Skip to main content Accessibility help

Foreign language aptitude and intelligence

  • Marjorie Wesche (a1), Henry Edwards (a1) and Winston Wells (a2)


Notwithstanding the predictive value of foreign language aptitude measures, the underlying ability or abilities tapped by them and their relationship to measures of intelligence are not well understood. This study provides a partial characterization of the nature of language aptitude through correlations and factor analyses of the Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) and the Primary Mental Abilities Test (PMA). The subjects of the study were 793 English-speaking Canadian public servants at various stages of intensive French language training. The results revealed substantial redundancy among the subtests of the MLAT and PMA batteries and a Kaiser's Little Jiffy factor analysis yielded a one-factor solution at the second-order level. A principal factors solution, however, identified three interpretable second-order factors, characterized respectively as first language verbal knowledge, abstract reasoning ability, and ability to learn new language elements and associations. A unitary third-order factor was also identified, probably approximating Spearman's g. Taken together, the findings of the study are compatible with the conceptualization of language aptitude according to a hierarchical model which subsumes specific abilities of importance in the language classroom under a more encompassing general ability, or general intelligence.


Corresponding author

Dr. Marjorie Wesche, Centre for Second Language Learning, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, CanadaKIN 6N5


Hide All
Anastasi, A.Psychological testing. New York: MacMillan, 1968.
Bennett, G. K., Seashore, H. G., & Wesman, A. G., Differential Aptitude Tests. New York: Psychological Corporation, 1963.
Bibeau, G.General Report, Report of the independent study on the language training programmes of the Public Service of Canada, Volume 1. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1976.
Carroll, J. B.A factor analysis of two foreign language aptitude batteries. The Journal of General Psychology, 1958, 59, 319.
Carroll, J. B. The prediction of success in intensive foreign language training. In Glaser, R. (Ed.), Training research and education. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962.
Carroll, J. B.Implications of aptitude test research and psycholinguistic theory for foreign language teaching. International Journal of Psycholinguistics, 1973, 2, 514.
Carroll, J. B. Twenty-five years of research on foreign language aptitude. In Diller, K. C. (Ed.), Individual differences and universals in language learning aptitude. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 1981.
Carroll, J. B. Studying individual differences in cognitive abilities through and beyond factor analysis. In Dillon, R. F. and Schmeck, R. R. (Eds.), Individual differences in cognition. New York: Academic Press (in press).
Carroll, J. B., & Sapon, S. M.Modern Language Aptitude Test, Form A, and Manual. New York: The Psychological Corporation, 1959.
Carroll, J. B., & Sapon, S. M.Elementary Modern Language Aptitude Test. New York: The Psychological Corporation, 1967.
Edwards, H. P., & Casserly, M. C.Research and evaluation of the French program: 1970–71 annual report. Report presented to the Ottawa separate schools. Ottawa, 1971.
Edwards, H. P., Wesche, M. B., & Smyth, F.Psychological predictors of success in second language training. Report of the independent study on the language training programmes of the Public Service of Canada, Volume 3. Ottawa: Government of Canada, 1976.
Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E.Language aptitude, intelligence and second-language achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 1965, 56, 191199.
Gardner, R. C., & Lambert, W. E.Attitudes and motivation in second language learning. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 1972.
Genesee, F.The role of intelligence in second language learning. Language Learning, 1976, 26, 267280.
Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E.Individual differences in second language learning. Applied Psycholinguistics, 1980, 1, 95110.
Guilford, J. P.The nature of human intelligence. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Hopkins, K. P., & Stanley, J. C.Educational and psychological measurement and evaluation. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1981.
Humphreys, L. G.The construct of general intelligence. Intelligence, 1979, 3, 105120.
Jakobovits, L. A.Foreign language learning: A psycholinguistic analysis of the issues. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 1970.
Kaiser, H. F.A second generation Little Jiffy. Psychometrika, 1970, 35, 401415.
Matarazzo, J. D.Wechsler's measurement and appraisal of adult intelligence. Baltimore, Md.: Williams and Wilkins, 1972.
Montanelli, R. A., & Humphreys, L. G.Latent roots of random data correlation matrices with squared multiple correlations on the diagonal: A Monte Carlo study. Psychometrika, 1976, 41, 341348.
Oller, J. W.Language tests at school. London: Longman, 1979.
Oller, J. W., & Perkins, R.Research in language testing. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 1980.
Petersen, C. R., & Al-Haik, A. R.The development of the Defense Language Aptitude Battery (DLAB). Educational and Psychological Measurement, 1976, 36, 369380.
Pimsleur, P.Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery and Manual, Form S. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1966.
Pimsleur, P., Mosberg, L., & Morrison, A. L.Student factors in foreign language learning. Modern Language Journal, 1962, 46, 160170.
Pimsleur, P., Sundland, D. M., & McIntyre, R. D.Underachievement in foreign language learning. International Review of Applied Linguistics, 1964, 2, 113150.
Sattler, J. M.Assessment of children's intelligence. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders, 1974.
Schmid, J., and Leiman, J. M.The development of hierarchical factor solutions. Psychometrika, 1957, 22, 5361.
Spearman, C.The thing of two factors. Psychological Review, 1914, 21, 101115.
Spearman, C.The abilities of man. New York: MacMillan, 1927.
Thurstone, L. L.Primary mental abilities. Chicago, III.: University of Chicago Press, 1938 (Psychometric monograph No. 1).
Thurstone, L. L., & Thurstone, C. T.The Chicago Tests of Primary Mental Abilities, ages 11 to 17, and Manual. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education, 1941.
Thurstone, L. L., & Thurstone, C. T.Primary Mental Abilities Test. Chicago: Science Research Associates, 1962.
Vernon, P. E.The structure of human abilities. London: Methuen, 1960.
Vollmer, H. J., & Sang, F.Competing hypotheses about second language ability: A plea for caution. Berlin: Max Planck Institute, 1980.
Wechsler, D.Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and Manual. New York: Psychological Corporation, 1949.
Wechsler, D.Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale, Manual. New York: Psychological Corporation, 1958.
Wesche, M. B. Language aptitude measures in streaming, matching students with methods, and diagnosis of learning problems. In Diller, K. C. (Ed.). Individual differences and universals in language learning aptitude. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House, 1981.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Applied Psycholinguistics
  • ISSN: 0142-7164
  • EISSN: 1469-1817
  • URL: /core/journals/applied-psycholinguistics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed