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J Acoust Soc Am. 2004 Dec;116(6):3647-58.

Rapid adaptation to foreign-accented English.

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Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona 85721, USA.


This study explored the perceptual benefits of brief exposure to non-native speech. Native English listeners were exposed to English sentences produced by non-native speakers. Perceptual processing speed was tracked by measuring reaction times to visual probe words following each sentence. Three experiments using Spanish- and Chinese-accented speech indicate that processing speed is initially slower for accented speech than for native speech but that this deficit diminishes within one minute of exposure. Control conditions rule out explanations for the adaptation effect based on practice with the task and general strategies for dealing with difficult speech. Further results suggest that adaptation can occur within as few as two to four sentence-length utterances. The findings emphasize the flexibility of human speech processing and require models of spoken word recognition that can rapidly accommodate significant acoustic-phonetic deviations from native language speech patterns.

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