When the Easy Becomes Difficult: Factors Affecting the Acquisition of the English /i/-/ Contrast

Juli Cebrian*, Celia Gorba, Núria Gavaldà

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


The degree of similarity between the sounds of a speaker's first and second language (L1 and L2) is believed to determine the likelihood of accurate perception and production of the L2 sounds. This paper explores the relationship between cross-linguistic similarity and the perception and production of a subset of English vowels, including the highly productive /i/-// contrast (as in "beat"vs. "bit"), by a group of Spanish/Catalan native speakers learning English as an L2. The learners' ability to identify, discriminate and produce the English vowels accurately was contrasted with their cross-linguistic perceived similarity judgements. The results showed that L2 perception and production accuracy was not always predicted from patterns of cross-language similarity, particularly regarding the difficulty distinguishing /i/ and //. Possible explanations may involve the way the L2/i/ and // categories interact, the effect of non-native acoustic cue reliance, and the roles of orthography and language instruction.

Original languageEnglish
Article number660917
Number of pages17
JournalFrontiers in Communication
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • cross-linguistic similarity
  • individual variation
  • L2 perception
  • L2 production
  • vowel contrast


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