There is the idea that some students may possess an ‘aptitude for learning languages’. The idea of the existence of a ‘language learning aptitude’ does not mean an individual can or cannot learn a foreign language. It is assumed that most people, who do not have specific language disabilities, can learn a language if they are given adequate opportunity.
If a person is defined as, not having an ‘aptitude for language learning’ means it will take that person longer to acquire a foreign or second language and they will need massive exposure to the target language and be taught using varied teaching methods.

Modern Language Aptitude Test

In the 1950’s, John Carroll and Stanley Sapon developed the ‘Modern Language Aptitude Test’.  To begin with, this test was designed for use in the US government and military with the purpose of predicting success in foreign language learning by checking a person’s ability to learn specific language components.
The MLAT and other similar tests assess, for example, an individual’s ability to acquire the sounds of a language and learn the associations  between sounds and meanings and examine if the person has grammatical sensitivity.
Another test, ‘The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery’ (PLAB) also includes an assessment checking motivation which can be an influential factor in successful foreign language learning.

Carroll defined the MLAT language components as follows:

Phonetic coding ability: An ability to identify distinct sounds, to form associations between those sounds and symbols representing them, and to retain these associations.
Grammatical sensitivity: The ability to recognize the grammatical functions of words (or other linguistic entities) in sentence structures.
Rote learning ability for foreign language materials: The ability to learn associations between sounds and meanings rapidly and efficiently, and to retain these associations.
Inductive language learning ability: The ability to infer or induce the rules governing a set of language materials, given samples of language materials that permit such inferences.

MLAT Limitations: 
• Predicts only formal learning.
• It is a one time test taken at a certain point in time.
• Not all possible aspects of language aptitude are included in the MLAT

Common uses for MLAT and similar tests

• Selection and placement of language learners by government agencies, missionary groups, and companies.
• Diagnosis of foreign language learning disability (FLLD) for college/university students and adults.
• Placement of language learners in the most appropriate instructional settings in colleges/universities or other formal classroom settings.

Do you have a language learning aptitude?

Some sample tests are available here.

What can you do now?

1. Choose other great posts from the main list, for example:

Your Students Aren’t Learning! Understand Why

Struggling Students: Top Forgotten Factors to Consider First

2. Join other teachers and professionals. Download a FREE 26-page handbook showing you how to QUICKLY AND EASILY recognize and help struggling students.

Copyright Lesley Lanir. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Disclaimer: Content on this site is for educational purposes. If you re-use any content please include original source and copyright information.

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