On a recent CAGcast Cheapy was talking about difficulties understanding instructors who were not native speakers of English. I'm sure any of you who attend(ed) universities with graduate programs in math, engineering, the sciences, etc. are familiar with this issue. Even though most schools require that their international TAs and professors pass some kind of test of English proficiency, many of them can still be hard to understand. Anyway I wanted to share the results of a study of this problem. (If you want the citation for this study, just pm me.)
This was a controlled study in which the same lecture was delivered by two TAs: one white and one Asian. Different groups of undergraduate students heard the lectures and afterward graded the lecturers on their accents and took a test of how well they understood the material in the lecture.
The results: the Asian TA was graded as having a foreign accent and the students who heard that lecture scored much lower on the comprehension test. So, this was a strong confirmation of what you all know: a teacher with a foreign accent makes it harder to understand the class material.
Now the kicker: Both groups of students actually heard the exact same thing. The video was manipulated so that they thought they were listening to either a white or Asian lecturer but the audio was the same in both cases. And, the voice on the audio track was that of a native speaker of English (from
ing Ohio, no less!).
Discuss amongst yourselves.