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Can we learn foreign phonetic features better together than individually? An investigation of behavioral performance and brain activity

Poster B73 in Poster Session B, Tuesday, October 24, 3:30 - 5:15 pm CEST, Espace Vieux-Port
This poster is part of the Sandbox Series.

Xueqiao Li1, Piia Astikainan1; 1University of Jyväskylä

Learning phonetic features is essential in acquiring a foreign language as it forms the basis for effectively detecting, understanding, and using the language. Previous studies have found that infants can develop better phonological perception of foreign languages in a social situation compared to learning alone. This is probably because social learning could increase motivation and engagement during learning and direct attention to useful informational cues. Knowledge of social learning regarding adult learners is still lacking, particularly in the area of phonetic foreign language learning. In the present study, we investigate the effects of social phonetic learning of foreign language features in adult participants and the underlying mechanisms for possible social learning benefits. Here, social learning is explored by comparing the efficiency of phonetic learning between two groups: learning in pair (LPair) versus learning individually (LIndi). Native Finnish speakers, who have no prior exposure to tonal languages, are taught Mandarin Chinese tones for one hour per day over four consecutive days. Learning performance is tested with behavioral and brain activity measures using a pre/post design. Each learning session includes passive exposure to speech sounds, active training, and a listen-and-repeat task. To explore the mechanisms for possible social learning benefits, participants’ subjective feelings about each learning session are recorded with questionnaires. Before and after the four learning sessions, participants’ behavioral responses in discrimination and categorization tasks, as well as electrical brain responses (event-related potentials, ERPs) in ignore and attentive deviance detection tasks, are measured as the outcome of learning. Currently, data from fourteen participants (LPair: n = 7; LIndi: n = 7) have been collected. Based on an a priori sample size estimation, an additional 30 participants are still needed to detect a medium effect size (a group difference in ERPs). For the behavioral responses, response times for the discrimination and categorization tasks will be investigated. Additionally, the sensitivity to detect the pair of different tones and response bias will be explored for the discrimination task, while the categorical boundary and slope of the tones will be investigated for the categorization task. ERP responses to the speech sound in an ignore condition (mismatch negativity and P3a) and an attentive condition (N2b, P3b) will be compared between the groups. In general, we hypothesize that participants who learn in pairs will exhibit better learning outcomes than individual learners after the learning. Specifically, we expect the LPair group to have shorter response times and higher accuracies than the LIndi group in the discrimination task. For the categorization task, we anticipate changes in the categorical boundary and slope, which will likely resemble those observed in native Chinese speakers more closely within the LPair group compared to the LIndi group. Moreover, we hypothesize that the LPair group compared to the LIndi group will show larger amplitudes of ERP responses related to change detection and attention shifting after the learning sessions. The results of our study could enhance the current understanding of social language learning in adults, thereby providing evidence-based guidance for effective second language acquisition.

Topic Areas: Speech Perception, Language Development/Acquisition

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