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L2 Willingness to Communicate and Perceived


Accent Strength: A Qualitative Inquiry

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DOI: 10.1080/17475759.2017.1301981

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L2 Willingness to Communicate and Perceived


Accent Strength: A Qualitative Inquiry

Nourollah Zarrinabadi & Ensieh Khodarahmi

To cite this article: Nourollah Zarrinabadi & Ensieh Khodarahmi (2017) L2 Willingness to
Communicate and Perceived Accent Strength: A Qualitative Inquiry, Journal of Intercultural
Communication Research, 46:2, 173-187, DOI: 10.1080/17475759.2017.1301981

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Download by: [Mr Nourollah Zarrinabadi] Date: 10 March 2017, At: 07:01
Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 2017
VOL. 46, NO. 2, 173187
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2017.1301981

L2 Willingness to Communicate and Perceived Accent


Strength: A Qualitative Inquiry
Nourollah Zarrinabadia and Ensieh Khodarahmib
a
Department of English Language and Literature, University of Isfahan, Isfahan, Iran; bDepartment of English
Language and Literature, Allameh Tabataba`i University, Tehran, Iran

ABSTRACT ARTICLE HISTORY


This study examined whether and how English as a foreign language Received 2 November 2016
(EFL) learners` perceptions towards their own and others` accent is Accepted28 February 2017
liable to impact their second language (L2) willingness to communicate KEYWORDS
(WTC). The content analysis of interviews with 20 EFL learners showed L2 WTC; accent strength;
that L2 WTC was amenable to their hegemonic attitudes towards stigma; language attitudes;
native English accents. As many as four recurring themes arose communication dynamics
from the interviews which showed how perceived accent strength
can impact L2 WTC. These include: Accent-related stigmas, accent-
based disruptiveness, aspiration for showing off one`s accent, and
self-perceived communicative competence and self-confidence. The
paper concludes by discussing the implications of the findings and
outlining avenues for future research.

Introduction
In the past few decades, communicative approaches towards second language (L2) learning
and teaching have attached overriding importance to the role of meaningful and interactive
use of language in L2 acquisition inasmuch as interaction is regarded as the most important
element in the curriculum (van Lier, 1996, p. 5). Independently of their L2 proficiency,
however, learners may or may not be willing to communicate in an L2. In effect, L2 will-
ingness to communicate (WTC) functions as a mediating layer between having the L2
competence and using this competence to communicate (Dornyei, 2005). Engendering L2
WTC in learners, therefore, is viewed as an integral component of modern L2 pedagogy
(Kang, 2005; Macintyre, Drnyei, Clment, & Noels, 1998). Macintyre et al. (1998) described
L2 WTC as a readiness to enter into discourse at a particular time with a specific person
or persons, using an L2 (p. 547). A high L2 WTC would facilitate L2 acquisition as it can
increase the frequency of L2 use (Clment, Baker, & MacIntyre, 2003) and heighten learning
opportunities inside and outside the classroom context (Kang, 2005).
Despite the extensive attention paid to WTC in L2 acquisition research, there are still
areas which have remained relatively unexplored. One such area has to do with the potential
influences that L2 speakers` perceived accent strength is likely to exert on their willingness

CONTACT Nourollah Zarrinabadi zarrinabadi@fgn.ui.ac.ir


2017 World Communication Association
174 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

to initiate a conversation. Accent strength is the most salient feature of L2 speech (Derwing
& Rossiter, 2002) which is independent of L2 communicative competence (Cook, 1999)
and constitutes an important component of learners` L2 identity (Gluszek & Dovidio,
2010a, 2010b). It refers to the extent to which speakers` first language (L1) deviates from
the L2 and the extent to which speakers of the same L1 differ in the way they deviate from
the L2 (Derwing & Rossiter, 2002). Research on accent attitudes, conducted mainly from a
social-psychological perspective, has demonstrated that non-native speakers (NNSs) accent
strength can have negative stereotypic consequences for them in interactions with native
speakers (NS) such as being seen as less proficient (Boyd, 2003), less intelligible (Bresnahan,
Ohashi, Nebashi, Liu, & Shearman, 2002), or even less talented (Rubin, Healy, Gardiner,
Zath, & Moore, 1997). Given the status of English as an International Lingua Franca (EILF),
and the pervasiveness of NNSNNS interactions in international settings, examining the
role of accented speech on WTC in interactions between non-native-speaker and listener
pairs from the same and different mother tongues merits attention. The present study seeks
to make contribution to this gap by focusing specifically on the nexus between learners` L2
WTC and perceived accent strength in NNSNNS interactions in the Iranian EFL context.
In addition, to take dynamics of social interaction into account, the relationship between
learners` perception of the other interlocutors` accent strength and their L2 WTC will also
be examined.

Literature Review
The Construct of L2 WTC
The construct of WTC was originally developed by McCroskey and Richmond (1990) as a
trait-like predisposition to account for individual differences in L1 communication. It was
defined as the probability to engage in communication when given the choice (McCroskey &
Richmond, 1990) and was considered as a personality trait reflecting a stable predisposition
to initiate communication in different situations (McCroskey & Richmond, 1990). After
being introduced to L2 literature by MacIntyre and Charos (1996), L2 researchers began to
investigate whether L2 WTC is a trait-like predisposition. These studies corroborated, inter
alia, perceived communicative competence (MacIntyre & Charos, 1996), communication
apprehension (e.g. Baker & MacIntyre, 2000), age and gender (Baker & MacIntyre, 2000),
culture (Peng, 2014), and motivation (Peng, 2007) influence L2 learners` willingness to
initiate a conversation.
Macintyre et al. (1998), however, developed the notion of WTC as a trait-like predisposi-
tion and argued that L2 WTC comprises both trait (stable) and state (transient) properties.
Within their situational framework, WTC was defined as a readiness to enter into discourse
at a particular time with a specific person or persons, using a L2 (Macintyre et al., 1998;
p. 547). Considering WTC as a situational construct, Macintyre et al. (1998) suggested a
heuristic model to show the influence of both individual and situational variables on will-
ingness to initiate L2 communication. The model, presented in the shape of a multi-layered
pyramid, integrated various social-psychological, linguistic and communicative variables as
precursors of L2 communication. The first three layers, namely social and individual context,
affective-cognitive context, and motivational propensities were deemed to have more endur-
ing influences on L2 WTC. The second three layers, to wit situated antecedents, behavioral
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 175

intention, and communication behavior were purported to have transitory situation-specific


influences on WTC. The second layer comprised WTC as the most immediate antecedent
of L2 use (Clment et al., 2003) which served as a behavioral intention for communication
that was amenable to both the speaker`s attitude about the consequences of using an L2
and subjective norms (MacIntyre, Baker, Clment, & Conrod, 2001).
Follow-up research also provided compelling evidence that L2 WTC is affected, to a
large extent, by situational variables (e.g. Cao, 2011, 2014; Cao & Philp, 2006; Kang, 2005;
MacIntyre & Doucette, 2010; Peng, 2012). Baker and MacIntyre (2000) compared L2 WTC
in immersion vs. non-immersion learners. The result revealed significant situational dif-
ferences. Immersion learners showed higher level of WTC and more frequent use of L2.
Additionally, Cao (2014) reported that situational L2 WTC is the product of the interplay
among linguistic, environmental, and individual factors that may have differential pro-
ductive or counterproductive influences on different individuals. Kang (2005) employed a
qualitative approach to investigate situational variables influencing L2 WTC. She singled
out security, excitement, and responsibility as three psychological antecedents of situational
WTC. With regard to security, Kang (2005) pointed out it is concerned with feeling safe
from the fears that NNSs tend to have in L2 communication (p. 282) which can influence
power dynamics among interlocutors. She further noted that the English fluency of other
non-native interlocutors is one of the factors shaping feelings of security. More specifically,
participants in her study appeared to feel less secure and consequently more ambivalent
about speaking English with other NNSs whom they perceived to be more fluent than they
were. In the present study, the authors argue that learners perception of their own and other
non-native interlocutors` accent strength could be another variable influencing security
and subsequently willingness to initiate L2 communication. This is particularly pertinent
given that in many English language teaching (ELT) contexts, native accents of English,
standard American and British English in particular, are prioritised and seen as ideal models
and learners with more native-like accents are seen as superior to others (Jenkins, 2007).

Accent Strength
Accent, defined as a manner of pronunciation (Giles, 1970), is an integral part of the spoken
language and can have significant consequences for interactants and the interaction between
them (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010a, 2010b; Lindemann, 2003; Munro & Derwing, 1995). This
is a common feature of adult L2 learners speech (Moyer, 2004; Munro & Derwing, 1995;
Scovel, 2000) in which the manner of pronunciation differs from the accepted standard
(Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010b). Past research indicated that while adult L2 speakers might
develop native-like proficiency in many areas of the L2, achieving a native-like accent is
quite difficult, if not impossible, even under the most ideal conditions (Derwing & Munro,
2009; Moyer, 2004).
L2 speakers, however, speak the L2 with varying degrees of accent strength (Munro
& Derwing, 2001). Munro and Derwing (2001) defined accent strength as the degree to
which the listener believes an utterance differs phonetically from native-speaker utterances
(p. 454). It serves as an indicator of speaking a nonnative language (Kinzler, Dupoux, &
Spelke, 2007) and may affect the way speakers and listeners approach interactions (Gluszek
& Dovidio, 2010a). Though basically independent from L2 competence (Cook, 1999),
accent strength may be taken to mean that one is not able to speak the language fluently
176 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

(Lindemann, 2003; Marvasti, 2005). This is likely to generate negative feelings and biases
in both speakers and listeners which in turn affect the communication process (Cargile,
Giles, Ryan, & Bradac, 1994; Giles, 1970; Giles, Williams, Mackie, & Rosselli, 1995; Gluszek
& Dovidio, 2010b; Lindemann, 2003; Munro & Derwing, 1995).
To date, research has demonstrated diverse effects of nonnative accent on communi-
cation processes and outcomes in NSNNS interactions. This line of research which has
been mainly conducted from NSs perspective (Gluszek & Dovidio, 2010) has generally
confirmed that non-natively accented speech is perceived negatively on the part of the NSs
(e.g. Derwing & Munro, 2009; Fuertes, Gottdiener, Martin, Gilbert, & Giles, 2012; Giles,
1973). The general impression gleaned from the studies on accented speech among L2
speakers of English also indicates that accented English is perceived negatively compared
to the natively accented one in regard to social status, educational background, and intel-
ligence (e.g. Cargile et al., 1994; Jenkins, 2007) and NNSs with accented English are often
confronted with prejudices, discrimination, and stigmas in their social life (e.g. Derwing,
2003; Flege & Fletcher, 1992; Lindemann, 2003; Moyer, 2004). Such perceptions exert a
negative influence on nonnatively accented speakers` feelings about their accent which
in turn affect their approach to the interaction process (Derwing & Rossiter, 2002). Such
accent-related stigmas can have psychological and behavioral influences on NNSs` percep-
tion of their own accent and the way they approach interaction with NNSs.

Purpose of the Study


Research into accent issues and their direct and/or indirect consequences on for speakers
has been mainly limited to NSNNS interactions and has fallen short of elaborating on the
potential effects that accent could have on communicative behaviour of NNSs in NNSNNS
interactions. As Stephan and Stephan (1985) noted, experiencing communication anxiety
is not confined to interactions with an out-group member and individuals are likely to
undergo communication anxiety in intergroup interactions, too. Moreover, given the use of
EILF and the development of World Englishes (Kachru, 1992), a large number of everyday
interactions in English occur among NNSs of English. As such, perceived accent strength
can be an influential variable in NNSNNS interactions which is likely to impact upon the
interlocutors` willingness to speak in such situations. The present study sets out to investi-
gate whether and how Iranian EFL learners` feelings about their/others accent in interacting
with other NNSs (for example peers and teachers) can influence their WTC. Applying a
qualitative methodology, the present study attempts to address the following question:
(1)How do language learners perceptions about accentinfluence their L2 WTC?

Method
Context and Participants
As the study aimed to examine accent strength in a context in which English communication
occurred between NNSs of English, the present study was conducted in a private language
teaching institute in Iran. The institute provided courses for foreign language learners in
German, Spanish, English, and French. The instructional approach employed by the institute
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 177

encouraged communicative and interactive use of the language. The classes were held three
times a week and each class lasted for 90min.
Participants were 20 Iranian EFL learners (10 males, 10 females) who were selected based
on purposeful sampling. To this end, the researchers tried to find participants who would
best enable them to answer their research questions. This method of sampling was chosen
as it helps to obtain a rich understanding of the phenomenon under study (Creswell, 2012).
The participants all spoke Persian as their native language and their age varied from 16 to
24years old (M=18.6). They were all classified as upper-intermediate level students based
on their scores on OPT. 40% of them had immediate family members (e.g. father, brother,
sister) and 60% had extended family members who spoke some English. They all reported
that they had had interactions with NSs of English. The language learning experience of
students ranged from 18month to 7years.

Instrumentation
Data for the study were collected in a series of semi-structured interviews with each partic-
ipant. The interview questions were planned to explore the extent to which the participants
paid attention to their accent during interactions and the ways in which their accent might
affect their willingness to approach or avoid communication. After the first draft of the
interview framework was prepared, it was submitted to two experts well-familiar with L2
WTC and nonnative accent literature to pass judgment on its content and relevance to the
focus of study. The expert review resulted in some modifications in the diction and order
of the questions. The revised interview protocol was then pilot-tested with five learners
to identify any potential ambiguities or problems that might occur during the interviews.
Learners were also asked to state whether they could understand each question clearly.
Accordingly, some wording problems were resolved.

Data Collection Procedure


The interviews were conducted in the same language institute. The interviewer was one of the
authors who was well-familiar with the topic under study and qualitative research. During
the interviews, the participants were asked to answer the questions honestly and to provide
as much information as they considered necessary to make themselves understood. Upon
the participants request and in order to avoid any potential negative effect of participants`
English language proficiency on their responses, the interviews were conducted in Persian.
Each interview lasted about 30min on average and was audio-recorded. The second author
translated the interviews into English. Later, the first author back-translated the interviews.
The differences between the two versions were subsequently discussed and resolved.

Data Analysis
To analyze the data, audio-recordings of the interviews were transcribed verbatim using
Microsoft Word and were printed for the purpose of analysis. The analysis of individual
participants` interview transcription was then carried out in several stages. In the first
stage, the researchers perused the transcripts and open-coded them. This was accomplished
through examining, comparing, and classifying the data to produce as many alternative
178 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

categories as possible. As suggested by Strauss and Corbin (2008), the researchers tried to
frame the categories as activities or processes (e.g. using words such as avoiding, resisting,
and talking). The categories were filed with the interview excerpts. To keep track of the
categories generated at this stage, the researchers wrote the notes on the margins of the
A4-sized prints of the interview transcripts and then cut and pasted the segments generated
into different files. This led to files containing different excerpts of a category. For example,
classroom file contained more than 50 excerpts.
In the next round of coding, i.e. the axial coding stage, the coded data fragments were
examined for recurring ideas to establish more general themes. To this end, the set of cat-
egories were inspected as an entirety to find those higher-order ideas or categories which
allowed the clustering of ideas. This stage involved the identification of the characteristics
of categories and putting them together to form a whole picture. Next, categories were
constantly compared and contrasted with each other to refine them as a whole system. By
way of illustration, there were some categories which were classified as different at first but
then collapsed into the same category (e.g. classroom, school, tourism sites into context
category). There were also cases where nuances of meaning resulted in a categorys division
into two or more specified codes (e.g. pronouncing into mispronouncing and accented
pronouncing). In the next phase, the categories that best captured the essence of the data
were selected. In this phase, the relationship between previously identified thought units,
concepts, and categories were further examined, developed, and refined. This stage resulted
in six themes, of which four featured predominantly. There were three to five thought units
in each of the predominant themes. Moreover, the analysis showed that the identified core
themes were almost equal in prominence and importance (the themes are the ones that
were identified and they are not based on order of importance and quantity of codes). The
researchers kept memos which made it possible to store ideas generated at coding stages
for future use. When involved in coding the interviews, the researchers tried to not only
describe the data but also find those main concepts which might capture the meaning of the
phenomena under study. In addition to the ideas fine-grained in the iterative process of data
analysis, the researchers also interpreted the findings in the light of previous research find-
ings to avoid any imposition of pre-existing ideas and assumptions on the interpretations.

Evaluative Criteria and Ethical Consideration


Several evaluative criteria were taken into account while conducting the study. The researcher
who interviewed the participants and analyzed the data kept a diary where he wrote his
ideas and the reasons for the descriptions to foster reflexivity and increase the trustwor-
thiness of the study (Malterud, 2001). The data collection and analysis continued until
the point that additional data seemed not to add to the identified themes and categories.
Also, the analyzed categories, interpretations, and conclusions drawn were discussed with
participants in some informal interviews to provide opportunity to understand and assess
their intended meanings and modify misinterpretations. In most of the cases, the students
confirmed the interpretations; however, there were few cases which their comments led to
some modifications in the interpretations made. Moreover, an external audit was performed
by requesting an expert in WTC literature and qualitative research to inspect the process
and the interpretations of the study. This was done to check the accuracy of data and to
ensure that the interpretations and conclusions were grounded in the data. The external
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 179

audit did not ask for further data gatherings but suggested some changes in higher-order
category naming.
Several ethical considerations were attended to before, during, and after data collection
and analysis. Prior to the interviews, participants were thoroughly informed about the pur-
pose and the nature of the study. Furthermore, they were assured that their privacy would be
guaranteed, their identity would not be revealed, and the information they provide would be
confidentially treated. They were assured that the study would not affect their course grades
and that they might withdraw from the study if they seemed to have problems with it. All
the participants signed an informed consent. During the interviews, the researchers tried
to establish rapport and friendship and to create an environment which was trustworthy.
The interviewer also tried not to intrude into the learners life and time (e.g. He did not ask
questions which might require the participants to give information about their personal
life or he allowed them to decide on the time of the interview). Throughout the study, an
attempt was made to present only participants views and avoid bias and misinterpretations.

Results and Discussion


The analysis of the data revealed that perceived accent strength was associated with distinct
outcomes for learners` L2 WTC in NNSNNS interactions. The following subsections pres-
ent a detailed discussion of the ways in which accent is likely to affect L2 WTC accompanied
by illustrative quotations typical of the emerged themes.

Accent, Stigmatization, and WTC


The data analysis revealed that accent strength as an important aspect of a persons social
identity (Dovidio, Major, & Crocker, 2000) influenced the participants L2 WTC by making
them feel stigmatised. Stigma, according to Dovidio et al. (2000), was a social construction
that involved the recognition of an area of difference based on some distinguishing features
which results in a consequent devaluation of the person. Goffman (1963) believed that
stigma was like a sign/mark which designated one as spoiled and less valued than other
normal individuals. Accent strength, in this study, was found to work as a source of stigma.
The participants frequently noted that accent, most of the time, gave them the impression
that one had a characteristic which was devalued in L2 communication situations.
A number of participants reported that they often felt they were misjudged due to their
accent strength. The following comments by two of the participants can be taken as rep-
resentative examples:
I cant forget the first month I tried to speak English. My accent and pronunciation was not
good. But the worse was reaction of others to it. They talked to me as if I was silly. They
explained simple things that everyone could easily understand. I can easily say that such prob-
lems lead to not only my but everyone elses avoiding communication in English.

I think accent and pronunciation was the yardstick for assessing all of my abilities or even my
personality. For example, everyone reacted with surprise when I said I have a PhD in chemistry.
Or they explained simple social issues to me as if I didnt know themI didnt like to talk for I
couldnt speak with a native accent. Whenever, I talked I did it with shame for I thought they
would think of me as illiterate and silly.
180 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

Moreover, the participants noted that they experienced similar feelings and reactions
from their teachers as well. They posited that when they talked in the classroom, they felt
that the teacher developed a negative image of them due to their accented speech. As one
of them commented:
The teacher negatively reacted to my speech! After that he always asked me did you get it?
He did it about very simple things. He talked more with those whose accent and pronunciation
was better. I didnt like to talk in his class for I thought he believed I am not a good learner. I
think I was not important for him.
Another participant referred to the teachers underestimation of his abilities as the cause
underpinning his unwillingness to communicate (UnWTC) and believed that the teacher
underestimated his ability because of his non-native accent. As he commented:
The teacher used pronunciation as a judging criterion for my ability. I was better than others
at vocabulary and grammar but the teacher thought I am lazy or less intelligent. He looked
at me when explaining simple structures and always asked me whether I understood but did
not ask others. I could easily understand what he thought about me. I did not like to talk in
the class for the content of my speech was not important.
Another participant pointed to the same behavior on the part of the teacher and men-
tioned that the teacher`s interaction with him decreased because of his accent and pro-
nunciation and became limited to simple and short discourse in the classroom. He noted:
The teacher told me that pronunciation was very important. After two or three presentations,
he did not talk much with me. He only asked me simple questions like do you agree? or yes
or no?. But he talked profusely with others and discussed important things with those whose
accent and pronunciation was better.
Interestingly, some participants who palpably felt that they had managed to get rid of
their non-native accent and that their accent was nice to listen to mentioned that they did
not like to talk to people with strong accents. As one of them commented:
If an individual speaks English with accent, honestly, I dont have positive feelings toward him.
I feel he is not much proficient, educated, or classy. I dont like to talk to such people for I think
they dont have enough knowledge. They dont have something to say.
Another student expressed similar feelings and said:
The first thing which comes to your mind when someone speaks with a bad accent is that he
does not know much English. You think he has poor grammar and vocabulary, too. I dont like
talking with such individuals as I think I talk to someone who knows less than me.
Another student echoed similar ideas and commented:
Often, such persons dont have high degrees, classy jobs, and interesting characters. I think if
they did, they would try to improve their accents.
On the contrary, those with native-like accent were not only considered as linguisti-
cally knowledgeable but also perceived as classy and prestigious. As some participants
commented:
Yes, I like to talk to people with beautiful accents. They think they have good command of
English. You know, it also seems classy.

You know, it gives me the impressions of being literate, classy, and, yes, being prestigious.
As can be seen in the above excerpts, individuals with a strong accent became the target
of prejudice, stereotyping, negative attitudes, and discrimination which are the hallmarks of
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 181

stigmatization. Individuals with strong accents were thought of as illiterate and uneducated.
These negative attitudes and prejudices were translated into unwillingness to talk for both
the speaker and the listener. Participants who perceived their accent as being strong noted
that they were unwilling to speak an L2 because they feared being thought of as silly, uned-
ucated, and illiterate. Also, individuals who spoke to interlocutors with native-like accent
were willing to resume conversation for they perceived the speakers English to be classy
and prestigious. On the other hand, participants with native-like accents were unwilling to
talk to people with accented speech for they thought that such communication could not
enhance their linguistic knowledge.
It seemed that the extent to which L2 learners believed that accents were under ones
control, they might negatively react to individuals who display accents. Accordingly, accent
appeared to serve as a determining benchmark in characterizing good language learners in
NSSNNS communications, too, and accent stigmatization could not be seen as exclusive
to NSNNS interactions.

Accent, Disruptiveness, and L2 WTC


The second theme that arose from the interviews showed that accent influenced L2 WTC
through disruptiveness. Disruptiveness refers to the extent to which a characteristic hinders
interpersonal communication (Crocker, Major, & Steele, 1998). The analysis of the data
showed that perceived accent strength could negatively influence L2 WTC. A participant
explained about the time he started learning English and the occasions that his speech was
followed by questions like what? or Aha you mean He noted that he faced several
problems because of poor pronunciation, stress, and rhythm while communicating with
his peers or other NNSs and that these made him reluctant to talk in the L2.
One the other hand, one of the participants referred to an occasion he talked to a person
with strong accent and commented:
Her accent was so bad that I couldnt understand what she said. I only said, yes, yes, and fin-
ished speaking. I didnt like to continue talking to her for I didnt understand what she said.
Also, one of the participants mentioned that he became unwilling to continue communica-
tion because of poor accent and pronunciation of his interlocutor. He commented:
I generally like to participate in discussion and talk to others. But when I talked to him I couldnt
understand what he said. Even I found that I misunderstood him because of his pronunciation.
You know, it was very difficult to continue talking to him so I decided to end it some way.
Another participant echoed similar ideas and pointed to the relationship between accent
and code-switching. He commented:
It happened to me for several times that the person whose accent was not good stopped talking
in English and continued in Persian. It also happened to me in the first year of learning English.
My pronunciation was bad and I didnt like to speak in English so I switched into Persian to
make sure they understood my message.
Participants comments indicated that negative attitudes towards one`s or the other inter-
locutor`s accent led to unintelligibility and disruptiveness in communication which, in
turn, had counterproductive impacts on speakers` L2 WTC. As noted by Derwing and
Munro (2009), a general perception among speakers and listeners alike was that accents
interfered with communication. In effect, the speaker might stop trying to get the message
182 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

across as he thought his accent was a major hurdle in doing so and the listener might stop
trying to make sense of what he heard as he pre-judged the speaker`s ability to make himself
understood by his accent. These attitudes and feelings were conducive to UnWTC on the
part of both the listener and the speaker.

Accent, Showing off, and L2 WTC


The third theme emerged from the analysis of the interviews revealed that participants who
had positive feelings towards their accent and perceived their accent as beautiful and native-
like were very keen to talk in the L2 so as to show off their accent. One of the participants,
for example, referred to his beautiful American accent and posited that he sometimes spoke
inside or outside the classroom just to brag about his accent to others. He commented:
You know, I spend a long period of time trying to assimilate American accent and I know I
am good at it. Honestly, I sometimes speak only to show this. I have tried to speak in several
situations to show that I have a beautiful American accent. I am not sure whether this is good
or bad but I did it.
On the other side, some participants noted that if they recognised that the other inter-
locutor was trying to show off their accent, they preferred to terminate the interaction. They
expounded that they did not like to speak with someone whose goal was to show off and
not to communicate. The following excerpts are illustrative examples:
I dont like to talk to such people. They try to show themselves. They speak fast, with difficult
words. But their goal is not to communicate or discuss something, they only try to show off.
There was one of these people in our classroom. I didnt like to talk to him at all. His accent
was beautiful and everyone would be happy to learn from him but he used it to show off and I
didnt like that. I cannot talk to individuals who try to show off with their British or American
accents. I dont like to speak to them at all.
As seen above, another way perceived accent strength was liable to influence L2 WTC
was through learners positive attitudes towards their accent. More specifically, learners
who perceived their accent as native-like were aspirant to talk to brag about their accent.
This could herald the hegemony that L2 learners thought attainment of a native-like accent
could bring about for them. Interestingly, the data showed that the listeners` WTC decreased
when they realised that the speaker is trying to show off his accent.

Accent, Perceived L2 Competence, Self-Confidence, and L2 WTC


Finally, the data analysis indicated that participants perception of their accent was
closely associated with their perceived communicative competence and self-confidence.
Participants` with positive attitudes about their accent seemed to enjoy a higher level of
self-confidence and a more positive perception of their communicative competence which,
in turn, promoted their L2 WTC. This was evident in the following comments made by
the participants:
My friends told me that my accent was beautiful. You know, their comments increased my
willingness to speak. I thought I was a good language learner and am good at speaking English.
I had a beautiful accent. It gave me the courage to speak in every situation.
Another participant commented like:
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 183

I compared my accent to that of others. I think my accent is better. I mean more beautiful. This
gives me the perception that I am good at English. You know, speaking is the most important
skill and when I have a good accent why not using it? I speak with confidence and in every
situation for I wont be ashamed of my accent and pronunciation.
Moreover, the data showed that negative ideas about ones accent adversely impacted per-
ceived L2 competence and self-confidence. These negative perceptions were eventually trans-
lated into lower L2 WTC. The following extracts can be taken as representative examples:
I compared my accent and pronunciation to those of my classmates. It was not as good as
theirs. I felt I could never be a good language learner. I was worried about my accent and
pronunciation in the class. And sometimes I decided not speak because of this.

My accent was not good. My friend was much better. This influenced my feelings about my
language learning abilities. Sometimes, I thought that maybe I was less intelligent. I didnt
participate much in the classroom discussions. Because I was worried about my pronunciation.
Moreover, the participants noted that comments given by peers and teachers influenced
their perceptions about the quality of their accent and pronunciation and increased their
competence and self-confidence. This can be found in the following comments:
The teacher told me that my accent and pronunciation is good. Honestly, I was doubtful about
my accent and pronunciation but after his comments I became more motivated to speak. His
comments gave me the courage and confidence to talk more.

My classmates told me that your accent is beautiful. I got happy when I heard these comments.
They reduced my stress about talking in the classroom. I relied on my accent and talked in
most situations even when I had little ideas.
As seen above, accent strength affected L2 WTC through influencing their perceived
competent and L2 self-confidence. If they thought that their accent was good, they would
become more confident to speak, and therefore, more willing to communicate. On the
contrary, if participants perceived their accent as strong and noticeable, they developed a
negative attitude about their language abilities, became less confident, and therefore, became
less willing to talk. This finding provides further support for Subtirelu (2014) study which
showed that L2 learners` perception of their communicative competence was affected by
their language ideology which subsequently impacted their L2 WTC.
Overall, the findings, taken together, suggest that, perceived accent strength as a
social-psychological factor, influences EFL learners` L2 WTC in NNSNNS interactions.
In other words, the participants perceptions about their or the interlocutors` accent strength
could positively or negatively affect L2 WTC.

Conclusion
This study used a qualitative methodology to examine the effect of accent strength on Iranian
EFL learners` willingness to initiate communication with NNSs of English. Four themes
featured prominently in participants` responses to the interview questions which showed
how accent-related attitudes might influence L2 WTC. First, accent strength was found to
arouse feelings of being stigmatised which are, in turn, translated into reluctance to par-
ticipate in communication and UnWTC. Individuals with accented speech were depicted
as illiterate and less talented by some participants and were stereotyped as incompetent
language speakers. Second, participants referred to disruptiveness in communication due
184 N. ZARRINABADI AND E. KHODARAHMI

to bad pronunciation and accented speech which led to the speaker or other interlocutors
abandonment of communication or code-switching to L1. Third, aspiration for showing
off one`s native-like accent was found to exert differential effect on the speaker and the
listener`s L2 WTC. More specifically, the speaker`s satisfaction with his supposedly native-
like accent heightened his L2 WTC but dampened the listener`s willingness to maintain
communication. Finally, perceived accent quality affected L2 WTC by influencing ones
perceived competence and L2 self-confidence. When participants perceived their accent
as native-like or beautiful, their perceived competence and L2 self-confidence increased
which in turn promoted their L2 WTC. Moreover, when the participants found that the
interlocutors spoke English with a beautiful accent, they became more willing to talk to
him/her for the speaker was perceived as literate, classy, and prestigious.
As the findings of the study show, in the Iranian EFL context, the ideas of prestigious
accent and ownership of English have largely gone unchallenged and speaking native-like
accents continues to be privileged. This highlights the need for an ideological critique of
the hegemonic status of American and British accent norms and points to a clear direction
forward for heightening teachers and learners` awareness of the discourse of English as a
Lingua Franca (EIL) in L2 pedagogy. To this end, the pedagogy of EIL needs to be inte-
grated in teacher education courses to highlight the priority of mutual intelligibility over
speaking a native or native-like English and to reconfigure teacher`s definition of a good
language learner. Teachers should not only be adequately prepared to teach issues such as
pronunciation, stress, and intonation but also should have an appreciation of their reaction
towards students accent so as not to hinder their L2 WTC. Additionally, they might try to
be cautious about students reaction/attitudes towards accented speech in order to avoid
discriminating and stereotyping, and eventually UnWTC. Through maintaining positive
views on their accents, L2 learners can be more assertive in communication and experience
more positive interactions.
Of course, it should be mentioned that further research on the role of perceived accent
strength on other EFL contexts is needed to get a clearer picture of the ways in which
accented speech might influence WTC. An interesting line of inquiry might be to examine
perceptions of accent among NNSs with different native languages in EIL settings.

Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

Notes on contributors
Nourollah Zarrinabadi is a PhD candidate of TEFL at University of Isfahan, Iran. His area of interest
is communication-related individual differences in second language learning and acquisition. His
current research involves both theoretical and empirical research on directed motivational cur-
rents, willingness to communicate, and Implementation and innovation research. His latest articles
appeared in journals such as System, TESOL Quarterly, Teachers and Teaching, and Language and
Linguistic Compass.
Ensieh Khodarahmi is a PhD candidate of TEFL at Allameh Tabatabai University, Iran. Her areas of
interest are second language acquisition, pragmatics, and teacher education. Her current research
involves investigating WTC and pragmatic fossilization in second language leaning. She has published
in national and international journals on these subjects.
JOURNAL OF INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION RESEARCH 185

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