Neural responses in novice learners’ perceptual learning and generalization of lexical tones: The effect of training variability

Zhen Qin, Minzhi Gong, Caicai Zhang

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


The acoustics of lexical tones are highly variable across talkers, and require second-language (L2) learners’ flexibility in accommodating talker-specific tonal variations for successful learning. This study investigated how tone training with high vs. low talker-variability modulated novice learners’ neural responses to non-native tones. A passive oddball paradigm tested Mandarin-speaking participants’ neural responses to Cantonese low–high and low-mid tonal contrasts in the pretest and posttest. Participants were trained using a tone identification task with feedback, either with high or low talker-variability. The results of mismatch negativity (MMN) showed no group difference in the pretest whereas the high-variability group demonstrated greater neural sensitivity to the low–high tonal contrast produced by a novel talker and a trained talker in the posttest. The finding provides (tentative) novel evidence that training variability may benefit perceptual learning of the relatively easy tone pair and facilitate the formation of talker-independent representations of non-native tones by novice learners.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105029
JournalBrain and Language
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Cantonese level tones
  • Late discrimination negativity
  • Mismatch negativity
  • Perceptual learning
  • Talker generalization
  • Training variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Speech and Hearing

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