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All you need to know about the Modern Language Aptitude Test

Updated: Apr 26

An Overview of the Modern Language Aptitude Test

The Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT), was put together as a tool for the US Armed Forces to determine someone's potential to learn a language. It's since been used by various other organisations, and is currently owned by Second Language Testing Foundation. More academic info is available here.

The MLAT can be used for both children and adults although it's difficult enough for educated adults. The test aims to keep its methodology standardized by using tapes and having little to no input from examiners.

Test Questions

The MLAT consist of five sections. Each section measures a particular skill required to acquiring a new language.

In section 1, Number Learning, participants need to learn one two and three digit numbers using a new language. It starts by the voice on the tape explaining how single digit numbers are pronounced in the new language, for example, “ka” might be number one, while “kaba” might mean two (these are not actually the test answers ;-). The voice will then go on to teach numbers three and four before moving onto 10-40 and 100-400. It works like this, if the word 'twenty' is pronounced as “tu,” then 21 and 22 would be “tu-ka” and “tu-kaba” and so on. The test begins some practice questions before moving onto the real questions. This is quite a difficult section that will test your memory and speed of learning. MLAT study access includes tape-based examples that mimic the test and will prep you to get high scores in this section.

Section 2 is titled Phonetic Script, and requires learners to differentiate between words that look and sound quite similar, e.g. “bot” and “but.” The voice begins by familiarizing the examiner with the phonetic symbols associated with each sound. In the test proper, the examinee has to write down the phonetic symbol for the sound he or she hears from the examiner.

The third section of MLAT, called Spelling Clues, is a time-pressured exercise. English words are presented in written form to the examiner, all of which are spelled incorrectly --- they are spelled according to how they sound. The task of the examiner is to select the meaning of the misspelled word for a list of choices.

Part 4 “Words in Sentences” requires a bit of inductive reasoning. In this part, examinees must carefully analyze sentences in order to surface the syntax it follows. Afterwards, examiners must be able to apply these syntax rules into new sentences by way of analogy.

The last part, Paired Associates, is a memory test. Examiners are given two minutes to memorize a set of 24 “foreign” words and their meaning in English. Afterwards they have to answer multiple choice questions related to the meaning of the words included in the list.

The Truth about Learning New Languages

Learning new languages can be a challenge. If you’ve ever had to learn a foreign language in college, you already know the task isn’t as simple as it seems.

To begin with, not all languages follow the same rules of syntax. Some languages, for example, have standard verb forms for all subjects, while other languages have specific verb forms for single, plural, male, female, animate and inanimate subjects. There are also times when phonemes common to the language you’re learning don’t even exist in your native tongue! The further a new language is --- structurally and phonetically --- from one’s own native speech, the more difficult it is to grasp. Hence, it’s easier for a German speaker to learn Danish, than for him or her to learn English.

Which is not to say that learning a new language is impossible! In fact, studies show that even adults can understand and speak as many languages as he or she wants to learn --- if only given time, effort and motivation. This is good news for those whose profession or lifestyle demands constant new language learning. And with the Modern Language Aptitude Test, you won’t have to wonder; you can measure your aptitude for new language learning.

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