Saturday, 31 May 2014

Citroën DS5 review

Sam Wollaston eat your heart out, here is my review of the Citroën DS5, the third in line in Citroën's DS range.

Having owned many Citroëns over the years, but never, alas, their two most iconic cars, the original DS and the 2CV, I had been lusting after the DS5 for some time. About five weeks ago we bought a new one, in the process destroying any environmental credentials we may have had.

The French president rides in one. We also know that the roof is too low for the Queen's hats. What's the DS5 like?

As a car it's hard to categorise. It's on the large side, but shorter than a standard BMW 3 series saloon. It is unique in design, like a cross between an estate and an oversized hatchback. It shares design clues with its smaller sibling, the popular DS3. It sits relatively high off the ground, has a cluttered but bold and rounded nose, handsome creases and chrome along the side and particularly good-looking rear quarters which, with the roof sloping down to a two part, slim rear glass area, faintly echo the original DS. The most striking and original piece of exterior design flair are the two chrome "sabres" which run from each headlight alongside the bonnet and right up to half way up the front side windows.

The body is full of interesting creases, cut-outs and hollows, some of which, again, are taken from the DS3. Most people agree this is a very handsome and original car, a bold, futuristic design and one which could in time become iconic. In my opinion, white suits the car best, especially the optional pearlescent white. It reinforces the contrast between the black glass roof and the rest of the body. It's a reminder of the days of vinyl roofs when drivers appreciated a contrast between roof and body.

Inside, once again, the designers were given their head. The driver sits in a aircraft cockpit style cabin, slightly claustrophobic, but lightened by the three separate sunroofs, one for each front seat passenger, one shared by the rear passengers. The dashboard is a  very contemporary, yet analogue, array of trapezoidal shapes, smart switches and dials, brushed mid grey aluminium, high grade soft touch blacks and flashes of chrome or polished aluminium. I like the addition of an analogue clock - it's pure design and totally superfluous sitting as it does next to the GPS/radio screen which features a digital clock.

The seats, finished in leather and cloth, are very comfortable and fashionably on the firm side. Almost all the usual accoutrements are present. On the D Style version you get satnav, rear parking sensors, rear view camera, cruise control and plenty more. The car has keyless entry so you can just leave your keys in your pocket all the time. Don't worry, you cannot inadvertently lock them in the car. Storage is not bad, the best bit being a sizeable area between driver and passenger beneath the arm rest. You also get, unusually, overhead storage for sunglasses and small items and switches for the sunroof blinds. At night the dashboard colours are predominantly red and white, not the cosy, traditional oranges of a BMW. This gives the interior a contemporarily industrial, yet cosseting feel.

Mechanically my car features the tried and tested 1.6 hdi engine familiar in Peugeots, Citroëns and Fords. It's powerful enough (115 bhp) and is mated, in this case, to the semi-auto gearbox which many have criticised. I rather like it. You can leave it in auto, but you will feel gear changes (no worse than manual changes), or you can change gear using paddles just beneath the steering wheel. This type of gearbox is as economical as a manual, easier to use and at least as smooth as a manual. The engine is generally hushed, pulls very well above about 1500 rpm, but is a bit raspy when cold.

What about the ride and handling? Well, most reviewers have criticised the overly firm and jittery ride. The latest version of the DS5 comes with new, more compliant shock absorbers. This has improved matters, but the ride remains on the firm side and the car does not have the traditional Citroën ability to smooth out bumpy British roads, even on the smaller 17 inch alloys with high profile tyres. In addition, the suspension gets noisy when you hit a sudden imperfection in the road surface. The flip side is that the car is quite fun to handle, but I have to say that I would have preferred the cushier, self-levelling gas suspension which Citroën has done so well over the years. But Citroën wanted this car to be dynamic and more German in feel. This is part of the DS brand ( the DS3 and DS4 have firm set-ups) and Citroën have been keen to poach some drivers looking for something different from German brands. The other fact is that firm suspension is just in fashion.

So far I have been getting between 47 and 58 mpg. On mixed driving this should settle down to around 50 mpg when the diesel engine is properly run in.

I love this car. It's different. There is nothing quite like it on the road. I love looking at it and sitting in it. My wife thinks it's much more fun than our old C5, itself a handsome car in an elegant Franco-German kind of way. The DS5 is good to drive, but I do wish it rode with more aplomb on bumpy surfaces. Oh, and it's not cheap!

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Skype Translate

This is quite an exciting development. Microsoft have been working for 15 years on a "Star Trek style" translator which will work in real time. We already have machine translation and text-to-speech, but Microsoft that the Skype Translator is not just a "daisy chain" combination of existing technologies. I have no idea how the new system works, but the researchers are talking about neural networks and the system being able to improve itself by while learning new languages.

For the moment the system is tied in with Skype and we do not know if you will have to pay for it. A portable device which provided instantaneous verbal translation would be very useful too.

Is this all good news? I think it is. It should bring people closer together. Not everyone can learn new languages easily and people who could not communicate will now be able to do so. I can see this technology being used in a business context, by tourists with hand-held devices and for social communication. The translations are not entirely accurate, but are more than adequate for everyday communication and should get better.

Will it in the longer run reduce the motivation of students or put teachers out of a job? Well, it will take a little persuasion to convince students that there is no real substitute for speaking and understanding the language and enjoying all this entails in terms of personal fulfilment and accessing other cultures. The reality is that only a minority of monolingual Britons achieve fluency in another language. "Universal translators" will be of enormous benefit to them.

Here's the video:

An example of intensive question-answer work for near beginners

File this under nuts and bolts techniques for language teachers. This is mainly aimed at inexperienced teachers, but be useful for fine tuning the practice of experienced practitioners. Apologies if it seems obvious!

This may be of particular use to any teachers who have not, for whatever reason, had a grounding in question-answer technique. The term "circling" is sometimes used in north America.

I'm going to show you an extract from one of my parallel reading texts for near beginners, then give a detailed breakdown of questions I would use with it. Let be clear on the aims of this: to develop alert listening, improve comprehension, practise vocabulary and syntax, give pupils a chance to develop early oral skills (accurate pronunciation, phrase and short sentence level proficiency).

Question types used: true/false (yes/no), either/or, correct false sentences, choice of options, open ended.
Techniques used: whole class repetition, group repetition, individual repetition, use of brightest pupil, hands up, no hands up. (I am not so keen on random selectors as they can slow the pace down.)

Here's the extract from a text I wrote earlier today. Best to display it on the board so all students are looking up and to the front.
Ma mère s’appelle Kate. Elle a 38 ans. Elle est assez petite. Elle a de longs cheveux châtain et les yeux bruns. Elle habite avec moi, mon papa David et mon frère Michael. On a un chat tigré qui s’appelle Raoul. Ma mère aime les livres, la télé, faire les magasins et des promenades à la campagne. Elle est membre d’une chorale aussi. Elle adore la cuisine italienne, mais elle n’aime pas faire la cuisine à la maison. Mon papa fait ça d’habitude.

Here is a possible sequence. Remember you can use a range of the techniques mentioned above. Expected answers are in brackets.

C'est la mère ou le père? (la mère)
Elle s'appelle Kate ou Anne? (get pupils to use elle s'appelle - seems artificial but provides more practice)
Elle s'appelle Anne, non? (Non, elle...)
OK - elle s'appelle Anne. (NON! Elle...)
Répétez: elle s'appelle Kate. (Elle...)
Elle a trente-huit ans? Oui ou non? (Oui)
Elle a trente-sept ans? (Non)
Quel âge elle a? (Use this order to avoid phonetic confusion of a-t-elle; it's natural anyway)
Elle a quel âge? (maybe go to good pupil for this one)
Elle est grande, non? (Non, elle est...)
Elle est grande ou petite?
Elle a les cheveux longs ou courts? (use gesture) (Longs)
Répétez: elle a les cheveux longs (Elle a...) (Use whole class, small group or individual repetition. if an individual struggles, go to quicker one, then back to slower one later)
Elle a les cheveux châtain. Vrai ou faux? (vrai)
Répétez: elle a les cheveux châtain (do it at least three times)
Elle a les cheveux blonds, non? (Non, elle a...)
OK, elle a les cheveux blonds. (NON, elle a...)
Elle a les cheveux blonds, bruns ou violets? (Elle a...)

You could have a little release of tension at that point. Maybe get a good student to read the first couple of lines to see how well pronunciation is embedded. Or how about whole class reading from board. Maybe get pairs to make false statements to each other, or get partners to read to each other and correct each other's pronunciation.

You could then, if the class is still alert enough, do similar questioning on the next chunk.

You can see that there is an awful lot you can do with a very short piece of text. If well managed, this type of question-answer drilling can, in the long run, build up quick responses, sound comprehension and good retention of vocabulary and syntax. Although artificial in its nature, this type of communication does provide meaningful input and can be fun to do if the teacher uses their acting skills to make it so.

Weaknesses of it? Some might argue that it is not authentic communication, too teacher-centred, too demanding of attention, too dull, based on an ill-conceived methodology. I can only say in response that I know, after many years experience, that it worked with the students I taught as one part of a much broader diet of activity.

Monday, 26 May 2014

La montée de la xénophobie en France et ailleurs

Here is a text and exercises I put together for the free samples page of

I felt like doing a resource on xenophobia after the recent disastrous European election results in France, Denmark, the UK and elsewhere.

La xénophobie augmente en France

La montée de l’extrême droite et des partis nationalistes dans les élections européennes de mai 2014 nous oblige à réfléchir sur la question de la xénophobie.

Selon un rapport récent de la Commission nationale consultative des droits de l’homme (CNCDH) le sentiment raciste augmente en France. Ainsi, en 2013, 35 % des Français se disaient « racistes » ou « un peu racistes », contre 29 % un an auparavant.

Les cibles de ce sentiment de rejet sont principalement les musulmans, les Maghrébins et les Roms. On voit également un plus gros sentiment négatif à l’égard des Juifs et des noirs.

Il semble que la xénophobie gagne du terrain chez les électeurs de gauche, une population jusqu’ici plus résistante que d’autres au racisme.

Phénomène troublant : le racisme « biologique » augmente, lui aussi. En effet, 14% des Français considéraient fin 2013 qu’« il existe des races supérieures à d’autres », contre 8 % un an avant.

 « Le racisme biologique correspond toutefois à une résurgence occasionnelle, affirme la présidente de la CNCDH, Christine Lazerges. Il reste sensiblement moins ancré dans la société française qu’il y a vingt ans. » 

En revanche, il est paradoxal que les actes racistes recensés en 2013 aient fortement baissé, passant de 1 542 actes en 2012 à 1 274 en 2013 (– 20 %). Alors il paraît que le sentiment de xénophobie ne se traduit pas souvent par le passage à l’acte raciste.

Le dernier enseignement du rapport annuel de la CNCDH concerne l’antisémitisme. Et, là encore, les constats sont paradoxaux. D’un côté, le nombre d’actes commis à l’encontre des Juifs est en baisse (– 30 % en 2013) et l’antisémitisme est vivement condamné par les Français. En revanche, les clichés concernant les juifs demeurent très présents. 31 % des personnes interrogées estiment que les Juifs constituent un groupe à part dans la société française.

Quelles conclusions peut-on tirer de tout cela ? Il faut analyser les racines profondes de la xénophobie actuelle : le chômage, la peur de perdre son emploi, l’idée que les emplois sont pris par les étrangers, l’affaiblissement des solidarités, les inquiétudes quant à la pérennité du système de protection sociale – l’ensemble de ces sentiments peut engendrer un repli identitaire et la désignation de boucs émissaires. Le rapport pointe du doigt également les propos racistes véhiculés par les médias et certains leaders d’opinion.


report - __________ (m)                                              before - ________________

target - ________ (f)                                                    rejection - ________ (m)

north African, from the Maghreb - ____________        with regard to - ___ _________ __

Jew, Jewish - ______                                                   to gain ground - ________ __ _______

worrying - __________                                               indeed, in fact - __ _______

rooted in - ________ ____                                         on the other hand - __ _________

to fall - _________                                                      piece of information - ______________ (m)

finding - __________ (m)                                           strongly - ____________

to remain - ______________                                     separate - _ ____

root - _________ (f)                                                  current - ________

weakening - __________________ (m)                     permanence - ____________ (f)

to bring about - ____________                                  turning in on oneself - ______ (m)

scapegoat - _____ ___________ (m)                         words - ________ (m)

to spread, disseminate - ______________

Trouvez dans l’article des verbes associés aux noms suivants

1.         recensement (m)                                            5.         condamnation (f)                   

2.         baisse (f)                                                       6.         véhicule (m)

3.         correspondance (f)                                        7.         traduction (f)

4.         obligation (f)                                                 8.         augmentation (f)

Trouvez dans l’article des noms associés aux verbes suivants

1.         rapporter                                                         5.         passer

2.         constater                                                         6.         conclure

3.         élire                                                                 7.         inquiéter

4.         monter                                                            8.         protéger

A discuter

1.         Pourquoi est-ce que les constats du rapport sont paradoxaux ?

2.         Quels groupes en France sont les plus ciblés par la xénophobie ?

3.         Et dans votre pays ? Quels groupes ethniques sont victimes de racisme ?

4.         Quels autres groupes sont victimes de rejet dans la société ?

5.         Qu’est-ce que le racisme « biologique »?

6.         Que dit Christine Lazerges sur le racisme biologique en France ?

7.         Que pensez-vous du racisme biologique ? D’où vient ce phénomène ?

8.         Comment les Juifs sont-ils considérés par une minorité des Français ?

9.         Dans votre pays, est-ce que les Juifs sont considérés comme un groupe à part ?

10.       En vos propres mots, expliquez les raisons possibles de la montée de la xénophobie. Est-ce un phénomène passager ?

11.       Quel rôle joue les médias dans votre pays en ce qui concerne la xénophobie ?

12.       Que pensez-vous des partis politiques souvent considérés comme xénophobes comme le Front National en France ou UKIP au Royaume-Uni ?

13.       Que peut-on faire en tant qu’individu pour combattre la xénophobie ?

14.       Pensez-vous que tout le monde est un peu xénophobe ?

15.       Avez-vous été personnellement témoin de xénophobie ou à des actes racistes ?

Complétez ce texte à trous sans regarder le texte original
Quelles conclusions peut-on _____ de tout cela ? Il faut analyser les _______ profondes de la xénophobie ________ : le chômage, la peur de ______ son emploi, l’idée que les emplois sont pris par les _________, l’affaiblissement des solidarités, les inquiétudes quant à la ________ du système de protection _______ – l’ensemble de ces sentiments peut ________ un repli identitaire et la désignation de ______ __________. Le rapport pointe du doigt également les _______ racistes __________ par les médias et certains _______ d’opinion.

Traduire en français

The recent wave of xenophobia across Europe has many roots. The economic crisis, unemployment, demographic changes, free movement of workers within the European Union – all these factors play a role in the perceptions of many voters. If opinion leaders were to explain more clearly the benefits of migration, perhaps people would understand that foreigners are not a threat, but rather a source of skills for society and cultural diversity. Let us hope that an economic recovery at the European level will lead to a fall in xenophobic feeling.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Quel est mon problème?

This is a game I came across online which would work very well with good intermediate or advanced students. It would be a great way to practise phrases such as tu dois, tu devrais, à ta place je..., il te faut, il te faudrait or even il faut que + subjunctive. It would probably take 15-20 minutes.

Produce on post-its or sticky labels a load of simple problems. To save preparation time you could get advanced students to write them and then dish them out at random.Stick one on the back or the forehead of every pupil in the class. The pupil must not see their own problem. Students must circulate and give advice to the person on what they should do to solve the problem. The person with the problem has to work out what it is.

Here are some which might work well. You will need lots because some will be solved quickly and students will need replacements. Clever advanced students may be able to string out the dialogues by suggesting amusing or obscure solutions to the problems - encourage them to do this. You could then set a written homework where students would have to write, say, twenty problems with twenty solutions.

J'ai mal à la tête
J'ai mal à la gorge etc
Je n'ai pas fait mes devoirs hier soir
Mon meilleur ami ne me parle pas
Je fume et je veux abandonner la cigarette
J'ai peur des insectes
Je suis claustrophobique
Je n'ai pas d'argent
J'ai peur du sexe opposé
Je suis gay et j'ai peur de le dire à mes parents
Je veux laisser tomber mon copain/ma copine et je ne sais pas quoi faire
Je suis distrait et j'oublie souvent des choses
Je ne peux pas m'endormir
J'ai du mal à me lever le matin
Je n'ai pas d'amis
Je suis trop timide
J'ai peur de l'avion
J'ai le vertige
Je mange mal
Je ne fais pas d'exercice
Je pèse trop
J'ai toujours de mauvaises notes en sciences
Je suis nul en langues vivantes
Je m'entends mal avec mon père
Mes parents ne me laissent pas sortir seul
Je bois trop d'alcool
Je sors trop et je ne travaille pas assez
Je mange trop de sucreries
Je passe trop de temps devant l'ordinateur
Je mens tout le temps
Mon ami veut coucher avec moi, et moi je ne veux pas
Je ne sais pas comment réviser pour les examens
Je transpire beaucoup
Mes parents me critiquent tout le temps
Mes parents sont trop strictes
Mon prof de maths ne m'aime pas
Je suis nul en sport

I'll leave you to think of others - probably better and more imaginative.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Five variations on bingo

Loto is a great game for classes. It is worthwhile for reinforcing number recognition, students enjoy it, it is a good class calmer if you need it and it needs no preparation so it's great to fall back on as a teacher. I'm talking about number bingo here, not bingo with pictures or vocabulary.

There are some easy variations if you want to get away from the standard "call out numbers" version. By the way, you can buy ready-made bingo cards with numbers 1-90 - it's a good to have a load of them in the cupboard - or students can just write down, say, 10 numbers in a range you give them. One advantage of having "official" cards is that you can do lines as well as the "full house".

1.  Mental arithmetic bingo

With this one, instead of reading out a number, you give classes a simple mental arithmetic sum to solve which leads to the number which may be on their card. You need to teach them simple terms like plus, moins, multiplié par and divisé par. The advantage of this variation is that it provides more mental challenge. The downside is that pupils don't make the immediate link between the number you read and the number written in front of them. You might also need quite a good class to do it.

2.  Reverse bingo ("death bingo")

In this variation all the class stands up. You call numbers and if a number comes up which is on a child's card, they must sit down and they are out of the game. This variation goes by quite quickly and is a fun alternative, but the obvious downside is that once a pupil is "out" they have no more motivation to listen to numbers.

3. Number sequence bingo.

Instead of just reading a number, you read simple sequences of numbers and pupils have to work out what the next number would have been. You can make this as simple or as hard as you want, depending on the class. e.g. 1,2,3,4 ___ . Or 64,32,16 __. You can cater for any number easily e.g. 5,4,3,2 __. I like this version because students get to hear a lot of numbers, so you are maximising input. the minor downside is that, as in mental arithmetic bingo, pupils do not make an immediate match between the number they hear and the number of the paper.

4. Group bingo

Just break the class into small groups and get one person to act as caller. This has the advantage of allowing some students to do the calling. The downside is that students may hear poorer models of pronunciation and there is the danger of an over-noisy classroom.

5. Number in a sentence bingo

In this variation, instead of reading out a number, you read a sentence containing the number. e.g. Il y a 30 personnes dans la classe; j'ai deux frères; le numéro soixante est intéressant. This has a greater level of challenge and is an opportunity to provide input at the sentence level, allowing pupils to hear numbers in context. Some classes may find it too hard and the teacher may need to do a bit of thinking beforehand about the nature of the sentences which are feasible. This may be a version to do with classes who have been studying at least a year.

Here are sites which will generate bingo cards for you.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Flipping the classroom

Some teachers have been taking advantage of technology to experiment with the "flipped classroom" as it has become called. If you are not so familiar with the concept yet, it involves getting students to start the learning process at home, then reinforcing the work in class afterwards. The theory is that students do some preparation and thinking at home first, at their own pace, then practise what they have learned in class. In some subjects this might mean, for example, that students learn some basic information at home, start thinking about it, then use valuable classroom time for more reflection, analysis and discussion.

The concept is not really revolutionary. Teachers have often set reading to be done at home so that class time can be used for discussion. Typically, an A-level class might read some pages from a novel, guided by a worksheet, then class time is used for communicating in French (which is less easily done at home). What is new is the emphasis on technology and, in particular, the use of video.

Certain advantages of the flipped classroom occur to me: pupils can work at their own pace without distraction, they can review explanations as many times as they wish, they can easily catch up with any missed work. In addition, if the material is well chosen, it may be quite motivating.

So I can see that flipping can have its place, but it seems to me that in general, in the context of language teaching, that place need not be huge. There are certain obvious practical difficulties: what if a student does not have access to a computer or tablet? What if the student does not do the work in preparation for the lesson? What is the student wants to ask questions at the exposition stage and cannot do so at home?

To an extent, these arguments apply to the non-flipped context - students do fail to do traditional homework and their printer runs out of ink surprisingly often. More significantly, it seems to me to be harder to check that work has been done in the flipped model unless you provide a worksheet or other format to demonstrate something has actually been achieved. I spent my whole career assuming that students would sometimes not do their homework or cheat by copying ( I hated that and came down like a ton of bricks on cheats). My suspicious nature and meticulous checking usually led to homework being done.

Most of all, however, my feeling is that you can enthuse a pupil enough in class to set follow-up work which they will willingly and successfully do as reinforcement. This model works fine if done well and should remain the norm. Furthermore, the flipped model works less well in MFL as we rely less on explanations and conceptual thought than other subjects. Much of our work is about exposure to target language and structured practice. We can already listen and talk a lot in class, then leave reading and writing for the home. That's fine. Homework can be checked and/or marked and we can maximise exposure to the language.

For those who have not tried flipping, there are language teachers out there who blog about it. Try these:
(Samantha Broom writes about her experiments with the flipped classroom) (Flipping My Spanish Classroom)

The ACTFL has published this guide:

Friday, 16 May 2014

Baselining for baselining's sake

As English schools continue to obsess over measuring pupil progress, many sticking with the national curriculum levels now abandoned by the government, language departments have a problem in as far as they have nothing very reliable on which to predict the future performance of their students. In maths, science and English pupils arrive at secondary school with a host of data trailing behind them which can be used, despite their unreliability, to help predict how a pupil should progress in the future. There is no previous test of a child's second language learning ability.

Most schools use primary school data and other Y7 test data (e.g. CAT tests) to provide a baseline for future performance. I used to look at this data (CAT data was most useful and detailed) to help me fill in the Excel spreadsheets which would follow a child through their school career. These spreadsheets would feature scores for verbal and non-verbal reasoning, National Curriculum scores, rank order data, school exam results, report grades, effort grades and  traffic light systems produced by formulae which would highlight whether a pupil was on track, ahead of predicted performance or behind.

I confess that I only rarely found it all useful, most often in conversations with individual pupils who seemed quite interested in their data. Although the data was interesting enough, I doubt if many teachers actually used it to shape their teaching of classes and individuals.

BUT, there is no specific benchmarking data for language learners. Many arrive at secondary with little or no knowledge or skill in foreign language. There is certainly nothing which could predict future performance.

From the forums I read it seems that some misguided leadership teams have been asking departments to come up with baseline tests which can be administered very soon after arrival in Y7. (More sensible would be to wait until the end of the year to see how students actually perform in language learning.) One such test which has been doing the rounds in is the Swedish language aptitude test from York University. Here is an extract (courtesy of Grangefield School and the MFL Resources forum):

‘The’ is not a separate word in Swedish but an ending added to the noun. Read through the examples in the tables below and try to fill in the missing words in the spaces opposite the arrows.

a book
en bok
the book
a chair
en stol
the chair
a spoon
en sked
the spoon
a cat
en katt
the cat

a pencil
en penna
the pencil
a lamp
en lampa
the lamp
a picture
en tavla
the picture
a girl
en flicka
the girl

a bridge
en bro
the bridge
a cloud
en sky
the cloud
a shoe
en sko
the shoe
a village
en by
the village

a leg
ett ben
the leg
a glass
ett glas
the glass
a letter
ett brev
the letter
a house
ett hus
the house

a hand
en hand
the hand

a cow
en ko
the cow

a tape
ett band
the tape

a stocking
en strumpa
the stocking

Now, the trouble with this type of test is that it is far too narrow to be predictive of such a complex activity as language learning. This test is based only on the written word. It may reveal a child's ability to read for detail and spot patterns, but there is clearly much more to language learning than this.

In the 1950s John B. Carroll and Stanley Sapon from the USA designed a much more sophisticated test called the MLAT (Modern Language Aptitude Test). They designed it to help the US army find good linguists. After field testing they chose five verbal tasks which, when used together, had a high predictive ability of future language proficiency and grades.

Quoting from Wikipedia:

The design of the MLAT also reflects a major conclusion of Carroll's research, which was that language learning aptitude was not a "general" unitary ability, but rather a composite of at least four relatively independent "specialized" abilities. The four aspects, or "components," of language learning aptitude that Carroll identified were phonetic coding ability, grammatical sensitivity, rote learning ability and inductive language learning ability. 

I find it interesting that three of the above relate strongly, as applied linguists would put it, to "learning" rather than "acqusition". i.e. many applied linguists and teachers would argue that language is acquired at a subsconscious level and that abilities such as "grammatical sensitivity" may aid with accuracy and produce good exam grades in a school context, but may have little bearing on a person's general capacity to pick up a language. Carroll was aware of this, realising that all people have the capacity to acquire a second language. He wrote that his test referred to the  “prediction of how well, relative to other individuals, an individual can learn a foreign language in a given amount of time and under given conditions.” No doubt the MLAT and Carroll's research were also products of their time when grammar-translation still held general sway, audio-lingual training was in vogue, whilst naturalistic and communicative approaches were not.

What could this mean for teachers looking for a baseline assessment in schools?

Well, you could possibly design a complex set of tests along the lines of the MLAT. They could include phonetic discrimination, morphological and syntactic pattern spotting, rote memory and comprehension of the mother tongue. One might even enquire into how young the child was when he or she picked up their first language. These could even help predict what a pupil's expected performance might be in the second language, but they would largely operate at the level of conscious learning, would not include other factors such as motivation, attitudes to foreign-ness, risk taking, general willingness to communicate and so on. One could argue that these other factors have an influence in all subject areas, so should not be included in a test which you wish to be "clean" i.e. purely testing intellectual capacities. Language learning is, however, a particularly threatening and challenging task for young people so it may be unfair not to include a range of factors in the assessment of possible future proficiency.

All in all, I am left thinking that it is not worth the bother trying to come up with a baseline test near the start of Y7. There is other existing data which may be of use (I found it correlated fairly well with future performance) and, in any case, if you want to see how well a child can learn a language, let them have a go and see. Then look at how they might get on in the future.