Native-language benefit for understanding speech-in-noise: The contribution of semantics

Biling (Camb Engl). 2009 Jul;12(3):385-92. doi: 10.1017/S1366728909990150.


Bilinguals are better able to perceive speech-in-noise in their native compared to their non-native language. This benefit is thought to be due to greater use of higher-level, linguistic context in the native language. Previous studies showing this have used sentences and do not allow us to determine which level of language contributes to this context benefit. Here, we used a new paradigm that isolates the SEMANTIC level of speech, in both languages of bilinguals. Results revealed that in the native language, a semantically related target word facilitates the perception of a previously presented degraded prime word relative to when a semantically unrelated target follows the prime, suggesting a specific contribution of semantics to the native language context benefit. We also found the reverse in the non-native language, where there was a disadvantage of semantic coext on word recognition, suggesting that such top-down, contextual information results in semantic interference in one's second language.