Changes in Activation During Production of Syllables from a Second Language



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The current study sought to understand brain plasticity in adults associated with acquiring novel speech sounds. The Speech Learning Model suggests that the perception and the perceived similarity between L1 and L2 sounds will affect the acquisition of these L2 sounds (Flege, 1995). Productions of vowels from L2 that were perceived as being from an L1 category were less fully acquired by participants compared L2 vowels that were not perceived as part of an L1 category (Flege, 1987). The current study asked English monolinguals to undergo a covert repetition training session for native and novel bi-syllabic non-words of varying perceived familiarity while undergoing fMRI. The fMRI training was preceded and followed by overt production sessions of the native and novel sounds that were recorded. Participants’ recordings were rated for accuracy. Behavioral results showed improvement for novel sounds after the short training session with significant improvement for less familiar sounds as predicted by the Speech Learning Model. fMRI results were analyzed using region of interest analyses which showed an interaction between time and familiarity of the novel sounds with less familiar sounds eliciting greater activation in the left superior cerebellum and right caudate (p<.05 FWE) for the final training phase. The results support recent speech production studies that showed activation of the cerebellum and caudate play a role in the production of more complex or novel stimuli. The behavioral and fMRI results combine to suggest that the familiarity of novel sounds affects the areas of brain activation recruited across training supporting the Speech Learning Model.



Language learning, Speech Production