This study examined the recognition of English words by groups of native speakers of Italian who differed in age of arrival in Canada and amount of continued native language use. The dependent variable was the number of words correctly repeated in English sentences presented in noise. Significantly higher word recognition scores were obtained for early than late bilinguals, and for early bilinguals who used Italian seldom than for early bilinguals who used Italian relatively often. A hierarchical regression analysis showed that the native Italian participants' ability to perceive English vowels and consonants accounted for a significant amount of variance in the word-recognition scores independently of age of arrival, amount of L1 use, and length of residence in Canada. The native language use effect was interpreted to have arisen from differences in the extent to which the early bilinguals' Italian phonetic system influenced the representations they developed for English vowels and consonants.