How Language Experience Changes Our Speech Perception

date November 1, 2013
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Friday, November 1, 2013 4:00 p.m. in ETC 4.150

Professor Chang Liu
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
The University of Texas at Austin
http://csd.utexas.edu/faculty/chang-liu

It is well known that when listening in noise, English non-native listeners have more difficulty to perceive English speech sounds than English-native listeners.  Previous work in our laboratory found that the identification of English phonemes, especially English vowels, was quite challenging in noise for non-native listeners.  The native advantage became greater from quiet to noisy conditions, indicating more negative impacts of noise for non-native listeners than for native listeners.  Moreover, given the same native language background, non-native listeners with more native English experience (e.g., Chinese-native listeners in the US) outperformed their peers with little or no native English experience (e.g., Chinese-native listeners in China) in English phonemic identification in multi-talker babble noise, while the two groups of non-native listeners had similar performance in quiet and long-term speech-shaped noise.  We proposed two possible explanations:  1) native English exposure may help non-native listeners use the cue of the temporal fluctuation in noise more efficiently;  2) native English exposure may improve non-native listeners’ capacity to reduce informational masking of multi-talker babble.  Two present studies are being conducted to test the two hypotheses.  The preliminary results showed that both possibilities may be present.  These studies suggest that when learning English as a second language, listeners may benefit from native English exposures, active or passive, by using acoustic and/or phonetic cues in speech and noise more efficiently.