Executive Function’s Role in Children’s Perception of Nonnative Speech

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Large individual differences in spoken word recognition have been observed in children with hearing loss and with normal hearing. Executive functions account for some of this variability (Beer, Kronenberger, & Pisoni, 2011; Lalonde & Holt, 2014). Individual performance differences are also evident when listeners are presented with nonnative speech. This study examined the influence of executive function on children’s nonnative speech perception. Eighty-four 5- to 7-year-old monolingual English-speaking children were presented with 60 English sentences produced by either a native English or Mandarin-accented talker (Van Engen et al., 2010) embedded in multi-talker babble at +8 dB signal-to-noise ratio. For 30 sentences, the final (target) word was highly predictive from sentence context and for the other 30 it was not; the same final words appeared in both predictability conditions. Sentence context facilitated target word recognition similarly for native and nonnative talkers. Children with better inhibition, as assessed by the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (Gioia, Isquith, Guy, & Kenworthy, 2000), had better perception of nonnative speech than those with poor inhibition. Stronger executive functions appear to support word recognition under adverse listening conditions, including both those stemming from the listener (e.g., hearing loss) or, as shown here, the talker (e.g., nonnative speech).


Business/Education/Speech and Hearing Science (The Ohio State University Denman Undergraduate Research Forum)


Speech perception and foreign accent