Prediction of Second Language Proficiency Based on Electroencephalographic Signals Measured While Listening to Natural Speech

Front Hum Neurosci. 2021 Jul 16;15:665809. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2021.665809. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

This study had two goals: to clarify the relationship between electroencephalographic (EEG) features estimated while non-native speakers listened to a second language (L2) and their proficiency in L2 determined by a conventional paper test and to provide a predictive model for L2 proficiency based on EEG features. We measured EEG signals from 205 native Japanese speakers, who varied widely in English proficiency while they listened to natural speech in English. Following the EEG measurement, they completed a conventional English listening test for Japanese speakers. We estimated multivariate temporal response functions separately for word class, speech rate, word position, and parts of speech. We found significant negative correlations between listening score and 17 EEG features, which included peak latency of early components (corresponding to N1 and P2) for both open and closed class words and peak latency and amplitude of a late component (corresponding to N400) for open class words. On the basis of the EEG features, we generated a predictive model for Japanese speakers' English listening proficiency. The correlation coefficient between the true and predicted listening scores was 0.51. Our results suggest that L2 or foreign language ability can be assessed using neural signatures measured while listening to natural speech, without the need of a conventional paper test.

Keywords: EEG; foreign language; language proficiency; multivariate temporal response function; second language; speech.