The impact of sensitivity to native sound on second-language learning as revealed by the mismatch negativity


  • Yuan Tan, Neuroscience, Bryn Mawr College

Faculty Mentor(s)

  • F. Sayako Earle, the College of Health Sciences' Communication Sciences & Disorders, University of Delaware


In the context of second language learning, the intricate nature of speech poses significant challenges. Individual differences in factors like exposure to the second language and age of acquisition, together with the varying sensitivity to phonetic stimuli, have been linked to proficiency in mastering the second language. Despite shedding light on the potential correlation between native speech sound sensitivity and learning proficiency, it remains unclear whether such sensitivity predicts one-session learning outcome. The objective is to dispel this uncertainty for optimizing learning schedules based on individuals’ native sound sensitivity. The data is drawn from the five-year Time to Learn (T2L) study led by Prof. Sayako Earle, which originally focused on speech sound retention in individuals with or without developmental language disorders. An oddball paradigm is used for event-related potential (ERP) recordings. By contrasting native (English) and nonnative (newly-learned Hindi) sounds with varying stimulus frequencies, we aimed to elicit the mismatch negativity (MMN) potential, indicative of auditory change detection. Through a regression model, this study paired MMN amplitude with the initial session learning outcomes to establish a reliable predictive relationship. This research contributes to enhancing the efficacy of tailored learning schedules for individuals with diverse levels of native sound sensitivity, whether it’s people with normal language ability or language impairment.