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Nonnative implicit phonetic training in multiple reverberant environments.


Speech intelligibility is adversely affected by reverberation, particularly when listening to a foreign language. However, little is known about how phonetic learning is affected by room acoustics. This study investigated how room reverberation impacts the acquisition of novel phonetic categories during implicit training in virtual environments. Listeners were trained to distinguish a difficult nonnative dental-retroflex contrast in phonemes presented either in a fixed room (anechoic or reverberant) or in multiple anechoic and reverberant spaces typical of everyday listening. Training employed a videogame in which phonetic stimuli were paired with rewards delivered upon successful task performance, in accordance with the task-irrelevant perceptual learning paradigm. Before and after training, participants were tested using familiar and unfamiliar speech tokens, speakers, and rooms. Implicit training performed in multiple rooms induced learning, while training in a single environment did not. The multiple-room training improvement generalized to untrained rooms and tokens, but not to untrained voices. These results show that, following implicit training, nonnative listeners can overcome the detrimental effects of reverberation and that exposure to sounds in multiple reverberant environments during training enhances implicit phonetic learning rather than disrupting it.

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