Joint attention is regarded as a key factor in the development of communication skills, theories of the mind, and language. This study examines joint attention in the context of adult second language word learning to determine if it enhances attention to the perception of unfamiliar speech sounds. Naive participants were instructed to match unfamiliar Mandarin syllables varying in tone to images, while a video partner was viewed examining the same sounds and images. The overall goal was to determine the influence of the video partner on word learning. Results indicated that some attention
conditions were more effective in promoting the learning of the sound-picture pairs than other attention conditions, and that the effect of attention condition interacted with type of tone. The results provide insight into how components of language are learned by adults, and especially how the influence of social context can facilitate the learning process.