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Assimilation of L2 vowels to L1 phonemes governs L2 learning in adulthood: a behavioral and ERP study

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  • Mirko Grimaldi, University of Salento, Denmark
  • Bianca Sisinni, University of Salento, Denmark
  • Barbara Gili Fivela, University of Salento, Denmark
  • Sara Invitto, University of Salento, Denmark
  • Donatella Resta, University of Salento, Denmark
  • Paava Alku, Aalto University, Denmark
  • Elvira Brattico

According to the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM), articulatory similarity/dissimilarity between sounds of the second language (L2) and the native language (L1) governs L2 learnability in adulthood and predicts L2 sound perception by native listeners. We performed behavioral and neurophysiological experiments on two groups of university students at the first and fifth years of the English language curriculum and on a group of naive listeners. Categorization and discrimination tests, as well as the mismatch negativity (MMN) brain response to L2 sound changes, showed that the discriminatory capabilities of the students did not significantly differ from those of the naive subjects. In line with the PAM model, we extend the findings of previous behavioral studies showing that, at the neural level, classroom instruction in adulthood relies on assimilation of L2 vowels to L1 phoneme categories and does not trigger improvement in L2 phonetic discrimination. Implications for L2 classroom teaching practices are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number279
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 14 May 2014

    Research areas

  • adult phoneme perception, mismatch negativity (MMN), foreign language acquisition, L2 classroom learning, event-related potentials, vowel perception, MISMATCH NEGATIVITY MMN, PERCEIVED FOREIGN ACCENT, EVENT-RELATED POTENTIALS, SPEECH SOUNDS, INVOLUNTARY ATTENTION, NONNATIVE PHONEMES, JAPANESE ADULTS, 2ND LANGUAGE, HUMAN BRAIN, PERCEPTION

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