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The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery is an assessment developed to predict student success in foreign language learning, or language learning aptitude, and for diagnosing language learning disabilities.
The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) was developed to measure language learning aptitude. Language learning aptitude does not refer to whether or not an individual can or cannot learn a foreign language (it is assumed that virtually everyone can learn a foreign language given adequate opportunity). According to John Carroll and Stanley Sapon, the authors of the MLAT (a similar language aptitude test intended for older subjects), language learning aptitude does refer to the “prediction of how well, relative to other individuals, an individual can learn a foreign language in a given amount of time and under given conditions.” The PLAB is intended for use with students in grades 7 through 12.
Development of the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery
The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) was developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, also known for the Pimsleur language learning system. The PLAB is the culmination of eight years of research by Pimsleur and his associates from 1958 to 1966, which involved the review of 30 years of published studies regarding a variety of linguistic and psychological factors involved in language learning. Pimsleur and his colleagues grouped these studies into seven research topics: intelligence, verbal ability, pitch discrimination, order of language study and bilingualism, study habits, motivation and attitudes, and personality factors. Of the seven, motivation and verbal intelligence were the clearest factors contributing to success at learning a foreign language.
Subsequent research involving students learning French at the college level, taking several different tests and subjecting the resulting data to factor analysis and multiple correlation analysis also showed motivation and verbal intelligence to be primary factors in language learning success. After field testing a preliminary version of the Aptitude Battery on secondary school students of French and Spanish, Pimsleur and his associates identified verbal intelligence, motivation and auditory ability as the three most significant factors in predicting success at learning a foreign language. They developed seven tests that would measure these three factors.
After testing the seven sections with the Ohio State University Research Foundation, the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery was finalized by adding a section measuring grade point average, which Pimsleur found to be another predictive factor of language learning aptitude. The four final factors contributing to language learning aptitude measured on the PLAB are verbal ability, auditory ability, motivation and grade point average.
In 1965-66, a study was conducted to calculate the predictive validity of the PLAB. Forty-one schools in thirteen different states participated in the study, which administered the PLAB to students in grades 7, 8, and 9 at the beginning of the school year. The students’ final grades in a beginning language course were used to calculate the validity of the PLAB and provide statistical norms and expectancy tables.
Sections of the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery
The final version of the PLAB contains six sections (Pimsleur, et al. 2004), each one testing different aspects of the four predictive factors (verbal ability, auditory ability, motivation and grade point average).
Part 1 - Grade Point Average
This section calculates the student’s grade point average in areas other than language learning
Part 2 - Interest
This section measures the student’s interest in learning a foreign language and is a measure of motivation
Part 3 - Vocabulary
This section tests word knowledge in English and is a measure of verbal ability
Part 4 - Language Analysis
This section tests the student’s ability to reason logically in terms of a foreign language and is another aspect of verbal ability
Part 5 - Sound Discrimination
This section tests the ability to learn new phonetic distinctions and to recognize them in different contexts and is a measure of auditory ability
Part 6 - Sound-Symbol Association
This section test the ability to associate sounds with written symbols and is another measure of auditory ability
Earlier versions of the PLAB also included a twenty question test measuring a student’s motivation for learning a foreign language and a section on rhyming, which was another measure of auditory ability. After field testing with the Ohio State University Research Foundation, Pimsleur and his associates found that these sections could be taken out of the test without affecting the predictive ability of the PLAB.
Uses of the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery
The uses of the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery include program placement, program assessment and planning, and diagnosis of learning abilities.
The PLAB can be used to assess which students may be ready to study a foreign language in grades 7 and 8 and those students who would benefit from waiting until a later grade to begin foreign language study. It can also be used to place students in the classroom that teaches at the most appropriate pace for them when there is more than one language class.
Program Assessment and Planning
The PLAB can be used to calculate local language aptitude norms. Using this information, schools or districts can assess the effectiveness of their current foreign language programs and use the PLAB to develop their language program. For example, a school may divide their language program into three zones, each using an appropriate textbook and moving at an appropriate pace.
Diagnosis of Learning Abilities
The PLAB can be used to identify students with language learning difficulty or a language learning disability when used in conjunction with other forms of evidence.
Looking at an individual’s score on the different parts of the test can be of help to match students’ learning styles with instructional approaches.
Issues of Debate
One issue taken with using language aptitude tests like the PLAB is that they are not directly helpful to individuals who are required to learn a language regardless of their language learning abilities. Language learning aptitude is relatively stable over an individual’s lifetime, so if an individual scores poorly on the PLAB, there is no proven method to increase their language learning aptitude if they must learn a language. One way the PLAB could be helpful in this situation is to indicate that more time learning the language will have to be spent relative to someone who received a high score on the PLAB. It can also assist them by showing which learning strategies that they use best.
- Carroll, John B. and Stanley Sapon. Modern Language Aptitude Test: Manual 2002 Edition. Bethesda, MD: Second Language Testing, Inc., 2002.
- Pimsleur, Paul, Daniel J. Reed and Charles W. Stansfield. Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery: Manual 2004 Edition. Bethesda, MD: Second Language Testing, Inc., 2004.
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