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Dev Sci. 2011 Mar;14(2):242-8. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00973.x.

Impact of second-language experience in infancy: brain measures of first- and second-language speech perception.

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Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195-7988, USA.


Language experience 'narrows' speech perception by the end of infants' first year, reducing discrimination of non-native phoneme contrasts while improving native-contrast discrimination. Previous research showed that declines in non-native discrimination were reversed by second-language experience provided at 9-10 months, but it is not known whether second-language experience affects first-language speech sound processing. Using event-related potentials (ERPs), we examined learning-related changes in brain activity to Spanish and English phoneme contrasts in monolingual English-learning infants pre- and post-exposure to Spanish from 9.5-10.5 months of age. Infants showed a significant discriminatory ERP response to the Spanish contrast at 11 months (post-exposure), but not at 9 months (pre-exposure). The English contrast elicited an earlier discriminatory response at 11 months than at 9 months, suggesting improvement in native-language processing. The results show that infants rapidly encode new phonetic information, and that improvement in native speech processing can occur during second-language learning in infancy.


Event-related potentials (ERPs); infants; language development; mismatch negativity; second-language learning; speech discrimination; speech perception

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