Multilingual sound perception and word recognition


  • Paola Escudero Centre for Language and Cognition (CLCG), Faculty of Arts & Research School for Behavioural and Cognitive Neurosciences (BCN), University Medical Centre; University of Groningen


In this paper, I review two recent studies conducted to examine the sound perception and word recognition abilties of adult multilingual and bilingual speakers. The abilities to perceive sounds and identify words in a new language are essential for the global understanding of such language. However, these abilities have only recently received attention within the broad areas of blingualism and multilingualism research. The first study reviewed here shows that speakers of a third language, in this case Dutch, perceive the contrast between words such as “tak” (“brunch”) and “taak” (“task”) differently from native Dutch listeners. It is also shown that this difference may decrease with proficiency in the Dutch language. The second study shows that problems with the perception of sound contrasts, in this case vowel contrasts, also lead to problems with recognizing new words containing such contrasts. This second study uses the same eye-tracking paradigm used in previous similar studies and finds that bilinguals who learn similar sounding words with their spelling differences can differentiate between the words in a word identification task. In contrast, bilinguals who learn the same words only through listening to their auditory forms match them to their two pictures indifferently. Thus, these two studies show the problems that bilinguals and multilinguals have with perceiving the sounds and identifying the words of a new language, as well as how they learn to master these abilities and what sources of information, e.g. spelling, can help them in achieving their goal.