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J Acoust Soc Am. 2010 Dec;128(6):3757-68. doi: 10.1121/1.3506351.

The effect of native vowel processing ability and frequency discrimination acuity on the phonetic training of English vowels for native speakers of Greek.

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Department of Speech Hearing and Phonetic Sciences, University College London, Chandler House, 2 Wakefield Street, London WC1N 1PF, United Kingdom.


The perception and production of nonnative phones in second language (L2) learners can be improved via auditory training, but L2 learning is often characterized by large differences in performance across individuals. This study examined whether success in learning L2 vowels, via five sessions of high-variability phonetic training, related to the learners' native (L1) vowel processing ability or their frequency discrimination acuity. A group of native speakers of Greek received training, while another completed the pre-/post-tests but without training. Pre-/post-tests assessed different aspects of their L2 and L1 vowel processing and frequency acuity. L2 and L1 vowel processing were assessed via: (a) Natural English (L2) vowel identification in quiet and in multi-talker babble, and natural Greek (L1) vowel identification in babble; (b) the categorization of synthetic English and Greek vowel continua; and (c) discrimination of the same continua. Frequency discrimination acuity was assessed for a nonspeech continuum. Frequency discrimination acuity was related to measures of both L1 and L2 vowel processing, a finding that favors an auditory processing over a speech-specific explanation for individual variability in L2 vowel learning. The most efficient frequency discriminators at pre-test were also the most accurate both in English vowel perception and production after training.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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