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Phonetic aptitude — language production and perception

The EU-funded VOCAL ATHLETES project conducted ground-breaking research to understand factors involved in phonetic aptitude. The approach involved studying non-native language production and perception differences in individuals.
Phonetic aptitude — language production and perception
VOCAL ATHLETES researchers selected 40 people who are bilingual or monolingual to learn the Slovak language as a second language (L2). Using a three-session test, their ability to perceive and pronounce unfamiliar words was assessed.

Study results revealed large differences in individual learning performance, suggesting variation in motivation and phonetic aptitude. No correlation was found between native language (L1) skills and L2 perception and production performance, except for L1 mispronunciation affecting L2 production. However, two participants showed almost native speaker performance with L2, suggesting the need for larger-scale studies to accurately assess phonetic aptitude. The results did reveal it was possible to identify people with potential for acquiring multilingual skills during the initial stages of this study.

Based on study outcomes, 244 participants were enrolled in a larger study to identify causes for individual differences in phonetic aptitude. Bilingual speakers were found to have a minor advantage over monolinguals. There were issues with finding sufficient monolingual participants that was resolved by starting a new lab in a monolingual Spanish city for further testing.

To study areas of brain involved in L2 speech perception and production, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies are in progress. Participants with very high or very low performance from both monolingual and bilingual populations were included in this study.

Project outcomes should reveal the reason for differences in phonetic aptitude among individuals based on their behavioural and cognitive capacities.

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