Growing evidence shows that music and language experience affect the neural processing of speech sounds throughout the auditory system. Recent work mainly focused on the benefits induced by musical practice on the processing of native language or tonal foreign language, which rely on pitch processing. The aim of the present study was to take this research a step further by investigating the effect of music training on processing English sounds by foreign listeners. We recorded subcortical electrophysiological responses to an English syllable in three groups of participants: native speakers, non-native nonmusicians, and non-native musicians. Native speakers had enhanced neural processing of the formant frequencies of speech, compared to non-native nonmusicians, suggesting that automatic encoding of these relevant speech cues are sensitive to language experience. Most strikingly, in non-native musicians, neural responses to the formant frequencies did not differ from those of native speakers, suggesting that musical training may compensate for the lack of language experience by strengthening the neural encoding of important acoustic information. Language and music experience seem to induce a selective sensory gain along acoustic dimensions that are functionally-relevant-here, formant frequencies that are crucial for phoneme discrimination.
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