Assimilation of L2 vowels to L1 phonemes governs L2 learning in adulthood: A behavioral and ERP study

Mirko Grimaldi, Bianca Sisinni, Barbara Gili Fivela, Sara Invitto, Donatella Resta, Paavo Alku, Elvira Brattico

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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According to the Perceptual Assimilation Model (PAM), articulatory similarity/dissimilarity between sounds of the second language (L2) and the native language (L1) governs L2 learnability in adulthood and predicts L2 sound perception by naïve listeners. We performed behavioral and neurophysiological experiments on two groups of university students at the first and fifth years of the English language curriculum and on a group of naïve listeners. Categorization and discrimination tests, as well as the mismatch negativity (MMN) brain response to L2 sound changes, showed that the discriminatory capabilities of the students did not significantly differ from those of the naïve subjects. In line with the PAM model, we extend the findings of previous behavioral studies showing that, at the neural level, classroom instruction in adulthood relies on assimilation of L2 vowels to L1 phoneme categories and does not trigger improvement in L2 phonetic discrimination. Implications for L2 classroom teaching practices are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Article number279
Pages (from-to)1-14
Publication statusPublished - 2014
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • event-related potentials
  • mismatch negativity (MMN)
  • vowel perception
  • adult phoneme perception
  • foreign language acquisition
  • L2 classroom learning


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