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World Languages and Cultures

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Contact Magazine


When we are born our perceptual systems are capable of discriminating sounds that occur in English, Spanish, Hindi, or any other language. During the first year, our perception begins to zero in on the particular set of sounds that are contrastive in our native language(s) (L1s) (Kuhl et al., 2006). For example, a child whose parents are L1 English speakers will pick up on the fact that /b/ and /p/ are contrastive in English (e.g., “bet” vs. “pet”) and that the major difference is in the burst of air that occurs when the stop is released (i.e., there is a stronger burst of air, or more aspiration, on /p/ than /b/). A child whose parents are L1 Hindi speakers will pick up on this contrast, which also occurs in Hindi, as well as other contrasts that occur in Hindi but not in English. As our perception becomes attuned to our L1(s), we become more sensitive to L1 contrasts, such as /b/ vs. /p/ for L1 English speakers, and less sensitive to non-native contrasts, even though our ability to discriminate non-native sounds remains intact. When we begin to learn another language (L2) later in life, be it through formal instruction at university or through immersion if we move to another country where a different language is spoken, our L1 acts as a filter, altering our perception of L2 sounds. Consequently, we may not detect differences between contrastive L2 sounds that are not contrastive in our L1, and we may fail to notice the difference between our accented pronunciation of the L2 and the target pronunciation.


This article is published as Nagle, C., Perception, Production, and Perception-Production: Research findings and implications for language pedagogy; TESL Ontario - CONTACT Magazine - August 2018. Posted with permission.

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