Author

Erhan Aslan

Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

World Languages

Major Professor

Amy Thompson, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Camilla Vasquez, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Nicole Tracy-Ventura, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amanda Huensch, Ph.D.

Keywords

communication anxiety, international teaching assistants, pragmatic competence, speech acts, willingness to communicate

Abstract

International teaching assistants (ITAs) are considered advanced English users with relatively high standardized language proficiency test scores. However, they may experience difficulties during their interactions with undergraduate students. Some of these difficulties may arise from affective factors such as ambiguity, stress, and adjustment and can impact language use. From an individual differences perspective, a second language user with high communication anxiety may have difficulty comprehending or producing appropriate pragmalinguistic forms. Using a mixed-methods approach, this study examined the underlying factors in ITAs communication anxiety and willingness to communicate in the US classroom and how these factors explained their pragmatic competence, which refers to the ability to use language in socially appropriate ways. A total of 289 ITAs participated in the study. To measure their judgement of appropriateness, a pragmatic appropriateness test was designed. The speech act production was elicited through a discourse completion test. Two survey instruments were designed to measure ITAs’ classroom communication anxiety and willingness to communicate. The major underlying factors from the exploratory factor analysis performed on the survey responses were ‘ease of communication,’ classroom management anxiety,’ ‘fear of warning,’ and ‘willingness to interact with students’. A six-predictor multiple regression analysis revealed that linguistic competence was the most important factor contributing to pragmatic competence. Other factors such as ease of communication and willingness to communicate positively correlated with pragmatic competence. In addition to quantitative data, qualitative data were collected in the form of classroom observations, field notes, and interviews from a group of ITAs (N = 4) who had also participated in the quantitative part of the study. The analysis of the qualitative data revealed that the situational context of instruction determined the particular communication patterns in different disciplines, specifically the impact of threat posed to the negative and positive face of the discourse participants. Additionally, in conjunction with the quantitative findings, while the ITAs seemed to be generally willing to interact with students, teacher-fronted talk in the form of delivering lectures and self-talk especially in large classes was found to be anxiety-inducing for some of them. Length of residence and opportunities for communication seemed to influence the process of adjustment and acquisition of the classroom pragmatic norms. Finally, ITAs’ perceptions and beliefs about appropriateness seemed to affect their pragmatic performance in the classroom. More specifically, ITAs’ perspectives on education and communication such as moderating the power variable in class and building rapport and interpersonal relationships with students through casual talk seemed to guide their choices of pragmalinguistic forms and politeness strategies. The study offered a number of implications for ITA research and training.

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