Learning and bilingualism in challenging listening conditions: How challenging can it be?

Dana Bsharat-Maalouf, Hanin Karawani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


When speech is presented in their second language (L2), bilinguals have more difficulties with speech perception in noise than monolinguals do. However, how noise affects speech perception of bilinguals in their first language (L1) is still unclear. In addition, it is not clear whether bilinguals' speech perception in challenging listening conditions is specific to the type of degradation, or whether there is a shared mechanism for bilingual speech processing under complex listening conditions. Therefore, the current study examined the speech perception of 60 Arabic-Hebrew bilinguals and a control group of native Hebrew speakers during degraded (speech in noise, vocoded speech) and quiet listening conditions. Between participant comparisons (comparing native Hebrew speakers and bilinguals' perceptual performance in L1) and within participant comparisons (perceptual performance of bilinguals in L1 and L2) were conducted. The findings showed that bilinguals in L1 had more difficulty in noisy conditions than their control counterparts did, even when performed like controls under favorable listening conditions. However, bilingualism did not hinder language learning mechanisms. Bilinguals in L1 outperformed native Hebrew speakers in the perception of vocoded speech, demonstrating more extended learning processes. Bilinguals' perceptual performance in L1 versus L2 varied by task complexity. Correlation analyses revealed that bilinguals who coped better with noise degradation were more successful in perceiving the vocoding distortion. Together, these results provide insights into the mechanisms that contribute to speech perceptual performance in challenging listening conditions and suggest that bilinguals' language proficiency and age of language acquisition are not the only factors that affect performance. Rather, duration of exposure to languages, co-activation, and the ability to benefit from exposure to novel stimuli appear to affect the perceptual performance of bilinguals, even when operating in their dominant language. Our findings suggest that bilinguals use a shared mechanism for speech processing under challenging listening conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105018
StatePublished - May 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank the study participants. We are grateful to Tamar Degani for her valuable comments on earlier versions of the manuscript and Matthew Goupell for his help with the algorithms of the vocoded stimuli. This work was partially supported by the University of Haifa and by the Planning and Budgeting Committee for Higher Education (startup grant awarded to H.K.).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Bilingualism
  • Challenging listening conditions
  • First language (L1)
  • Second language (L2)
  • Speech in noise
  • Vocoded speech

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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