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Contending with foreign accent in early word learning*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2011

North Park University, USA
Purdue University, USA
Purdue University, USA
[*]Address for correspondence: Rachael Schmale, North Park UniversityPsychology, 3225 W. Foster Ave. Box 16, Chicago, Illinois 60625, United States. e-mail:


By their second birthday, children are beginning to map meaning to form with relative ease. One challenge for these developing abilities is separating information relevant to word identity (i.e. phonemic information) from irrelevant information (e.g. voice and foreign accent). Nevertheless, little is known about toddlers' abilities to ignore irrelevant phonetic detail when faced with the demanding task of word learning. In an experiment with English-learning toddlers, we examined the impact of foreign accent on word learning. Findings revealed that while toddlers aged 2 ; 6 successfully generalized newly learned words spoken by a Spanish-accented speaker and a native English speaker, success of those aged 2 ; 0 was restricted. Specifically, toddlers aged 2 ; 0 failed to generalize words when trained by the native English speaker and tested by the Spanish-accented speaker. Data suggest that exposure to foreign accent in training may promote generalization of newly learned forms. These findings are considered in the context of developmental changes in early word representations.

Brief Research Reports
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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