Sustainable Benefits of High Variability Phonetic Training in Mandarin-speaking Kindergarteners With Cochlear Implants: Evidence From Categorical Perception of Lexical Tones

Hao Zhang, Wen Ma, Hongwei Ding, Yang Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVES: Although pitch reception poses a great challenge for individuals with cochlear implants (CIs), formal auditory training (e.g., high variability phonetic training [HVPT]) has been shown to provide direct benefits in pitch-related perceptual performances such as lexical tone recognition for CI users. As lexical tones in spoken language are expressed with a multitude of distinct spectral, temporal, and intensity cues, it is important to determine the sources of training benefits for CI users. The purpose of the present study was to conduct a rigorous fine-scale evaluation with the categorical perception (CP) paradigm to control the acoustic parameters and test the efficacy and sustainability of HVPT for Mandarin-speaking pediatric CI recipients. The main hypothesis was that HVPT-induced perceptual learning would greatly enhance CI users' ability to extract the primary pitch contours from spoken words for lexical tone identification and discrimination. Furthermore, individual differences in immediate and long-term gains from training would likely be attributable to baseline performance and duration of CI use. DESIGN: Twenty-eight prelingually deaf Mandarin-speaking kindergarteners with CIs were tested. Half of them received five sessions of HVPT within a period of 3 weeks. The other half served as control who did not receive the formal training. Two classical CP tasks on a tonal continuum from Mandarin tone 1 (high-flat in pitch) to tone 2 (mid-rising in pitch) with fixed acoustic features of duration and intensity were administered before (pretest), immediately after (posttest), and 10 weeks posttraining termination (follow-up test). Participants were instructed to either label a speech stimulus along the continuum (i.e., identification task) or determine whether a pair of stimuli separated by zero or two steps from the continuum was the same or different (i.e., discrimination task). Identification function measures (i.e., boundary position and boundary width) and discrimination function scores (i.e., between-category score, within-category score, and peakedness score) were assessed for each child participant across the three test sessions. RESULTS: Linear mixed-effects (LME) models showed significant training-induced enhancement in lexical tone categorization with significantly narrower boundary width and better between-category discrimination in the immediate posttest over pretest for the trainees. Furthermore, training-induced gains were reliably retained in the follow-up test 10 weeks after training. By contrast, no significant changes were found in the control group across sessions. Regression analysis confirmed that baseline performance (i.e., boundary width in the pretest session) and duration of CI use were significant predictors for the magnitude of training-induced benefits. CONCLUSIONS: The stringent CP tests with synthesized stimuli that excluded acoustic cues other than the pitch contour and were never used in training showed strong evidence for the efficacy of HVPT in yielding immediate and sustained improvement in lexical tone categorization for Mandarin-speaking children with CIs. The training results and individual differences have remarkable implications for developing personalized computer-based short-term HVPT protocols that may have sustainable long-term benefits for aural rehabilitation in this clinical population.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere001341
Pages (from-to)990-1006
Number of pages17
JournalEar and Hearing
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright 2023 Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.


  • Categorical perception
  • Cochlear implant
  • High variability phonetic training
  • Lexical tone
  • Mandarin-speaking kindergarteners
  • Training-induced gains

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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