Foreign Language Proficiency Levels Attained by Language Majors Near Graduation from College


  • John B. Carroll

    Search for more papers by this author
    • 1

      John B. Carroll (Ph.D., University of Minnesota) is now a Senior Research Psychologist at Educational Testing Service, Princeton, where he is chairman of the Human Learning and Cognition Research Group. For seventeen years previously, he was a faculty member at the Graduate School of Education, Harvard University, becoming Professor of Educational Psychology in 1956. His professional specialty is the psychology of language, and within this area he has devoted much attention to problems of teaching, testing, and research in foreign languages. He has published The Study of Language (Harvard University Press), and Language and Thought (Prentice-Hall), as well as numerous articles on educational and psychological measurement and psycholinguistics. With Stanley Sapon, he developed the Modern Language Aptitude Test (Psychological Corporation). He is a founding member of the National Academy of Education and has served on numerous committees concerned with the development of research and studies in linguistics, psycholinguistics, and foreign language teaching. (The study reported here was supported by a contract with the U. S. Office of Education under NDEA, Title VI. The author thanks the very many people who cooperated in this study, as well as his able staff members at Harvard, principally John L. D. Clark, Thomas M. Edwards, and Fannie A. Handrick.)


ABSTRACT: MLA Foreign Language Proficiency Tests for Teachers and Advanced Students were administered in 1965 to 2,782 seniors majoring in French, German, Italian, Russian, or Spanish at 203 institutions. The resulting data provided new evidence on a number of issues significant in the selection and training of future language teachers, though conclusions must be drawn with caution. Audio-lingual skills were generally low. Even brief time spent abroad had a potent effect on a student's language skills. Students of French or Spanish who started the language in elementary school tended to have an advantage over other majors. Those from homes where the foreign language was spoken attained greater competence. Foreign language aptitude is a factor significantly associated with the level of skill attained, but many low-aptitude students are able to compensate by diligent study and practice or because of special opportunities such as study abroad. Males and females were equal in language-learning ability. Students at larger institutions outperformed those at smaller ones, and students at private institutions did better than those at public ones. (Four figures and eleven tables are included.)