Acoustical Society invited Dr. Heffner to write a paper

Acoustical Society invited Dr. Heffner this spring to submit a “Lay Language Paper”, a way to talk about the research

“Lay Language Paper”, a way to talk about the research being presented at the ASA in a conversational and readable way. 

Can aliens found in museums teach us about learning sound categories?

Read the paper in full here: 

May 15, 2024 | 186th MeetingLay Language PaperSpeech Communication

Popular version of 4aSCb6 – Age and category structure in phonetic category learning

Presented at the 186th ASA Meeting
Read the abstract at

Imagine being a native English speaker learning to speak French for the first time. You’ll have to do a lot of learning, including learning new ways to fit words together to form sentences and a new set of words.

Beyond that, though, you must also learn to tell sounds apart that you’re not used to.
Even the French word for “sound”, son, is different from the word for “bucket”, seau, in a way that English speakers don’t usually pay attention to. How do you manage to learn to tell these sounds apart when you’re listening to others?
You need to group those sounds into categories. In this study, museum and library visitors interacting with aliens in a simple game helped us to understand which categories that people might find harder to learn.

The visitors were of many different ages, which allowed us to see how this might change as we get older.