ERIC Identifier: ED318226
Publication Date: 1989-12-00
Author: Stansfield, Charles W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Language Aptitude Reconsidered. ERIC Digest.
This Digest is based on a monograph in the Language in Education series, "Language Aptitude Reconsidered," edited by T.S. Parry and C.W. Stansfield (forthcoming). The monograph can be ordered from Prentice Hall Regents, Mail Order Processing, 200 Old Tappan Road, NJ 07675, or by calling 1-201-767-5937.
WHAT IS FOREIGN LANGUAGE APTITUDE?
Aptitude for learning anything can be defined for operational purposes as "the amount of time it takes an individual to learn the task in question." Thus, individuals typically differ not in whether they can learn a task or not learn it, but rather in the length of time it takes them to learn it or to reach a given degree of competency. This is also true of foreign language aptitude.
Is foreign language aptitude actually different from general aptitude or intelligence? The answer, based on a number of studies (Carroll, 1962; Gardner & Lambert, 1965; Wesche, Edwards & Wells, 1982), seems to be "Yes." Indeed, one index of the quality of a foreign language aptitude test is the degree to which it exceeds a general intelligence test in the prediction of success in learning a foreign language. A number of foreign language aptitude tests, although not all of those that have been developed, have demonstrated the ability to do so.
Carroll (1962) demonstrated that foreign language aptitude is comprised of four cognitive abilities. These abilities are reflected, to one extent or another, in the foreign language aptitude tests that have been developed subsequent to Carroll's research. The first of these abilities is phonetic coding, which is the ability to segment and identify distinct sounds, to form associations between those sounds and symbols representing them, and to retain these associations. This is a rather unique auditory component of foreign language aptitude. It is especially important in classes that emphasize spoken language.
The second component is grammatical sensitivity, the ability to recognize the grammatical function of words or other linguistic structures in sentences. This component may be especially important in classes that emphasize an analytical approach to learning a foreign language.
The third component is rote learning ability as it applies to foreign language learning situations (Carroll, 1990). Rote learning ability is a kind of general memory, but individuals seem to differ in their ability to apply their memory to the foreign language situation.
The fourth component is inductive language learning ability. This is the ability to infer the rules that govern the use of language. Again, this component is probably like general inductive learning ability, but individuals may vary in their ability to apply it to the foreign language learning situation.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE APTITUDE TESTS AND THEIR USES
The MLAT is used extensively by government agencies in the United States and Canada. In addition, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) has developed the "Army Language Aptitude Test" (ALAT) (a short language aptitude test), the VORD (Parry and Child, 1990), and the "Defense Language Aptitude Battery" (DLAB) (Peterson & Al-Haik, 1976). These tests are used in different ways by different agencies. In the DOD, the DLAB is used to select individuals from all the armed services for study at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The U.S. Government has grouped languages into four categories according to their difficulty for English speakers. A certain minimum DLAB score is associated with qualification for studying the languages in each category of difficulty. Thus, at the DLI, DLAB scores are used for selection and placement (Lett and O'Mara, forthcoming). The government's intelligence agencies normally use either the MLAT or the ALAT for selection and placement. The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) participated in the original validation studies of the MLAT and has continued to use it ever since. The FBI uses the DLAB score and the government's four-category system to determine whether its agents would be successful if sent to receive full-time language training.
The Canadian Public Service Commission, which provides language training to 20,000 government employees each year, uses the MLAT and Parts V and VI of the PLAB. Native French speakers are administered a French version of the MLAT, the "Test d'aptitude de langues vivantes." Scores on these tests are used to select employees for full-time language training, to place them by language learning ability level, and to determine how long it will take them to develop language skills to a specified proficiency level. Part scores on these tests are also used as a diagnostic measure by teachers who wish to better understand student learning problems.
A NEW VIEW OF APTITUDE
Carroll, J.B. (forthcoming). Cognitive abilities and foreign language aptitude. In T.S. Parry & C.W. Stansfield (Eds.), "Language aptitude reconsidered. " Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics.
Carroll, J.B. & Sapon, S.M. (1959). "Modern language aptitude test (MLAT)." San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Carroll, J.B. & Sapon, S.M. (1967). "Modern language aptitude test-elementary." San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.
Gardner, R.C. & Lambert, W.E. (1965). Language aptitude, intelligence and second-language achievement. "Journal of Educational Psychology, 56," 191-99.
Lett, J.A. & O'Mara, F.E. (forthcoming). Predictors of success in an intensive foreign language learning context: Models of language learning at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center. In T.S. Parry & C.W. Stansfield (Eds.), "Language aptitude reconsidered." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics.
Parry, T.S. & Child, J.R. (forthcoming). Preliminary investigation of the relationship between VORD, MLAT, and language proficiency. In T. S. Parry & C.W. Stansfield (Eds.), "Language aptitude reconsidered." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics.
Parry, T.S. & Stansfield, C.W. (Editors). (forthcoming). "Language aptitude reconsidered." Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics.
Peterson, C.R. & Al-Haik, A.R. (1976). The development of the defense language aptitude battery (DLAB). "Educational and Psychological Measurement, 36," 369-380.
Pimsleur, P. (1966). "Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery." New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Stansfield, C.W. (1989). Review of the Pimsleur language aptitude battery. In D.J. Keyser & R.C. Sweetland (Eds.), "Test critiques" (Volume III, pp. 438-445). Kansas City, MO: Test Corporation of America.
Wesche, M., Edwards, H., & Wells, W. (1982). Foreign language aptitude and intelligence. "Applied Psycholinguistics, 3" (2), 127-40.