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Aptitude in Sla

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The study of individual differences in second language acquisition has achieved considerable efforts over the last years. Those researches had focused on four areas of individual differences: learning style, motivation, anxiety and learning strategies. Nevertheless, the aptitude factor had less attention. Second language aptitude was the subject of no much research during the 1950s and has been the subject of a discontinuous research during the last 30 years. Precisely what is meant by “aptitude”? Writers have used it with different emphases, some stressing inherited capacity, others present ability, or ease of acquisition.

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Therefore, to avoid any possible ambiguities, beginning with the definition is the best solution. “Aptitude” is defined in Oxfords English Dictionary as “3. a. Natural capacity, endowment, or ability; talent for any pursuit. c. Natural capacity to learn or understand; intelligence, quick-wittedness, readiness. Pref, The state of knowledge and aptitude or capacity; The general idea he had acquired with great aptitude. 4. Comb. , as aptitude test orig. U. S. , a test designed to determine a person’s capacity in any given skill or field of knowledge.

An aptitude test for policemen. Feb. 93/3 the aptitude test simply consists in making telegraph signals, and then testing the memory of the men. The use of aptitude tests, psychological questionnaires, even blood-sampling and cranial measurements; he hoped to discover a method of gauging student-potential”. Also defined in Warren’s Dictionary as “a condition or set of characteristics regarded as symptomatic of an individual’s ability to acquire with training some knowledge, skill, or set of responses such as the ability to speak a language, to produce music, etc. Aptitude for learning anything can be defined for operational purposes as “the amount of time it takes an individual to learn the task in a 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 second language aptitude. In this paper, answers in brief for several questions that always appear will be stated.

These questions are: Is second language aptitude directly related to conscious learning? nd Is second language aptitude actually different from general aptitude or intelligence? After an intended discussion on the previous questions, the task will turn to some examinations and predictions for aspects of aptitude related directly to conscious language learning. Afterwards, examples of standardized tests which measures second language aptitude is mentioned. A new view of aptitude is illustrated depending on a conference held in the USA. Finally, an answer for “is aptitude a factor in second language acquisition? is stated. At the beginning, two questions will be demonstrated which are: Is second language aptitude different from general aptitude or intelligence? And is it directly related to conscious learning? The answer, which is based on a number of studies (Carroll, 1962; Gardner & Lambert, 1965; Wesche, Edwards & Wells, 1982), seems to be “Yes. ” Indeed, one factor of the quality of a second language aptitude test is the degree to which it goes beyond a general intelligence test in the prediction of success in learning a second language.

A number of second language aptitude tests, although not all of those that have been developed, have demonstrated the ability to do so. Carroll (1962) demonstrated that second language aptitude is comprised of four cognitive abilities. These abilities are reflected, to one extent or another, in the second language aptitude tests that have been developed subsequent to Carroll’s research. The first one 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.

In facile “the ability to store new language sounds in memory”. This is a rather unique auditory component of second language aptitude. It is especially important in classes that concentrate on spoken language. Secondly comes 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 second language. Also defined as “the individual’s ability to demonstrate his awareness of the syntactical patterning of sentences in a language” (Carroll, 1973, p. ). Carroll makes it clear that although performance on this component does not require the subject’s actually knowing grammatical terminology; it does involve a conscious meta-awareness of grammar. Carroll contrasts this sort of knowledge of a language with the subconscious or tacit knowledge entailed in Chomsky’s term “competence”. Although it is often said that linguistic “competence” in the sense defined by Chomsky (1965) involves some kind of “knowledge” of the grammatical rules of a language, this “knowledge” is ordinarily of our conscious awareness.

Nevertheless, some adolescents and adults; (and even some children); can be made to demonstrate an awareness of the syntactical structure of the sentences they speak. Even among adults there are large individual differences in this ability, and these individual differences are related to success in learning foreign languages, apparently because this ability is called upon when the student tries to learn grammatical rules and apply them in constructing and comprehending new sentences in that language (pp. 7-8).

Grammatical sensitivity is widely used by the Words in Sentences subtest of the Carroll-Sapon MLAT, which asks the tester to pick out the words or phrases in one sentence that “does the same thing” in that sentence as a capitalized word in another sentence. Here is a famous example: 1. He spoke VERY well of you. 2. Suddenly the music became quite loud. 1 2 3 4 Most readers will see that the correct answer is “3”. The Words in Sentences subtest, as if aptitude test were developed before the MLAT, appears to be related to “general intelligence”, as reported by Carroll (1963).

Gardner and Lambert (1965, 1972) noted that Words in Sentences related not only to achievement in French as a foreign language but also to grades in general and academic achievement outside the foreign language class. Thirdly, the rote learning ability as it applies to second 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 second language situation. Finally, the inductive language learning ability.

This is the ability to give probabilities of 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 second language-learning situation. Alternatively, as stated by (Carroll, 1973, p. 8), it is the ability to “examine language material… and from this to notice and identify patterns and correspondences and relationships involving either meaning or grammatical form”. A typical method of measuring this ability is to present materials in an artificial language in such a way that the individual can induce the grammatical and semantic rules governing that language” (Carroll, 1973, p. 8). Carroll also suggests that it is probably through this factor “that foreign language aptitude is most closely related with general intelligence” (p. 8). Inductive ability also appears to be conscious learning, in that its goal is the discovery of an explicit, abstract set of rules by means of a problem-solving approach.

The linguist uses the same process in writing a grammar from a corpus. Pimsleur’s summary of the abilities/components of language aptitude is quite similar to, but not exactly the same as Carroll’s: … the “talent” for learning a second language consists of three components. The first is verbal intelligence, by which is meant both familiarity with words (this is measured in the Language Aptitude Battery by the “Vocabulary” part) and the ability to reason analytically about verbal materials (this is measured by the part called “Language Analysis”).

The second component is motivation to learn the language. The third component is called “auditory ability”… (Pimsleur, 1966, p. 182). Thus, two of Carroll’s components, inductive ability and grammatical sensitivity, and one of Pimsleur’s components, verbal intelligence, are an assumption to relate directly to, or deliberate, conscious language learning. The other parts of the aptitude batteries, in both cases, deal with auditory factors (which are not mentioned in this paper), and Pimsleur’s motivation component forms an additional part of the LAB.

In the following, there are some examinations for aspects of aptitude related directly to conscious language learning. Certain predictions should hold true. Below are these predictions and the supporting evidence: 1)Aptitude will be statistically independent, as it relate to very different and independent parts of the language performance and internalization model. Of course, this is a well-established result. Carroll (1963) reported that aptitude is not related to whether or not a person “likes foreign language study” (p. 15), and Gardner and Lambert have confirmed and replicated this result using standard aptitude tests and measures of integrative motivation many times (Gardner, 1960; Gardner and Lambert, 1959, 1972). 2) The aptitude factor will show a strong relationship to second language proficiency in “monitored” test situations and when conscious learning has been stressed in the classroom. Several studies support this. Similar scores with grades in foreign language classes and/or with pencil and paper grammar tests (Pimsleur, 1966; Carroll, 1963) usually determine the validity of aptitude tests.

Such similarities are occasionally, but not always, quite high. Similarly, Gardner (1960) concludes that “language aptitude appears to be of major importance in the acquisition of second language skills acquired through instruction” (p. 214). In his study, three subtests of Carroll’s Psi-Lambda aptitude test (Words in Sentences, Paired Associates, and Spelling Clues) related to several “school-type” tests of French as a foreign language (reading, vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation accuracy, and phonetic discrimination).

Gardner and Lambert (1959) presented evidence that “school French achievement”, represented by grades in French as well as overall grades, is strongly related to performance on the Words in Sentences subtest of the MLAT, “suggesting that the student who is aware of grammatical distinctions in English will do well in French courses where the emphasis is on grammar” (p. 290). Gardner and Lambert also found a “linguistic reasoning factor”: scores on the MLAT related to achievement in reading French, a French grammar test, and a test of phonetic discrimination.

While these studies were carried out in Canadian English-speaking situations (Montreal), Gardner and Lambert’s subsequent research in the United States (Gardner and Lambert, 1972) confirms these findings. Gardner, Smythe, Clement, and Gliksman (1976) also confirmed that aptitude related much more to classroom skills (grades) than to communicative skills (speech) in French as a foreign language in grades 7 to 11 in various English-speaking communities in Canada. The effects of aptitude on performance in general were stronger for older students.

Also of interest is Bialystok and Frohlich (1977), who studied ninth- and tenth-graders studying French in Toronto. In one or two schools examined, aptitude correlated with self-reports of conscious monitoring (r = 0. 55). Finally, recall that Carroll defined aptitude as rate of learning, that is, students with higher aptitude will appear to learn faster than students with lower aptitude. This predicts that aptitude will show its strongest effects in a short, well-taught course (Carroll, 1963). Note in this regard that conscious learning may provide a short-cut to performance in a second language.

According to (Krashen, 1978b; Krashen, 1977a), “learners” can use an acquisition-free mode of performance consisting of first language surface structure plus the Monitor. High-aptitude students should be more likely to be able to benefit from this mode and thus may show more rapid initial progress. Over the long term, however, subconscious language acquisition is far superior, as the user of L1 surface structure plus the Monitor is severely limited in terms of the range of structures that can be produced as well as in fluency of performance.

Most recently, Second language aptitude which Carroll (1973) defines as the “rate at which persons at the secondary school, university and adult level learn to criterion” (p. 5), has been measured by standardized test such as the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and the Language Aptitude Battery (LAB). Moreover, there are several tests of second language aptitude in use today: a)The “Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery” (PLAB) (Pimsleur, 1965) was developed for students in grades 7 to 12. This test includes a sound discrimination test, a test of learners’ ability to list as many words as possible that rhyme with words provided.

A language analysis test that test indicative language learning capacity, and a vocabulary test that requires learners to identify the meaning of different words. b)The “Modern Language Aptitude Test” (MLAT) was developed by Carroll and Sapon (1959) for adults and high school students. This test is consists of five sub-tests; (1) Number learning, where learners are asked to learn words for numbers in an artificial language. (2) Phonetic Script, where learners are asked to listen to sounds and learn the phonetic symbols for them. 3) Spilling Clues, where learners are required to find the phonetically spelt English words. (4) Words in Sentences, where learners have to recognize the syntactic function of words and phrases in sentences. (5) Paired Associates, which is a test of learners’ ability to learn and recall paired associates. c)Carroll and Sapon (1967) also developed an elementary version, the “EMLAT,” for use with children in grades 3 to 6. These tests are available to teachers, although they are not frequently used in public schools.

This is unfortunate, because research suggests that these tests may be useful in the academic context for placing and counseling students, and for understanding and appropriately tailoring instruction to the aptitudes, motivations, and learning styles of individuals and groups (Stansfield, 1989). In addition, a new view of aptitude was released in September 1988, an invitational conference was held in Washington, D. C. , on Languages and Linguistics. The purpose of the conference was to bring together people interested in the prediction of success in second language learning.

A number of concerns motivated the conference. The aptitude tests currently in use are now between 15 and 30 years old. They do not take into account new insights, revealed by the works of cognitive psychologists, on the human learning process in general and on the language learning process in particular. They do not take also into account the work of social psychologists who have studied the relation of attitudes, motivation, personality, and other emotional characteristics and predispositions to second language learning.

Nor do they take into account the work of educational psychologists who have identified variables such as individual cognitive styles and personal learning strategies that also seem to be related to successful language learning. These learner variables might be affected by other factors: personal characteristics of the teacher; the method employed; the task or language skill to be learned; the classroom environment in which the learning takes place; and the proficiency level that needs to be acquired. All of these variables need to be examined in a systematic way.

A new program of language aptitude research, test development, data collection and analysis might improve our ability to predict successful language learning and to prepare the classroom environment and instruction to individual students. A revised notion of language aptitude might extend beyond a few specified cognitive variables to involve many other relevant variables that are related to success in learning a second language. This paper indicates that aptitude is a factor in second language acquisition and in fact a very important aspect that have been ignored and have only few researches. Language aptitude however is probably the single best predictor of achievement in a second language’ (Gardner and Mclntyre1992: 215). Language aptitude is strongly related to second language achievement. Learners with high aptitude learn faster than learners with low aptitude. And as Gardener (1960) concluded “language aptitude appears to be of major importance in the acquisition of second language skills acquired through instruction” (p. 214). In conclusion, the study of individual differences in second language acquisition is an interesting wide area.

As stated above there are areas that still need support and research. However, so far it was proved that aptitude is a priority factor in language acquisition. This task illustrated the definition of aptitude in the first place. Then answers for the relations between aptitude, conscious learning, general aptitude and intelligence were discussed and proven with evidence. Some examinations and predictions for aspects of aptitude related directly to conscious language learning are mentioned as well. Citations of examples on standardized tests that measures second language aptitude.

Moreover, a short referral to a new view of language aptitude was also pointed out. Finally, second language aptitude is a factor in second language acquisition. Reference Bialystok, E. and Frohlich, M. (1977) “Aspects of second language learning in classroom settings. ” Working Papers on Bilingualism 13: 1-26. Carroll, J. B. (1962). The prediction of success in intensive foreign language training. In R. Glaser (Ed. ), “Training research and education” (pp. 87-136). Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 038 051) Carroll, J. 1973) “Implications of aptitude test research and psycholinguistic theory for foreign language teaching. ” Linguistics 112: 5-13. Carroll, J. B. & Sapon, S. M. (1959). “Modern language aptitude test (MLAT). ” San Antonio: Psychological Corporation. 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. (1967). “Modern language aptitude test-elementary. ” San Antonio: Psychological Corporation Chomsky, N. 1965) Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press. Dulay, H. and M. Burt (1977) “Remarks on creativity in language acquisition. ” In M. Burt, H. Dulay, and M. Finnochiaro (Eds. ), Viewpoints on English as a Second Language. New York: Regents, pp. 95-126. Gardner, R. , P. Smythe, R. Clement, and L. Gliksman (1976) “Second-Language learning: a social-psychological perspective. ” Canadian Modern Language Review 32: 198-213. Gardner, R. (1960) “Motivational variables in second language learning. ” In R. Gardner, R. and W. Lambert (1959) “Motivational variables in second language acquisition. Canadian Journal of Psychology 13: 266-272. Gardner, R. and W. Lambert (1972) Attitudes and Motivation in Second-Language Learning. Rowley, Ma. : Newbury House Gardner, R. and W. Lambert (1965) “Language aptitude, intelligence, and second-language achievement. ” Journal of Education Psychology 56: 191-199. Reprinted in Gardner and Lambert (1972). Krashen, S. (1977a) “Some issues relating to the Monitor Model. ” In H. D. Brown, C. Yorio, and R. Crymes (Eds. ), On TESOL ’77: Teaching and Learning English as a Second Language: Trends in Research and Practice. Washington: TESOL, pp. 144-158.

Krashen, S. (1978b) “Adult second language acquisition and learning: a review of theory and practice. : In R. Gingras (Ed. ), Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Teaching. Washington, D. C. : Center for Applied Linguistics. 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.

Oller, J. , A. Hudson, and P. Liu (1977) “Attitudes and attained proficiency in ESL: a sociolinguistic study of native speakers of Chinese in the United States. ” Language Learning 27: 1-27. Parry, T. S. & Stansfield, C. W. (Editors). (forthcoming). “Language aptitude reconsidered. ” Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents/Center for Applied Linguistics. Pimsleur, P. (1966). “Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery. ” New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. Stevick, E. (1976) Memory, Meaning, and Method. Rowley, Ma. : Newbury House. Stansfield, C. W. (1989). Review of the Pimsleur

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