Do I have a Gift for Language?


Language is mysterious. Would anyone disagree? Whenever I hear someone from my own culture speaking a second language that I don’t understand, it’s amazing to me. It’s almost like magic.

Perhaps because of the mystery of language, we may sometimes ask ourselves: “Do I have a gift for learning languages?”

Another way of asking this is, “Do I have an aptitude for learning languages, or not?”
So, what exactly does aptitude mean?

Two language researchers named Susan Gass and Larry Selinker give the following definition: “Aptitude, simply put, refers to one’s potential for learning new knowledge or skills.” So, when people ask the question, “Do I have an aptitude for language?” They are really asking, “Do I have the potential to learn languages well?”

It seems obvious that some people do have an aptitude for language and others do not. However, measuring someone’s aptitude for learning language is a difficult task. To begin with, how do we measure someone’s “potential for learning new knowledge or skills?” What scales should we use?  What does ‘potential’ in a second language mean?  Can this be improved, or should people who do not test well for language aptitude be encouraged to study something else?

Some researchers have said that language aptitude is the same thing as “intelligence.” In this view, if someone gets a high score on an IQ test, they will also have an aptitude for language learning. However, when language test scores have been compared with IQ test scores statistically, no direct relationship was found. So we cannot say that IQ and language aptitude are the same thing.

Other researches have suggested that aptitude is connected to “working memory.” Working memory, also called “short-term memory,” refers to the brain’s capacity to keep and analyze new information. Most of the information in our working memory is not stored in our long term memory, so after we analyze it, we forget it. For example, we may see something interesting on the news, but then we see an advertisement or our family asks us a question, and we forget. Research has suggested that different people have different levels of working memory capacity and that this capacity predicts language learning aptitude.

However, Peter Robinson, a professor who studies language aptitude at Aoyama Gakuin University, has suggested that language aptitude is not a single ability, but rather a collection of different abilities that work together to create language learning aptitude. Another researcher named Zoltan Dornyei from the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom has suggested that how these collections of abilities work together is based on a language learner’s motivation to learn.

In other words, a student’s true aptitude only appears if the student is also highly motivated to learn.

This means that one of the best ways to answer the question “Do I have an aptitude for language learning?” is to study hard, with strong motivation, and see what happens.


  1. I have found an interesting article abaut learning a foreign language and would like to
    share it with people who like to read your interesting blogs.

    How important is language learning aptitude?

    David H. Broersma, Ph. D.

    There are few learning tasks where differences in aptitude become as pronounced as in the task of learning a second language. Often, teammates or spouses who are learning the same language will notice that while one seems to make exceptionally quick progress, another will struggle every step of the way. Thus, differences in aptitude are important, but these differences are not the end of the story.

    Each language learner has a unique profile of basic aptitudes, learning styles, personality preferences, and attitudes, and all of these factors together will also influence ultimate success. The key to making the most of the job is to “know thyself.” Self-awareness is a critically important part of the process because if you are aware of your strengths as a language learner, you can play to your strengths and help compensate for your weaknesses. For example, if you know that you are a “visual learner,” and you know that you can’t remember new vocabulary without writing it down, you can get in the habit of carrying a small notebook with you and explaining to people that when you want to learn something you need to write it in your notebook. Or, if you prefer to work alone, and you find it draining to be in crowds of people, you may need to organize time together with individuals to practice your language in one-on-one situations. Otherwise, because you find it overwhelming to be with a lot of people, you may end up not having any interaction and language practice at all.

    Good language aptitude is a wonderful gift, but it is not everything. In order to make the most of the aptitude we do have, we need to learn to identify our strengths and weaknesses and develop the strengths while compensating for the weaknesses.


  1. […] (この記事は、EnglishCentral 英語版ブログに寄稿している James Alvis Carpenter さんの記事を、日本語版ブログのライター Ryoichi さんが日本語に翻訳したものです。原文はこちら) […]

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