Development of Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery

The Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery (PLAB) was developed by Dr. Paul Pimsleur, also known for the Pimsleur language learning system. The PLAB is the culmination of eight years of research by Pimsleur and his associates from 1958 to 1966, which involved the review of 30 years of published studies regarding a variety of linguistic and psychological factors involved in language learning. Pimsleur and his colleagues grouped these studies into seven research topics: intelligence, verbal ability, pitch discrimination, order of language study and bilingualism, study habits, motivation and attitudes, and personality factors. Of the seven, motivation and verbal intelligence were the clearest factors contributing to success at learning a foreign language.

Subsequent research involving students learning French at the college level, taking several different tests and subjecting the resulting data to factor analysis and multiple correlation analysis also showed motivation and verbal intelligence to be primary factors in language learning success. After field testing a preliminary version of the Aptitude Battery on secondary school students of French and Spanish, Pimsleur and his associates identified verbal intelligence, motivation and auditory ability as the three most significant factors in predicting success at learning a foreign language. They developed seven tests that would measure these three factors.

After testing the seven sections with the Ohio State University Research Foundation, the Pimsleur Language Aptitude Battery was finalized by adding a section measuring grade point average, which Pimsleur found to be another predictive factor of language learning aptitude. The four final factors contributing to language learning aptitude measured on the PLAB are verbal ability, auditory ability, motivation and grade point average.

In 1965-66, a study was conducted to calculate the predictive validity of the PLAB. Forty-one schools in thirteen different states participated in the study, which administered the PLAB to students in grades 7, 8, and 9 at the beginning of the school year. The students’ final grades in a beginning language course were used to calculate the validity of the PLAB and provide statistical norms and expectancy tables.