PhD Project 24

Do brain potentials reflect individuals’ potential to learn a second language? Individual differences in language interaction during L2 acquisition

 

PhD-candidate: Lisette Jager
PIs: Niels Schiller (WP1) and James McQueen (WP1)
Start date: 01 March 2016

(last update 2019-07-01)

Research Content

In this project a novel longitudinal and electrophysiological approach to examine whether individual differences in language interaction predict L2 production proficiency in late L2 learners. Neural measurements of abstract (phonological) and surface (phonetic) level L1-L2 interactions in a group of Dutch (L1) learners of English (L2) and in a control group will be performed twice with an inter-test interval of one year. It will be tested for the first time whether reductions in abstract and/or surface L1-L2 interactions over the inter-test interval predict L2 production proficiency at follow-up.

Highlight

Do brain potentials reflect individuals’ potential to learn a second language? Individual differences in language interaction during L2 acquisition
Team members: Jager, Witteman (LU), McQueen, and Schiller

This study examines whether individual variation in ERP components during L2 perception predicts L2 pronunciation proficiency. A passive oddball paradigm with EEG recording was used to elicit a MMN for control (/ɪ/-/ε/), phonological (/æ/-/ε/), and phonetic (Dutch /ε/ - English /ε/) vowel contrasts.

Preliminary results indicate that students are able to discriminate the control and phonological contrasts already at first test, but are unable to do so for the phonetic contrast. However, they show a large increase in neural discrimination for this contrast at the final session (see also Fig and Table below).  Correlational analyses will indicate whether individuals who show a larger increase in neural discrimination over time show greater improvement in pronunciation of L2 words.

Grand Average of the phonetic conditions at T1 (left) and T3 (right), where the red line indicates the standard (Dutch /ɛ/) and the yellow line shows the deviant (English /ɛ/). Contrasts were also presented in reverse condition, but due to spatial limitations only this order was included.

Progress 2018

Data collection of the first cohort has been completed and collection of cohort 2 has begun, bringing the total amount of participants for the experimental group to 51 and for the control group to 25. Perception of L2 was investigated while measuring ERPs and L2 production at the beginning of the first year of Dutch university students’ course in English, during which they received pronunciation training in English, and at the end of that year.

Groundbreaking characteristics

This project uses a multidisciplinary neurolinguistic approach that connects phonetics and phonology to electrophysiological measurement of speech processing. The project seeks to advance understanding of what is and what is not variable in second language speech learning.