Recent research indicates that second language (L2) immersion influences the phonetic production not only of the L2 (Jacobs, Fricke, & Kroll, 2016), but also of the first language (L1) (Chang, 2012, 2013). However, less understood is the immediate impact of L2 immersion on cross-language influence in phonetic perception.
This study tracked L2 Spanish learners studying abroad, using auditory-visual cross-modal priming (Broersma, 2012) to examine perceptual changes in perception of voice onset time (VOT) in both Spanish and English. Because these languages divide the VOT boundary differently, learners must adjust their phonetic boundary in order to accurately identify obstruents in either language.
A temporary shift in L1 speech perception within days of immersion suggests an immediate heightened sensitivity to prevoicing and an increased awareness of differences in the VOT boundary. Importantly, however, this sensitivity returns to pre-immersion levels following increased immersion.
Regarding the L2, learners experience a decrease in sensitivity to relevant VOT distinctions when abroad as compared to before immersion. Together, these findings suggest that perceptual shifts may be due to L1 suppression rather than L2 exposure. Overall, this study provides a fuller perspective on how immersion mediates interference between L1 and L2, and gives insight as to whether perceptual changes in the two languages are necessarily related.
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