Speech recognition by second language (L2) learners in optimal and suboptimal conditions has been examined extensively with English as the target language in most previous studies. This study extended existing experimental protocols (Wang et al., 2013) to investigate Mandarin speech recognition by Japanese learners of Mandarin at two different levels (elementary vs. intermediate) of proficiency. The overall results showed that in addition to L2 proficiency, semantic context, F0 contours, and listening condition all affected the recognition performance on the Mandarin sentences. However, the effects of semantic context and F0 contours on L2 speech recognition diverged to some extent. Specifically, there was significant modulation effect of listening condition on semantic context, indicating that L2 learners made use of semantic context less efficiently in the interfering background than in quiet. In contrast, no significant modulation effect of listening condition on F0 contours was found. Furthermore, there was significant interaction between semantic context and F0 contours, indicating that semantic context becomes more important for L2 speech recognition when F0 information is degraded. None of these effects were found to be modulated by L2 proficiency. The discrepancy in the effects of semantic context and F0 contours on L2 speech recognition in the interfering background might be related to differences in processing capacities required by the two types of information in adverse listening conditions.
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