The Role of Language Aptitude in Second Language Attrition

  • Astrid Elisabeth LehnerEmail author
Part of the English Language Education book series (ELED, volume 16)


Only a few studies have aimed at identifying the role of aptitude in language attrition. Findings indicate that in early bilinguals, aptitude assumes a “compensatory function,” allowing high-aptitude speakers to maintain and further develop a language in which they only receive very limited or no input, in contrast to lower-aptitude speakers. A correlation between L1 maintenance and language aptitude demonstrates the supportive role of lexical language learning aptitude for the retention of a language. Since prior research has found correlations between L1 and L2 proficiency and general language aptitude for early bilinguals, it is hypothesised that this association likewise holds true for late bilinguals. In the present study, no correlation is expected to be found between the frequency of L2 use and L2 proficiency scores within a group of speakers with an above-average language aptitude. However, it is expected that a longer time of non-usage of an L2 will lead to a lower L2 proficiency in below-average aptitude participants. Twenty-nine English native speakers who studied German as a foreign language were tested by means of a questionnaire, a language aptitude test, and proficiency tests for English and German. Results suggest that for these late bilinguals, only below-average aptitude learners depend on a longer duration of L2 learning, possibly also on earlier learning start dates, and on continuous input in the L2. Aptitude seems to enable above-average aptitude learners to achieve higher L2 levels within a shorter time and to prevent attrition. Finally, differences may also arise between males and females in L2 forgetting.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English and American StudiesUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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