Language ability and the familiar talker advantage: Generalizing to unfamiliar talkers is what matters

Susannah V. Levi, Daphna Harel, Richard G. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Previous studies with children and adults have demonstrated a familiar talker advantage-better word recognition for familiar talkers. The goal of the current study was to test whether this phenomenon is modulated by a child’s language ability. Method: Sixty children with a range of language ability were trained to learn the voices of 3 foreign-accented, German- English bilingual talkers and received feedback about their performance. Both before and after this talker voice training, children completed a spoken word recognition task in which they heard consonant-vowel-consonant words mixed with noise that were spoken by the 3 familiarized talkers and by 3 unfamiliar German-English bilinguals. Results: Two findings emerged from this study: First, children with both higher and lower language ability performed similarly on the familiarized talkers. Second, children with higher language scores performed similarly on both the familiarized and unfamiliar talkers, whereas children with lower language scores performed worse on the unfamiliar talkers compared to familiar talkers, suggesting an inability to generalize to novel, unfamiliar talkers who spoke with a similar accent. Discussion: Together, these findings indicate that children with higher language scores are able to generalize knowledge about foreign-accented talkers to help spoken word recognition for novel talkers with the same accent. In contrast, children with lower language skills did not exhibit the same magnitude of generalization. This lack of generalization to similar talkers may mean that children with lower language skills are at a disadvantage in spoken language tasks because they are unable to process speech as well when listening to unfamiliar talkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1436
Number of pages1
JournalJournal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Speech and Hearing


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