The learning of new words is a challenge that accompanies human beings throughout the entire life span. Although the main electrophysiological markers of word learning have already been described, little is known about the performance-dependent neural machinery underlying this exceptional human faculty. Furthermore, it is currently unknown how word learning abilities are related to verbal memory capacity, auditory attention functions, phonetic discrimination skills, and musicality. Accordingly, we used EEG and examined 40 individuals, who were assigned to two groups (low [LPs] and high performers [HPs]) based on a median split of word learning performance, while they completed a phonetic-based word learning task. Furthermore, we collected behavioral data during an attentive listening and a phonetic discrimination task with the same stimuli to address relationships between auditory attention and phonetic discrimination skills, word learning performance, and musicality. The phonetic-based word learning task, which also included a nonlearning control condition, was sensitive enough to segregate learning-specific and unspecific N200/N400 manifestations along the anterior–posterior topographical axis. Notably, HPs exhibited enhanced verbal memory capacity and we also revealed a performance-dependent spatial N400 pattern, with maximal amplitudes at posterior electrodes in HPs and central maxima in LPs. Furthermore, phonetic-based word learning performance correlated with verbal memory capacity and phonetic discrimination skills, whereas the latter was related to musicality. This experimental approach clearly highlights the multifaceted dimensions of phonetic-based word learning and is helpful to disentangle learning-specific and unspecific ERPs.

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