Language teachers may be surprised by the title of this post, since, in my experience, it is self-evident that some students are much better at learning languages than others and this, I have always assumed, is down to something different within their brain which (I mention this in view of Dominic Cummings recent paper which referred to genetics) I assume has an inherited factor behind it.
The current vogue, encouraged by hypotheses such as Carol Dweck's mindsets, the claim that IQ is flexible and the idea that anyone can become skilled at an activity with 10 000 hours of practice, is that all children can achieve highly. I may be wrong, but in some educational circles, to suggest that some children are naturally more gifted than others has begun to sound like heresy.
A friend who knows much more about educational theory than me doubts that natural ability exists and would claim that competence derives from self-belief, motivation and practice.
I understand why one would want to value practice over natural ability (genetics?). To suggest that some children are limited in some respects, are for example "good with their hands", could lead teachers to lower their aspirations or direct pupils away from subjects they find harder.
I do not think this need be the case at all. I do believe some children are more musical, mathematical, creative, linguistically able, practical than others. I do believe we are born with different characteristics and my gut feeling is that natural ability probably trumps hard work in a school setting. No school student gets 10 000 hours to perfect their skills. Teachers do make a very significant difference, but even a very gifted teacher can only do so much with an averagely able student, however motivated they may be.
I have no expert knowledge nor any research to support this view, although the research by Professor Plomin referred to by Dominic Cummings, does claim that genes account for most of the academic success students enjoy.
In sum, students do vary, some are naturally gifted at languages, but this does not stop us having high expectations for all.