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Aptitude in Second Language Acquisition

  1. Peter Robinson

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0035

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Robinson, P. 2012. Aptitude in Second Language Acquisition. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


Like height, intelligence quotient (IQ), or working-memory capacity, aptitude is measurable, and differs in degree between learners in any population. Unlike height, aptitude cannot be directly observed, but must be inferred from performance on psychological tests designed to measure it. Higher aptitude for second or foreign-language learning predicts more successful adaptation to instructed, or naturalistic exposure to the second language (L2), as measured by demonstrably faster progress in learning, and in higher levels of ultimate attainment in proficiency at the end of a course of instruction, or following a period of naturalistic exposure to the L2. Aptitude is therefore a theoretical construct (see Jordan, 2004), operationalized in the form of a test, which aims to predict phenomena that characterize second language acquisition (SLA) (such as incidental learning, metalinguistic awareness, fossilization, and others), and the extent to which successful SLA occurs as a result. Although little was known about these SLA phenomena during the period when aptitude tests were first developed (the 1930s to the 1950s), recent attempts to conceptualize and measure aptitude are addressing the extent to which tests of aptitude predict them— including for example, the extent of successful incidental L2 learning (Robinson, 2005a), metalinguistic awareness of the L2 (Roehr, 2008), and the influence of each on levels of ultimate L2 attainment (Abrahamsson & Hyltenstam, 2008). Some of these issues are described below, following a discussion of early developed conceptualizations, and measurement of aptitude for language learning.


  • cognitive development;
  • language teaching;
  • second language acquisition;
  • assessment