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History of the Modern Language Aptitude Test

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

When it comes to learning a new language, we've all heard the saying "some people just have a knack for it." And as it turns out, there's some truth to that! In the 1960s, a researcher by the name of John B. Carroll set out to measure exactly that - a person's natural aptitude for language learning. And thus, the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) was born.

The MLAT measures three key abilities: phonological coding (basically, the ability to hear and process the sounds of a language), grammatical sensitivity (the ability to understand and use grammar), and inductive language learning (the ability to figure out the rules of a language based on examples). These abilities are considered to be crucial for language learning, and the MLAT was designed to test for them.

But what's the point of measuring aptitude? Well, it turns out that a person's score on the MLAT can predict their success in a second language class. This makes it a valuable tool for educators, who can use the test to identify students who might need extra support in language classes.

The MLAT was so successful that other language aptitude tests were developed based on it, such as the Language Aptitude Battery (LAB) and the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB). These tests were also developed by John B. Carroll and were intended to be more culturally neutral, and be used in a wider range of settings, including government and business.

So, where is the MLAT used today? It's still used in educational settings, but it's also used by organizations such as the US, British, Australian and New Zealand militaries, departments of foreign affairs and the Peace Corps to screen candidates for language-intensive positions. It's also used in research studies on second language acquisition.

In recent years, there's been a renewed interest in the concept of language aptitude and its relationship to second language acquisition. Researchers are exploring new ways of measuring language aptitude, such as using neuroimaging techniques to study the brain regions that are involved in language learning. This research has the potential to provide new insights into the nature of language aptitude and to lead to the development of new and more effective language aptitude tests.

All in all, the MLAT is an important tool that's been used for decades to measure an individual's aptitude for language learning. And while it's not the only tool out there, it's still widely used and respected in the field of second language acquisition. So, if you're thinking about learning a new language and want to know how you'll fare, you might just want to give the MLAT a try!

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