Musical expertise and foreign speech perception

Eduardo Martínez-Montes*, Heivet Hernández-Pérez, Julie Chobert, Lisbet Morgado-Rodríguez, Carlos Suárez-Murias, Pedro A. Valdés-Sosa, Mireille Besson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this experiment was to investigate the influence of musical expertise on the automatic perception of foreign syllables and harmonic sounds. Participants were Cuban students with high level of expertise in music or in visual arts and with the same level of general education and socio-economic background. We used a multi-feature Mismatch Negativity (MMN) design with sequences of either syllables in Mandarin Chinese or harmonic sounds, both comprising deviants in pitch contour, duration and Voice Onset Time (VOT) or equivalent that were either far from (Large deviants) or close to (Small deviants) the standard. For both Mandarin syllables and harmonic sounds, results were clear-cut in showing larger MMNs to pitch contour deviants in musicians than in visual artists. Results were less clear for duration and VOT deviants, possibly because of the specific characteristics of the stimuli. Results are interpreted as reflecting similar processing of pitch contour in speech and non-speech sounds. The implications of these results for understanding the influence of intense musical training from childhood to adulthood and of genetic predispositions for music on foreign language perception are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Article number84
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 14 Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • auditory perception
  • duration
  • foreign language
  • mismatch negativity
  • musical expertise
  • pitch
  • speech perception
  • voice onset time


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