Language aptitude: why and how to assess it?

Project management

Scientific partner: 
Hansjakob Schneider, PHZH

01.2017 - 03.2021
Cognition, Competences, Learning, Teaching

The potential to learn foreign languages varies from one individual to the next and has been investigated by many researchers as of the early 1950s. Individuals’ ability to learn foreign languages relies on various elements that have been identified and grouped under the term language aptitude (ability to retrieve, identify and memorise sound sequences belonging to foreign languages, ability to identify meaningful common features etc.). Another area of the research focuses on emotional/personality factors that may influence the acquisition of skills (e.g. motivation, anxiety, identity etc.) as well as on the effects of self- and hetero-perception towards language skills.

For this project, we rely on theoretical and empirical accounts of individual potential for learning foreign languages in a predictive approach. We answer the following research questions: Which factors can explain and forecast the differences in individuals’ capacity to learn foreign languages? Are these due to:

  • Learning abilities in general;
  • Language-specific abilities;
  • Factors related to motivation/anxiety/personality etc.?
Purpose – Expected results

The project aims to reach two main results. On the one hand, pupils’ potential and the problems they meet when learning foreign languages should be better understood in order to implement adequate differentiated instruction (“Binnendifferenzierung”). It is particularly important to define whether problems are specifically linked to foreign languages (and to the more general language field), if they reflect general learning difficulties or if they result from emotional factors.

Furthermore, the project will enable the development of a valid diagnostic and prognostic test allowing teachers to determine their students’ strengths and weaknesses and to target those areas that are less developed.