Accent, intelligibility, and identity in international teaching assistants and internationally-educated instructors
Every year, thousands of students leave behind the comfort of their homes to pursue graduate studies in other countries. In many universities in North America, it is common practice to employ international graduate students who speak English as an additional language as teaching assistants and sessional instructors. They are commonly referred to as international teaching assistants (ITAs). ITA language skill is a main concern in hiring them to teach in higher education contexts. In the general area of language skills, accent and intelligibility are two main components that can directly affect communication between instructors and students. These components of speech are related to individuals’ backgrounds—the same backgrounds that inform their identities. In this study, issues related to the identity, accent, and intelligibility of ITAs are explored. By learning about these issues, my intention was to find ways of improving ITAs’ accent and intelligibility, thereby assisting their comprehensibility. The present study uses a parallel/convergent mixed methods research design. Social identity theory and the notion of communities of practice were used as the main theoretical frameworks for the study. Findings suggest that individuals’ experiences with identity development, accent and intelligibility are different. The results also show that a complex network of factors affect second language speakers’ accent and intelligibility, including their identity and experiences with social groups. The results of the mixed methods analysis revealed a relationship between identity and accent and intelligibility of ITAs. A relationship between identity and access to communities of practice was also found. A number of recommendations for the field of education were provided by exploring the best teaching experiences of the ITAs.