Language aptitude for pronunciation in advanced second language (L2) learners: behavioural predictors and neural substrates

Brain Lang. 2013 Dec;127(3):366-76. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2012.11.006. Epub 2012 Dec 27.


Individual differences in second language (L2) aptitude have been assumed to depend upon a variety of cognitive and personality factors. Especially, the cognitive factor phonological working memory has been conceptualised as language learning device. However, strong associations between phonological working memory and L2 aptitude have been previously found in early-stage learners only, not in advanced learners. The current study aimed at investigating the behavioural and neurobiological predictors of advanced L2 learning. Our behavioural results showed that phonetic coding ability and empathy, but not phonological working memory, predict L2 pronunciation aptitude in advanced learners. Second, functional neuroimaging revealed this behavioural trait to be correlated with hemodynamic responses of the cerebral network of speech motor control and auditory-perceptual areas. We suggest that the acquisition of L2 pronunciation aptitude is a dynamic process, requiring a variety of neural resources at different processing stages over time.

Keywords: Empathy; Language aptitude; Phonological working memory; Pronunciation; Second language acquisition; individual differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Empathy / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Language*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Motor Skills / physiology
  • Multilingualism*
  • Personality / physiology
  • Young Adult