Continuous speech encoding in Chinese and English
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Description: Listeners regularly comprehend continuous speech despite noisy conditions. Previous studies show that neural tracking of speech degrades under noise, predicts comprehension, and increases for non-native listeners. We test the hypothesis that listeners similarly increase tracking for both L2 and noisy L1 speech, after adjusting for comprehension. Twenty-four Chinese-English bilinguals underwent EEG while listening to one hour of an audiobook, mixed with three levels of noise, in Mandarin and English and answered comprehension questions. We estimated tracking of the speech envelope in EEG for each one-minute segment using the multivariate temporal response function (mTRF). Contrary to our prediction, L2 tracking was significantly lower than L1, while L1 tracking significantly increased with noise maskers without reducing comprehension. However, greater L2 proficiency was positively associated with greater L2 tracking. We discuss how studies of speech envelope tracking using noise and bilingualism might be reconciled through a focus on exerted rather than demanded effort.