Musicians are better at learning non-native sound contrasts even in non-tonal languages


It is very difficult for adults to perceive phonetic contrasts in their non-native language. In this study we explored the effects of phonetic training for different populations of people (musicians and non-musicians) and with different kinds of phoneme contrast (timing-based, like the Hindi /g/-/k/ contrast, and pitch-based, like the Mandarin /ı/-/ı'/ tonal contrast). We found that musicians had superior perception for both contrasts, not just the pitch-based one. For both phonemes, training had little to no effect. We consider the implications of this for first and second language acquisition.

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