Non-native listeners' recognition of high-variability speech using PRESTO

Terrin N. Tamati, David B. Pisoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Background: Natural variability in speech is a significant challenge to robust successful spoken word recognition. In everyday listening environments, listeners must quickly adapt and adjust to multiple sources of variability in both the signal and listening environments. High-variability speech may be particularly difficult to understand for non-native listeners, who have less experience with the second language (L2) phonological system and less detailed knowledge of sociolinguistic variation of the L2. Purpose: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of high-variability sentences on nonnative speech recognition and to explore the underlying sources of individual differences in speech recognition abilities of non-native listeners. Research Design: Participants completed two sentence recognition tasks involving high-variability and low-variability sentences. They also completed a battery of behavioral tasks and self-report questionnaires designed to assess their indexical processing skills, vocabulary knowledge, and several core neurocognitive abilities. Study Sample: Native speakers of Mandarin (n = 25) living in the United States recruited from the Indiana University community participated in the current study. A native comparison group consisted of scores obtained from native speakers of English (n = 21) in the Indiana University community taken from an earlier study. Data Collection and Analysis: Speech recognition in high-variability listening conditions was assessed with a sentence recognition task using sentences from PRESTO (Perceptually Robust English Sentence Test Open-Set) mixed in 6-talker multitalker babble. Speech recognition in low-variability listening conditions was assessed using sentences fromHINT (Hearing In Noise Test) mixed in 6-talker multitalker babble. Indexical processing skills were measured using a talker discrimination task, a gender discrimination task, and a forced-choice regional dialect categorization task. Vocabulary knowledge was assessed with the WordFam word familiarity test, and executive functioning was assessed with the BRIEF-A (Behavioral Rating Inventory of Executive Function - Adult Version) self-report questionnaire. Scores from the non-native listeners on behavioral tasks and self-report questionnaires were compared with scores obtained from native listeners tested in a previous study and were examined for individual differences. Results: Non-native keyword recognition scores were significantly lower on PRESTO sentences than on HINT sentences. Non-native listeners' keyword recognition scores were also lower than native listeners' scores on both sentence recognition tasks. Differences in performance on the sentence recognition tasks between non-native and native listeners were larger on PRESTO than on HINT, although group differences varied by signal-to-noise ratio. The non-native and native groups also differed in the ability to categorize talkers by region of origin and in vocabulary knowledge. Individual non-native word recognition accuracy on PRESTO sentences in multitalker babble at more favorable signal-to-noise ratios was found to be related to several BRIEF-A subscales and composite scores. However, non-native performance on PRESTO was not related to regional dialect categorization, talker and gender discrimination, or vocabulary knowledge. Conclusions: High-variability sentences in multitalker babble were particularly challenging for nonnative listeners. Difficulty under high-variability testing conditions was related to lack of experience with the L2, especially L2 sociolinguistic information, compared with native listeners. Individual differences among the non-native listeners were related to weaknesses in core neurocognitive abilities affecting behavioral control in everyday life.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)869-892
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Audiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014


  • Indexical variability
  • Individual differences
  • Non-native
  • Speech recognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Speech and Hearing

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