Do you have a language learning disability?

Updated: Mar 23, 2019

What is a language learning disability?

A language learning disability can be explained as lower than average language learning aptitude. If you or someone you know has trouble learning languages in comparison to peers, then a language learning disability might be the root cause. Also, if you perform strongly in other subjects but miss the mark in a language class, this might also imply that you have an LL disability.

How can I tell if I have a language learning disability?

You can have yourself tested for your language learning aptitude. There are multiple language aptitude tests used by various universities, NGOs and government organizations. Perhaps the most established of these tests is the Modern Language Aptitude Test or MLAT. This portal includes over 500 sample language aptitude tests and is modeled from the MLAT. Try out questions from each section to see how you perform.

What is the MLAT?

John B. Carroll and Stanley Sapon developed the MLAT as part of a five-year research study at Harvard University in the 1950s. The initial purpose of the MLAT was to help the US Government predict people who would be successful learners of a foreign language in an intensive program of instruction.

After testing many different kinds of tasks, the academics chose five tasks that they felt worked well as a combination in predicting foreign language learning success in a variety of contexts. These tasks demonstrated high predictive validity with respect to such criteria as language proficiency ratings and grades in foreign language classes.

The design of the MLAT also reflects a major conclusion of Carroll's research, which was that language learning aptitude was not a "general" unitary ability, but rather a composite of at least four relatively independent "specialized" abilities. The four aspects, or "components", of language learning aptitude that Carroll identified were phonetic coding ability, grammatical sensitivity, rote learning ability and inductive language learning ability. In the article "The prediction of success in intensive foreign language training", Carroll defined these 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.

Ok, so I have a language learning disability…now what?

Don’t worry, there is good news! An LL disability is something that you can train yourself to overcome. All you need to do is practice the four key aspects to language learning aptitude: phonetic coding, grammatical sensitivity, rote learning ability and inductive language learning. This portal allows you to study through various exercises designed around these four key tenants.

How can parents use MLAT study?

If you are concerned about your child’s language ability, you can use MLAT study resources to help your child become familiar with the key tenants of language acquisition. Regular practice in these four areas will likely see your child improve their language learning skills and regain confidence in the classroom.

How can organizations such as schools use MLAT study?

The resources within MLAT study can be used in developing a history of difficulty in learning foreign languages. For example, a school psychologist who is doing a diagnostic evaluation of a student who is progressing slowly in foreign language classes could use MLAT study resources to help establish a diagnosis of a foreign language learning disability. Consistently poor performances on these tests would strongly support the case for a language learning disability. It is especially important that such diagnoses be accurate and credible, because other special services and accommodations may be contingent on their outcome.

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