According to scientists at Haskins Laboratories, learning to talk makes it easier to understand the speech of others.
The researchers said that the findings could have a major impact on improving speech disorders.
"We've found that learning is a two-way street; motor function affects sensory processing and vice-versa. Our results suggest that learning to talk makes it easier to understand the speech of others," said David J. Ostry, a senior scientist at Haskins Laboratories and professor of psychology at McGill University.
Ostry explained that when a child learns to talk, or an adult learns a new language, a growing mastery of oral fluency is accompanied by an increase in the ability to distinguish different speech sounds.
While these abilities may develop in isolation, it is possible that learning to talk also changes the way we hear speech sounds.
For the study, the researchers tested the notion that speech motor learning alters auditory perceptual processing by evaluating how speakers hear speech sounds following motor learning.
"In growing children, the nervous system has to adjust to moving vocal tract structures that are changing in size and weight in order to produce the same words. Participants in our study are learning to return the movement to normal in spite of these changes. Eventually our work could have an impact on deviations to speech caused by disorders such as stroke and Parkinson's disease," said Ostry.
"Our study showed that speech motor learning altered the perception of these speech sounds. After motor learning, the participants heard the words differently than those in the control group. One of the striking findings is that the more motor learning we observed, the more their speech perceptual function changed," added Ostry.
He added that future research will focus on the notion that sensory remediation may be a way to jumpstart the motor system.
The study has been published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.