Adult language learners often face challenges perceiving unfamiliar speech sounds. Models of second language (L2) speech perception suggest that adults learn L2 through the “filter” of their first language (L1), frequently resulting in misperception and the production of accented speech. The present study had to goals: to examine the learning of a demanding L2 speech contrast by English listeners, and to investigate the role of cognitive resources when learning novel phoneme categories. The first goal was achieved by asking English listeners to learn Arabic vowels embedded in word-like
contexts. The second goal of the study was achieved by looking at the relationship between learning performance and two types of cognitive resources, working memory and attention. The results indicate that although listeners may have been able to perceive the difference between the Arabic vowels, learning to associate the novel phonemes to novel concepts may have been too difficult for participants.