Modern Language Aptitude Test

The Modern Language Aptitude Test (MLAT) measures an individual’s aptitude for learning a foreign language. First published in 1959, the test can be used to predict success in learning all basic communication skills, but particularly speaking and listening. The Modern Language Aptitude Test is now the property of the non-profit entity Second Language Testing Foundation, Inc., who has acquired the rights to the test in order to ensure its continued availability to the second language testing community. Click on the following links to learn more.

Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the test, we only sell the MLAT to government agencies, missionary groups, and licensed clinical psychologists. We do NOT sell the test to individual researchers, teachers, or students. If you are a qualified individual or organization and would like to order the MLAT, please contact us to initiate your order.

Frequently Asked Questions – And Answers

The MLAT is a secure test – What does that mean?

The MLAT is a secure test that is only available to government agencies, licensed clinical psychologists, and other selected groups who are deemed appropriate to administer the test for diagnostic purposes. Sale of the MLAT to an end user is granted solely by permission of LLTF, and LLTF may refuse sale of the MLAT for any reason. The MLAT is used principally with adults.

All users of the MLAT must agree to maintain the security of the test. We have a security agreement that strictly prohibits the reproduction of any test materials through printing, electronic or mechanical means, included but not limited to photocopying, audiovisual recording or transmission, and portrayal or duplication in any information storage and retrieval system. Users must also agree to only use the test for the express, legitimate purpose for which it is designed and intended.

How is the MLAT used?

The MLAT can be used for a variety of purposes. Since it indicates how easily an individual may learn a foreign language, it may be used to determine which individuals will profit most from language training. It has been used extensively as a selection measure for intensive language programs, such as those offered to military or other government personnel. Alternatively, the MLAT may be used to determine which individuals will experience the most difficulty in language training. For instance, lack of language learning aptitude, as demonstrated by poor performance on the MLAT, may help qualify an individual for a waiver or a modification of a foreign language requirement at an academic institution.

Who uses the MLAT and why?

The MLAT is used by institutions and individuals to measure foreign language learning aptitude. There are four major groups of users. Churches and missionary organizations use the MLAT to determine how long they should plan on providing language instruction to a missionary or how difficult a language a missionary will be able to handle. Missionaries with high aptitude may be assigned to learn more difficult languages. Private schools use the MLAT for advising students who might be interested in studying a foreign language. Government agencies, such as the Foreign Service Institute, and international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, use the MLAT with their staff in much the same way that missionary organizations do. Government agencies and corporations also use the MLAT to identify personnel who would benefit the most from the time and expense of an intensive language training program. School and clinical psychologists use the MLAT to determine if a student has a foreign language learning disability.

There are many studies that provide evidence that the MLAT is a good predictor of success in foreign language learning. For a comprehensive review of the literature on the subject, see J.B. Carroll. (1981). 25 years of language aptitude research. In K.C. Diller, Editor, Individual differences and universals in language learning aptitude. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. For a basic reference for the validity of the MLAT as a predictor of foreign language learning disability, see A.H. Gajar. (1987). Foreign language learning disabilities: The identification of predictive and diagnostic variables. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 20(6), 327-330.

What is a language learning disability, and how can the MLAT be used in diagnosing one?

A language learning disability may be defined as low aptitude for learning languages in comparison with the student’s aptitude for learning other subjects. It is usually established by administering a battery of tests, including a language aptitude test such as the MLAT, PLAB or MLAT-E, and examining the pattern of scores. If the student shows normal aptitude for other school subjects but much lower aptitude on measures relating to language, then evidence of a weakness or disability in language aptitude is established. Another aspect of such an assessment is to examine the student’s performance in different subjects. If the student does well in other subjects but poorly in language, then this provides further evidence of a substantial discrepancy in his or her abilities. Sometimes a cognitive-academic disability is defined as an aptitude score below a certain percentile, such as the 20th percentile, the 10th percentile, or the 5th percentile. Whether the cutoff point is made on a case-by-case basis or fixed, for the purpose of establishing a policy for a particular school, the decision must be made by a qualified professional as part of a comprehensive diagnostic procedure.

The MLAT can be used in developing a history of difficulty in learning foreign languages. For example, a school psychologist who is doing a diagnostic evaluation of a student who is progressing slowly in foreign language classes could use test results from the MLAT in conjunction with input from FL teachers and data from progress in language courses to help establish a diagnosis of a foreign language learning disability. Ideally, the MLAT-E would be administered when the student was in grade school, the PLAB would be administered at the secondary school level, and the MLAT would be administered at a future point, such as in the first or second year of university studies and facing a foreign language requirement. Consistently poor performances on these tests over the years would strongly support the case for a language learning disability. It is especially important that such diagnoses be accurate and credible, because other special services and accommodations may be contingent on their outcome.

For more on the topic of test uses see: Uses of Language Aptitude Tests.

How is the MLAT administered?

The MLAT may be administered to individuals or to groups. The basic Test Kit includes a Manual, Test Booklet, Practice Exercises Sheet, Examinee Answer Sheet, Hand Scoring Stencil, and CD. The CD includes instructions and stimuli for the entire test, and it controls the timing of the sections. Test administration takes approximately one hour and requires the use of a CD player. After test administration is complete, scores are calculated by hand using the Hand Scoring Stencil.

How is the MLAT scored and what do the scores mean?

The score is tallied according to the number right answers per part. No points are deducted for erroneous answers or for omissions. Scores will be interpreted differently from institution to institution; that is, each institution will set cut-off scores to determine, for example, which government agency personnel are eligible for language training.

The MLAT norms were established in 1958 by administering the MLAT to high school students, college students, military personnel, and US State Department foreign service officers. Separate norms are available for each group. Because aptitude is an inherent trait in human beings, the degree of aptitude in major population groups does not change appreciably over time. Therefore, these original norms continue to serve as a useful initial point of reference for evaluating an individual’s test score.  Of course, the best interpretations of test score profiles come from the experience of the individual test user in relating test scores to success in language training.  Although these norms exist, they should not substitute for the experience of the individual test user in relating test scores to success in language training at a given institution.

For how long a period of time are MLAT scores valid?

With certain provisions taken into account, MLAT scores should be considered to be valid for at least 5 years. Language aptitude as measured by the MLAT is viewed as a stable trait, one not readily subject to change or improvement through courses or experience. Thus, when properly administered, the MLAT yields a score that theoretically is good for life, although certain circumstances might lead one to consider retesting. For example, if it is discovered that a person has a physical disability or learning disability that prevented them from understanding the test’s instructions or from otherwise doing their best on the test, then the test could be re-administered with appropriate accommodations. In fact, it makes sense to allow people to retest if they wish to for whatever reason (e.g., a claim of extreme fatigue, test anxiety, worry, or some other distraction or adverse state of mind) so long as there is a waiting period of one year, since there is currently only one form of the test. In such retest cases, one could choose to average the scores, consider both scores, or consider only the most recent score. The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test program, for example, retains scores for only 5 years and will report multiple scores earned during that period, with the advice that the school should look at all scores earned at separate administrations. For scores more than 5 years old, they leave the issue entirely to the university to decide and offer no policy guidance.

In contrast to this interpretation of “aptitude” testing, scores on “proficiency” measures such as the TOEFL, are valid only two years, because language proficiency can change substantially in that period of time or longer. Thus, language proficiency is viewed as a trait that is subject to improvement or decline, and it makes sense to put a limit on the amount of time that a test score will be considered a valid measure of a person’s language proficiency. Even when the TOEFL is taken multiple times within a two-year period, ETS recommends that the most recent score be considered the most valid.

One other caveat regarding the interpretation of language aptitude scores that are more than a year old is to make reference to the appropriate set of norms in the manual. For example, if a college freshman presents an MLAT score that he or she obtained at age 14 as a high school freshman, then interpretation should not be based on the “College Freshman” norms, but rather on the 9th grade norms since the person was in the 9th grade at the time of testing.

Is it possible to prepare for the test?

The MLAT measures aptitude, not achievement or proficiency. Therefore it is not possible to prepare for the test. A high score on the MLAT indicates that an individual will likely do well in language training. Previous success at foreign language a foreign learning may also contribute to the probability of learning another language but it will not appreciably change one’s score on the MLAT. An examinee who wishes to become familiar with the MLAT prior to taking it would do best to examine the sample items on this website.

What does the MLAT consist of?

The MLAT is comprised of five parts, each of which measures specific skills related to foreign language learning. The first part, Number Learning, requires examinees to learn a set of numbers through aural input and then discriminate different combinations of those numbers. The second part, Phonetic Script, asks examinees to learn a set of correspondences between speech sounds and phonetic symbols. In the third part, Spelling Clues, examinees must read words that are spelled as they are pronounced, rather than according to standard spelling conventions. They must then select from a list of words the one whose meaning is closest to the “disguised” word. The fourth part, Words in Sentences, measures examinees’ awareness of grammatical structure. The examinees are given a key word in a sentence and are then asked to read a second sentence (or series of sentences) and select another word that functions in the same way as the key word. Finally, in the Paired Associates part, examinees must quickly learn a set of vocabulary words from another language and memorize their English meanings.


MLAT Sample Items