English as a second language by David J Alonso

By David J Alonso

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It remains a question how the phonetic similarity and category goodness of native and nonnative phonemes can be predictive of the learnability of nonnative speech sounds in training (Best, 1994; Flege, 1995). What is not clear is the extent to which measures of auditory processing and phonetic interaction would show equivalence in listeners across cultures for assimilation and dissimilation processes. That is, at preattentive levels, such as that measured by the MMN, do training effects show up at the level of early auditory analysis or do they simply heighten the listeners‘ ability to attend to the critical acoustic cues for higher-level phonetic processing?

Rivera-Gaxiola, M. and Nelson, T. (2008). Phonetic learning as a pathway to language: new data and native language magnet theory expanded (NLM-e). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363 (1493), 979-1000. Kuhl, P. , Conboy, B. , Nelson, T. and Pruitt, J. (2005). Early speech perception and later language development: implications for the "Critical Period". Lang. Learn. Dev, 1, 237-264. Kuhl, P. , Kiritani, S. and Iverson, P. (2006). Infants show a facilitation effect for native language phonetic perception between 6 and 12 months.

Neurophysiological data in training provide not only important information of the brain regions specialized in speech perception but also a different perspective regarding anatomical changes and the level of processing that is altered by language experience (Golestani and Zatorre, 2004b). Behavioral studies suggest that the language-specific pattern of perception results from selective attentional mechanisms and not a change in basic auditory sensitivity. As the neurophysiological data are recorded while the subjects are required to attend to a distraction task such as reading a book or watching a movie, it seems reasonable to argue that language experience alters not only higher-level categorization but also lower-level perceptual processes.

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