The automatic activation of letter–speech sound (L-SS) associations is a vital step in typical reading acquisition. However, the contribution of L-SS integration during nonalphabetic native and alphabetic second language (L2) reading remains unclear. This study explored whether L-SS integration plays a similar role in a nonalphabetic language as in alphabetic languages and its contribution to L2 reading among native Japanese-speaking adults with varying English proficiency. A priming paradigm in Japanese and English was performed by presenting visual letters or symbols, followed by auditory sounds. We compared behavioral and event-related responses elicited by congruent letter–sound pairs, incongruent pairs, and baseline condition (symbol–sound pairs). The behavioral experiment revealed shorter RTs in the congruent condition for Japanese and English tasks, suggesting a facilitation effect of congruency. The ERP experiment results showed an increased early N1 response to Japanese congruent pairs compared to corresponding incongruent stimuli at the left frontotemporal electrodes. Interestingly, advanced English learners exhibited greater activities in bilateral but predominantly right-lateralized frontotemporal regions for the congruent condition within the N1 time window. Moreover, the enhancement of P2 response to congruent pairs was observed in intermediate English learners. These findings indicate that, despite deviations from native language processing, advanced speakers may successfully integrate letters and sounds during English reading, whereas intermediate learners may encounter difficulty in achieving L-SS integration when reading L2. Furthermore, our results suggest that L2 proficiency may affect the level of automaticity in L-SS integration, with the right P2 congruency effect playing a compensatory role for intermediate learners.

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