Individual differences in second language speech perception across tasks and contrasts


The present study examines whether individual differences in second language (L2) learners’ perceptual cue weighting strategies are related to their discrimination abilities and how cue weights are related across contrasts for individual learners. Twenty-four native Korean learners of English completed a two alternative forced-choice identification task on /ɪ/-/i/ and /ɛ/-/æ/ contrasts varying orthogonally in formant frequency and duration to determine their perceptual cue weights. They also completed a two-talker AX discrimination task on natural productions of the same vowels. In the cue weighting task, we found that individual L2 learners vary greatly in the extent to which they rely on particular phonetic cues. However, individual learners’ perceptual weighting strategies are stable across contrasts. We also found that more native-like performance on this task – reliance on spectral differences over duration – is related to better recognition of naturally produced vowels in the discrimination task. Therefore, although the present study confirms earlier reports that learners vary in the extent to which they rely on particular phonetic cues, our results additionally demonstrate that these individual differences are not random. Instead, they reflect how well individual L2 learners discriminate contrasts and indicate that learners use a stable cue weighting strategy across contrasts.

Cornell University, Ithaca, USA