The two target papers in this session present different approaches to substantiating the consensus position that both abstract and episodic levels of representation underlie speech processing. Cutler and Webers paper provides an interesting illustration of the non-direct phonetic-to-lexical mapping in second language speech processing. Their contribution presents a series of studies in which meta-knowledge of a second language contrast facilitated representation of the contrast at a lower level. As a complement to this contribution, I discuss cases in which the lack of access to abstract category representations effectively blocks the passage of information across the episodic-to-abstract hierarchy. Second, picking up on the challenge of specifying the nature of exemplars as discussed in Goldingers target article, I discuss recent data regarding experience-dependent shaping of the basic sensory circuitry. These data are particularly relevant to the case of second language speech learning as they help specify the levels of plasticity required for successful non-native language acquisition.