This study reports the results of two experiments with native speakers of Japanese. In experiment 1, near-monolingual Japanese listeners participated in a cross-language mapping experiment in which they identified English and Japanese consonants in terms of a Japanese category, then rated the identifications for goodness-of-fit to that Japanese category. Experiment 2 used the same set of stimuli in a categorial discrimination test. Three groups of Japanese speakers varying in English-language experience, and one group of native English speakers participated. Contrast pairs composed of two English consonants, two Japanese consonants, and one English and one Japanese consonant were tested. The results indicated that the perceived PhOnetic distance of second language (L2) consonants from the closest first language (L1) consonant predicted the discrimination of L2 sounds. In addition, this study investigated the role of experience in learning sounds in a second language. Some of the consonant contrasts tested showed evidence of learning (i.e., significantly higher scores for the experienced than the relatively inexperienced Japanese groups). The perceived phonetic distance of L1 and L2 sounds was found to predict learning effects in discrimination of L1 and L2 sounds in some cases. The results are discussed in terms of models of cross- language speech perception and L2 phonetic learning. (C) 2000 Acoustical Society of America.