© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland.Speech perception is an important early skill for language learning. This study uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the relationship between auditory perception abilities and second language (L2) vocabulary learning in an effort to explore behavior-brain correlations. Twenty-one English monolinguals learned 48 auditory Chinese pseudowords over six weeks. Their pre-training abilities in non-linguistic pitch and linguistic tone perception significantly and positively predicted their novel word-learning performance, which correlated with their brain response patterns in the left Heschl's gyrus. Analyses of regions of interest (ROIs) showed coactivation of the frontal and temporal regions during novel lexical retrieval, and the non-linguistic pitch perception ability modulated brain activations in these regions. Effective connectivity analyses further indicated a collaboration of a ventral stream for speech perception and a dorsal stream for sensory-motor mapping in the L2 network. The ventral stream, compared with the dorsal stream, played a more dominant role in auditory word learning as the L2 proficiency increased. Better pitch and tone perception abilities strengthened the ventral pathways and decreased the reliance on frontal regions. These findings are discussed in light of current models of speech processing and L2 learning.
- Auditory perception
- Effective connectivity
- Functional magnetic resonance imaging
- Individual differences
- Second language word learning
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