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Keywords:

  • Learning;
  • Non-native speech categorization;
  • Speech perception;
  • Categorization;
  • Videogame training;
  • Adult plasticity;
  • Auditory learning;
  • Second language learning

Abstract

Although speech categories are defined by multiple acoustic dimensions, some are perceptually weighted more than others and there are residual effects of native-language weightings in non-native speech perception. Recent research on nonlinguistic sound category learning suggests that the distribution characteristics of experienced sounds influence perceptual cue weights: Increasing variability across a dimension leads listeners to rely upon it less in subsequent category learning (Holt & Lotto, 2006). The present experiment investigated the implications of this among native Japanese learning English /r/-/l/ categories. Training was accomplished using a videogame paradigm that emphasizes associations among sound categories, visual information, and players’ responses to videogame characters rather than overt categorization or explicit feedback. Subjects who played the game for 2.5 h across 5 days exhibited improvements in /r/-/l/ perception on par with 2–4 weeks of explicit categorization training in previous research and exhibited a shift toward more native-like perceptual cue weights.