. (Alabama), Midwestern U.S. (Ohio), and two advanced L2 speakers with Japanese L1, one with a “heavy” Japanese accent and the other with a “moderate” Japanese accent. In terms of competence (a cover term for what are also called status traits: intelligent, confident, fluent, and clear), the two American speakers were perceived the most favorably, followed by the two Glaswegian speakers, with the two Japanese-accented speakers evaluated the least favorably. In terms of social attractiveness (a cover term for what are also called solidarity traits: gentle, pleasant, funny, and modest), the heavily accented Japanese speaker was perceived the most favorably, followed by the vernacular Glaswegian and Southern U.S. speakers (in a statistical tie for second) and then the moderately accented Japanese speaker, with the Standard Glaswegian and Midwestern U.S. speakers in a statistical tie for last place. In other words, the Japanese listeners perceived native English speakers as more competent than non-native speakers and Americans as more competent than Britons. However, the listeners perceived Japanese-accented speakers and native English speakers with less standard accents as more socially attractive than native speakers with more standard accents.
The very limited research on language attitudes of non-native speakers makes it hard to know what to expect in the present study. Research challenging the so-called inherent value hypothesis has shown that listeners who are unfamiliar with a particular language (such as French or Greek) cannot tell which of two dialects of that language is considered ‘better’ by native speakers (see, e.g., Giles & Niedzielski, 1998). This may explain why the Japanese L1 participants in Chiba et al. (1995), who could not reliably distinguish American vs. British speakers, did not give significantly different ratings to American vs. British speakers. However, another group of Japanese L1 participants (in McKenzie, 2008) did give significantly different ratings to American vs. British speakers. Uncertainty remains, though, since McKenzie (2008) does not report testing whether the participants could accurately label the speakers as American or British.
The initial hypothesis is that Saudi students will rate the American and British speakers differently. It remain unclear, however, whether they will be able to distinguish American and British speakers consciously, and it is likewise unknown whether the ability to distinguish accents consciously is a necessary precondition for giving them different ratings.
- MATERIALS AND METHODOLOGY
Consistent with the Verbal Guise Technique (VGT; Cooper & Fishman, 1974), all of the stimulus recordings were produced by different speakers – 6 native speakers of American English (3 male, 3 female) and 6 native speakers of British English (3 male, 3 female), ranging in age from 20 to 50. Note that no specific British or American dialect was targeted in this study, and the speakers who produced the stimuli were not asked about their dialects; the goal was simply to determine whether EFL students are able to distinguish or make judgments based on broadly different accents.
The speakers were not informed of the purpose of the study, but were simply asked to read a passage, entitled ‘First people in Europe,’ taken from a website for teaching ESL students called ‘History in Levels’ (see Appendix A). This passage was chosen for its neutral content that is easy enough for non-native English speakers to understand. Each speaker was recorded using the Voice Record App. Speakers were asked to read the passage twice; the first reading was for practice and the second was actually used in the study. The recordings were subsequently edited, using Audacity, to remove hesitations and in some cases to increase or decrease the speech rate so that all 12 recordings were as similar as possible in terms of fluency.
The stimuli were the same 12 recordings of male and female British and American speakers that were used in the preliminary study.
The main design of this study is Verbal Guise research which is a subsequent of Matched Guise Technique. Testing the hypothesis will require a set of two studies using the same British and American stimulus recordings – the first to identify a set of relevant traits for the rating scales and the second to gather actual ratings on those scales. Deriving the traits by eliciting descriptions from the target population, however, arguably makes the rating scales more relevant to that population and increases the validity and meaningfulness of the results.
The population chosen for the present study was principally Saudi nationals currently learning English at a university called Northern Border University in Saudi Arabia. It was decided to choose the population from students who study English as their major because they have the ability to differentiate between the two accents. Therefore, it was expected that EFL students would make their judgments based on their inner feelings toward British and American cultures. Participants in the preliminary study were 30 Saudi females between the ages of 21 and 22. Participants in the main study were 63 Saudi females, born and raised in Saudi Arabia, between the ages of 19 and 22, none of these students participated in the preliminary study. Data from another 132 participants were excluded because they failed to complete the rating task. Participants in the two studies were students in the English department at Northern Border University in Saudi Arabia. They speak Arabic as their first language.
Study Setting and Duration:
Study setting and duration were different in the two studies. The preliminary study was in a classroom setting. In this sitting participants were asked to write down their impressions in a blank sheet of paper of each speaker’s personal, social, economic, and vocational traits after hearing 12 native English speakers all reading the same passage. Once all 12 recordings had been presented, the papers were collected. 36 minutes were given to this study, 3 minutes for each recording in one class session. As for the main study it took longer than one class session in more than one class setting. They were from different levels of English. These levels depend on which class they are enrolled. The data was collected in 10 class settings which takes one week long.
Sample and Sampling:
The sample for the presented study was selected by random sampling. The sample was not chosen based on specific criteria and any students of English department had an equal chance to participate in the study.
It was intended to have participants who study English as a foreign language in Arabic country at a Saudi university. The major of these students should be English in the bachelor degree. Also, they did not travel to a foreign country who speaks English as its first language.
Consent Form and Ethical Issues:
All of the participants sign the consent form see P.35. There is no ethical issue related to the current study.
Data Collection and Analysis Tools and Methods:
There are two studies; preliminary and main study. The purpose of the preliminary study is to shape a rating scale based on the first impression of EFL students. The preliminary study was administered by a university supervisor in a classroom setting. Participants were told that they would hear 12 native English speakers all reading the same passage and were asked to write down their impressions of each speaker’s personal, social, economic, and vocational traits. Each participant was given a sheet of paper with the passage that the speakers would be heard reading (see Appendix A) and blank spaces in which to write their impressions. The 12 recordings were then played for the students in random order. Following each recording, the students were given three minutes to write down their impressions. Once all 12 recordings had been presented, the participants were thanked for participating in the study and the papers were collected.
The main study was administered by the students’ English teachers in a classroom setting. Participants were first given the rating sheet, which included instructions, the passage that the speakers would be heard reading, the 12 sets of rating scales, and a space for participants to indicate whether they thought each speaker was British or American. The instructions said, “As you listen to the speaker, please try to form an impression of them in your mind. Then, indicate where you would put them on each of the scales below, and also try to guess their English accents.” The rating scales were 6 point, partially anchored Likert scales (see, e.g., Davies, 2008), whose endpoint labels consisted of the 8 traits that were selected based on the preliminary study and the negative forms of those traits (e.g., attractive – not attractive; see Appendix B). A 6-point scale is within Cox’s (1980) optimal range of 5 to 9 points and lacks a middle point, which respondents tend to overuse (Cox, 1980).
Upon being given the questionnaire, participants were first thanked for choosing to participate and then told that they would be hearing 12 recordings of native English speakers all reading the same passage and would be asked to rate each speaker on a certain set of traits. After each recording was played, participants were given 2 minutes to rate the speaker before the next recording was played. After all 12 recordings had been played and rated, participants were asked to indicate and write on the sheet their favorite accent (British or American) and how long they had studied English. No other favorite-accent options were officially available, making it a sort of forced-choice question, though one student did write “both.” Lastly, each of the 12 recordings was played again, in the same order, and participants were asked to identify each speaker’s accent as either British or American. During this task, participants were given 30 seconds after each recording was played. After completing the questionnaire, the students were thanked for participating in the study and the forms were collected.
To address the possibility of order effects, the 12 recordings were presented in a different order in each of the four classes. Moreover, the left and right rating scale endpoints were reversed on half of the rating forms.
- RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
Participants suggested different features for the British and American speakers. 90% of participants described one or more of the male and female British speakers as wealthy, formal, educated, arrogant, ambitious, confident, and attractive, and 60% of participants guessed they were news reporters or broadcasters. By contrast, only 20% of participants described one or more of the British speakers as poor, disorganized, and pessimistic. On the other hand, 40% of participants described the female American speakers as humble, thin, disorganized, and careless, and 30% guessed they were housekeepers or teachers. However, 90% of participants described one or more of the male American speakers as unattractive, poor, old, and blond, while only 30% described one or more as young, tall, and humble.
Based on these results, the following traits were identified for use as rating-scale endpoints in the main study: attractive, confident, wealthy, educated, polite, humble, courteous, and friendly. Note that the first four are status traits and the latter four are solidarity traits.
Of the 63 participants who completed the rating task, only 37 completed the task of identifying the speakers’ accents and indicated how long they had been studying English, and only 33 of those 37 indicated which accent – British or American – they preferred. The 37 participants who completed the accent identification task did so with an average accuracy of 52.93% (SD 21.63; range 16.67% – 91.67%), which a t-test revealed to be statistically no better than chance. The same 37 participants reported having studied English for an average of 8.24 years (SD 3.33; range 1 – 14 years). Of the 33 who indicated a preferred accent, 16 reported preferring British, 16 American, and one said “both.”
Bivariate (Pearson) correlation analyses of the above data revealed no statistically significant relationship among participants’ accuracy in identifying the speakers’ accents, their years of study, and their preferred accent. Moreover, multiple regression analyses showed no statistically significant interaction between participants’ accuracy in identifying the speakers’ accents, their years of study, or their preferred accent and their ratings of the 12 speakers. These findings suggest that the accent identification, years of study, and preferred accent data are unimportant, so the scale-rating data from all 63 participants who completed the rating task were analyzed together.
As is customary in verbal guise research, each of the eight rating scales was treated as a separate dependent variable for the purposes of analysis. Consequently, eight 2 (gender: male, female) × 2 (nationality: American, British) ANOVAs were conducted. These ANOVAs revealed a significant main effects of gender on five of the eight traits – all in favor of the female speakers. Specifically, the female speakers were rated significantly more attractive, confident, educated, polite, and friendly. The analyses also revealed significant main effects of nationality on five traits – all in favor of the British speakers, who were rated significantly more attractive, confident, wealthy, educated, and friendly. There were also two sets of ratings that showed statistically significant interactions between gender and nationality, namely, confident and wealthy. These interactions are driven by the relatively more favorable ratings given the female British speakers. Table 1 shows the statistically significant p-values, and Figures 1 though 6 show the significant differences graphically.
Table 1: Summary of statistical significant p-values:
|Trait||Main Effect of Gender||Main Effect of Nationality||Interaction|
* Statistically significant even if the Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons is applied, thus moving the alpha-level from .05 to .006.
Figure 1. Mean Attractive
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker attractiveness, showing the significant main effects of gender (female > male) and nationality (British > American).
Figure 2. Mean Confident
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker confidence showing the significant main effects of gender (female > male) and nationality (British > American), as well as the significant interaction between gender and nationality. Note that all three effects appear to be driven by the high ratings of the female British speakers.
Figure 3. Mean Wealthy
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker wealthiness, showing the significant main effect of nationality (British > American), as well as the significant interaction between gender and nationality. Again, both effects appear to be driven by the high ratings of the female British speakers.
Figure 4. Mean Educated
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker educatedness, showing the significant main effects of gender (female > male) and nationality (British > American).
Figure 5. Mean Polite
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker politeness, showing the significant main effect of gender (female > male). The mean gender difference is larger for the British speakers than the American speakers, but both go in the same direction – favoring female speakers.
Figure 6. Mean Friendly
Visualization of participants’ ratings of speaker friendliness, showing the significant main effects of gender (female > male) and nationality (British > American). It seems that American males are driving the effects here.
Figure 7. Mean Rating
Visualization of participants’ ratings of the speakers based on all eight rating scales averaged together, showing significant main effects of gender (female > male) and nationality (British > American).
Despite participants’ inability to distinguish British and American accents, which parallels Chiba et al.’s (1995) findings for Japanese, the results show that participants perceived the British speakers significantly more favorably than the American speakers on a variety of traits and did not favor the American speakers on any. This strict uniformity in the direction of the effect seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and suggests that conscious ability to distinguish speakers’ dialects and identify their nationalities is not a necessary precondition to having different (unconscious) perceptions of those speakers.
This striking results showed no relation between the participants’ attitudes and their conscious ability to distinguish speakers’ dialects and identify their nationalities. These results goes against one of the principles of matched and Verbal Guise Technique, which suggests that conscious ability could be a precondition for uncurious attitudes.
The bases of the unconscious perceptions found in this study remain a mystery in the bases of sociolinguistics. Further studies are needed in other linguistics fields such as phonology and phonetics. Since there are several phonological differences between the two accents. This fact could be the bases for preferring one accent over another. These differences cannot be detected in the field of sociolinguistics.
Also striking is the difference between the status traits (attractive, confident, wealthy, educated; the top four in Table 1) and the solidarity traits (polite, humble, courteous, and friendly; the bottom four in Table 1). In particular, participants’ ratings on all four status scales show significant main effects of nationality, and all but one (wealthy) show significant main effects of gender. Of the four solidarity scales, on the other hand, only one (polite) shows a significant main effect of nationality, and only two (polite and friendly) show significant main effects of gender. This suggests that whatever difference these Saudi listeners unconsciously perceived between American and British speakers had much more to do with status than solidarity.
- LIMITATIONS, CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION:
Perhaps the biggest limitation of the present study is the inclusion of only female participants. Another study would be needed to explore male perceptions of male and female British and American speakers. The other major limitation is that the researcher was in the U.S. during data collection and, thus, could not oversee the procedure. As a result, some of those collecting the data did not follow the procedure, and many participants’ data could not be used.
Participants perceived the British speakers significantly more favorably than the American speakers on a variety of traits and did not favor the American speakers on any. Interestingly, they were not be able to distinguish between the two accents. Despite their inability to distinguish British and American accents, the Saudi female EFL students studied showed a significant preference for British speakers over American speakers and female speakers over male speakers, particularly in terms of the speakers’ status. This suggests that conscious ability to distinguish speakers’ dialects and identify their nationalities is not a necessary precondition to having different (unconscious) perceptions of those speakers. This strict uniformity in the direction of the effect seems unlikely to be a coincidence, and a phonological reason could be the reason behind their preference for the British speakers. An investigation for such reason would require another study in a different field of linguistics such as phonology and phonetics.
I recommend for later work to focus particularly on one British accent which is Estuary English spoken in South East England around London and one American Accent which is California English spoken in California State. Also, the number of participants should be expanded by increasing their numbers and dividing them into four groups. The classification will be based on their educational background is university and school; such as (1) EFL students who are majoring in English for their bachelor’s degree, (2) EFL students who are simply taking one English class while majoring in another field, (3) EFL students at international schools- a school that adapt international education within an international environment such as following a national curriculum differ from Saudi`s schools` curriculum, commonly these schools represent Education in the United Kingdom or Education in the United States, and (4) EFL students at private schools. The classification examines the relationship between their amount of exposure and their attitudes toward these accents. A final recommendation is to work with participants from two different regions in Saudi Arabia: (1) Arar, a small city located to the north-east of Saudi Arabia, and (2) Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, these two cities are different in their economic, social and educational background. A final recommendation would add more value to the research is to study the phonological differences between the two accents.
I would like to express my gratitude to the chair of my thesis committee, Dr. Michael Shepherd, for his supervision and guidance. It was an honor to have such a persistent and supportive professor to help and guide me through my graduate study. His guidance empowered my academic achievement and opened a new horizon for me in the field of sociolinguistics. I chose to do my Master’s thesis in sociolinguistics and to pursue my PHD in this field as a result of this inspiration.
I would also like to express my appreciation for Dr. Sean Fulop, my academic advisor, and Dr. Chris Golston, both thesis committee members, for their supervision, as well as their intellectual input and feedback. Essentially, I must thank all faculty members of the Linguistics department at California State University at Fresno from whom I have learned and acquired invaluable knowledge and experience.
Finally, I would like to take the chance to express my great appreciation for my husband and my mom for their endless encouragement and support during this unique stage of my life. Also, I am grateful to my government for their financial support and for giving me the chance to complete my study in California State University at Fresno.
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هدفت الدراسة إلى التعرف على موقف ثلاثة وستون طالبة سعودية ممن يدرسن اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية تجاه اللهجة البريطانية والأمريكية. واستخدمت الدراسة عدد من الطرق لمعرفة وقياس مواقف الطالبات نحو هاتين اللهجتين. وأهم هذه الطرق تقنية قياس المظهر اللفظية وهي تقنية قد طورت من تقنية قياس المظهر المتطابقة. وهذه الطرق هي تقنيات غير مباشرة لمعرفة مواقف ومشاعر المشاركين الحقيقية تجاه المجموعات المختلفة. وقد تطلبت المواد البحثية للدراسة مجموعة من دراستين باستخدام نفس التسجيلات للهجة البريطانية والأمريكية . تكمن أهمية الدراسة الأولى في تحديد مجموعة من الصفات المعيارية للمتحدثين حسبما يرى ذلك متعلمي اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية فتكون هذه الصفات ذات صلة لمقاييس التصنيف في الدراسة. أما بالنسبة للدراسة الثانية (الدراسة الأساسية) فتكمن أهميتها في توثيق تقييم طالبات اللغة لهاتين اللهجتين في الدراسة الأساسية. وقد أظهرت النتائج تفضيل طالبات اللغة الإنجليزية اللهجة البريطانية على اللهجة الأمريكية وجاءت نتيجة تفضيلهن للهجة البريطانية. ومن أبرز المعايير التي فضلت بها الطالبات اللهجة البريطانية مقياس المركز. الجدير بالذكر ان الطالبات لم يتمكن من التمييز بين اللهجة البريطانية والأمريكية. وهذا يشير إلى أن القدرة الواعية على التمييز بين لهجات المتحدثين وتحديد جنسياتهم ليست شرطا مسبقا ضروريا لوجود تصورات مختلفة (غير واعية) تجاه هؤلاء المتحدثين. ومن الواضح أنه لا تزال أسس التصورات اللاواعية الموجودة في هذه الأطروحة لغزا.
الكلمات المفتاحية: مواقف طلاب اللغة الإنجليزية كلغة أجنبية، اللهجة البريطانية، اللهجة الأمريكية، تقنية قياس المظهر اللفظية، تقنية قياس المظهر المتطابقة، التصور اللاوعي.