Perception & Psychophysics

, Volume 36, Issue 2, pp 131-145

First online:

Effects of discrimination training on the perception of /r-l/ by Japanese adults learning English

  • Winifred StrangeAffiliated withDepartment of Communicology, University of South Florida
  • , Sibylla DittmannAffiliated withUniversity of Minnesota


Native Japanese speakers learning English have difficulty perceptually differentiating the liquid consonants /r/ and /l/, even after extensive conversational instruction. Using a same-different discrimination task with immediate feedback, eight adult female Japanese were given extensive training on a synthetic “rock”-“lock” stimulus series. Performance improved gradually for all subjects over the 14 to 18 training sessions. Comparisons of pretraining and posttraining categorical perception tests with the training stimuli indicated transfer of training to the more demanding identification and oddity discrimination tasks for seven of the eight subjects. Five of seven subjects also improved in identification and oddity discrimination of an acoustically dissimilar “rake”-“lake” synthetic series. However, transfer did not extend to natural speech words contrasting initial /r/ and /V/, It was concluded that modification of perception of some phonetic contrasts in adulthood is slow and effortful, but that improved laboratory training tasks may be useful in establishing categorical perception of these contrasts.