2019: The effects of high versus low talker variability and individual aptitude on phonetic training of Mandarin lexical tones
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Description: High variability training has been found more effective than low variability training in learning various non-native phonetic contrasts. However, little research has considered whether this applies to the learning of tone contrasts. The only two relevant studies suggested that the effect of high variability training depends on the perceptual aptitude of participants (Perrachione, Lee, Ha, & Wong, 2011; Sadakata & McQueen, 2014). The present study extends these findings by examining the interaction between individual aptitude and input variability using natural, meaningful L2 input (both previous studies used pseudowords). Sixty English speakers took part in an eight session phonetic training paradigm. They were assigned to high/low/high-blocking variability training groups and learned real Mandarin tones and words. Individual aptitude was measured following previous work. Learning was measured using one discrimination task, one identification task and two production tasks. All tasks assessed the generalisation of learning. Overall, all groups improved in both production and perception of tones which transferred to novel voices and items, demonstrating the effectiveness of training despite the increased complexity compared with previous research. Although the low variability group exhibited an advantage with the training stimuli, there was no evidence that the different variability training led to different performance in any of the tests of generalization. Moreover, although aptitude significantly predicted performance in discrimination, identification and training tasks, no interaction between individual aptitude and variability was revealed. We discuss these results in light of previous findings.