What is Aptitude?
Carroll (1973) opines that aptitude signifies a potential for language acquisition among older learners, as opposed to a preference for language proficiency. This takes place under optimal conditions of opportunity, motivation, as well as quality of instructions. Carroll (1973) argues that while aptitude remains constant, its role in attaining language proficiency differs with a variation in the other variables. Carroll’s model endevoured to determine four aspects of foreign language aptitude as below:
(i) Phonemic Coding: this is the capacity to recognize and accumulate novel language sounds
(ii) Grammatical Sensitivity: this is the capacity to be responsive to syntactical pattering of sentences, along with the grammatical roles of the components of a sentence.
(iii) Rote learning ability- this refers to the capacity to learn and hold on to relationships between words and their meanings as defined in a foreign language.
(iv) Inductive ability-The capacity to discern language patterns (this capacity is strongly linked to general intelligence (Carroll 1973).
Skehan (1986) further developed Carroll’s model by including an associative memory aspect to it namely, the capacity of a language learner to associate the target language with their L1. Skehan (1986) further maintains that two elements of language analysis namely, inductive learning ability and grammatical sensitivity relates with the “cognitive organizers” described by Krashen et al. (1977). On the other hand, Krashen et al. (1977) contends that these elements are strictly rule-based and conscious. On this, Skehan (1986) infers that the elements only appear in this manner on tests since they demand that time be utilized efficiently. Moreover, these abilities, according to Skehan (1986) are indicative of an ability to act in response to the rules governing language acquisition, as opposed to the capability to verbalize rules.
Elsewhere, Schneiderman and Desmarais (1988) opt to use the term “talent,” as opposed to aptitude. In the words of Schneiderman and Desmarais (1988), aptitude is the “exceptional ability to achieve native-like competence in a second language after puberty (p. 91). Selinker (1972) opines that this talent is only evident in approximately 5% of the adult population. Schneiderman and Desmarais (1988) intimate that this talent to learn a new language is in all probability a continuum as opposed to a jagged differentiation between the non-talented and talented. The authors further hypothesize two “substrates” that are vital for language talent: an accent and a grammar substrate (Schneiderman & Desmarais 1988). They draw attention to a likely bias toward accent in trying to evaluate language proficiency, since native speakers are more likely to criticize language proficiency errors committed by a non-native speaker characterized by a heavy “foreign” accent while ignoring such errors in the event that the speakers in questions sounds like a native.
Authors of language proficiency notably, Carroll (1973), Skehan (1986), and Schneiderman and Desmarais (1988), advocate for the use of grammatical accuracy and accents as tools for judging language proficiency and talent. They are convinced that a truly talented language learner has no qualms about improving their grammar intuition to a level similar to that demonstrated by native speakers. Moreover, Schneiderman and Desmarais (1988) maintain that this aspect of language proficiency ought to be considered too. The description of language acquisition provided by Carroll has informed most studies on language proficiency and aptitude. However, Alexiou (2001) endeavors to further develop this description of language acquisition by defining aptitude as an individual’s natural capacity to learn a language fairly easily and quickly, in spite of motivation, environment, or instructional methods.
Alexiou, T. (2001). Foreign Language Aptitude in Young Learners. Retrieved from
<http://www.swan.ac.uk/cals/calsres/events/ 02_contents/02_ Alexiou.htm
Carroll, J. B. (1973). Implications of Aptitude Test Research and Psycholinguistic Theory
for Foreign-Language Teaching. Linguistics, 112, 5-14.
Krashen, S., Houck, N., Giunchi, P., Bode, S., & Birnbaum, R & Strei, G (1977). Difficulty
order for grammatical morphemes for adult second language performers using free
speech. TESOL Quarterly, 11, 338-341
Schneiderman, E. I., & Desmarais, C. (1988). A Neuropsychological Substrate for Talent in
Second-Language Acquisition. In Obler & Fein (Eds.), The Exceptional Brain (pp. 103
126). New York: The Guildford Press.
Skehan, P. (1986). The Role of Foreign Language Aptitude in a Model of School Learning.
Language Testing, 3 (2), 188-221.