Individual variability in the perceptual learning of L2 speech sounds and its cognitive correlates


This study explored which cognitive processes are related to individual variability in the learning of novel phonemic contrasts in a second language. 25 English participants were trained to perceive a Korean stop voicing contrast which is novel for English speakers. They were also presented with a large battery of tests which investigated different aspects of their perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as pre- and posttraining tests of their ability to discriminate this novel consonant contrast. The battery included: adaptive psychoacoustic tasks to determine frequency limens, a paired-association task looking at the ability to memorise the pairing of two items, a backward digit span task measuring working memory span, a sentence perception in noise task that quantifies the effect of top-down information as well as signal detection ability, a sorting task investigating the attentional filtering of the key acoustic features. The general measures that were the most often correlated with the ability to learn the novel phonetic contrast were measures of attentional switching (i.e. the ability to reallocate attention), the ability to sort stimuli according to a particular dimension, which is also somewhat linked to allocation of attention, frequency acuity and the ability to associate two unrelated events

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