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Common Factors that Affect 1st Language and 2nd Language Learning

Common Factors that Affect 1st Language and 2nd Language Learning | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Language is everywhere. It plays an essential role in our life. We use it as a tool to communicate with the people around us. But do we understand how the brain processes the language and the many factors that influence language learning?

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Juri N.

The difference between language acquisition and language learning

According to common theory, L1 (first language) acquisition happens in a natural setting and the linguistic knowledge is developed subconsciously. In contrast, L2 (second language) learning is generally more formal because the learning process happens in school with limited hours of instruction. Also, in L2 learning, the knowledge is developed consciously.

Also read: Top 5 Tips: How to Learn a New Language When Teaching English Abroad

The difference in language learning for children and adults

Many studies have shown that there are significant differences between language learning in children and language learning in adults. Children are known to be able to learn their native language, and also second languages, with little effort because of what is known as the language acquisition device (LAD). This is the innate ability to learn languages that we are all born with. In contrast, adults have a general problem-solving cognitive system which helps them to understand and grasp the meaning rather than simply acquire the language they are exposed to.

Regarding psychomotor skills, children are able to obtain native-like pronunciation because of the gradual development of their speech muscles. It is thought that the gradual decline in flexibility of adult speech muscles affects their ability to develop pronunciation. That's why adult learners often find it much harder to achieve a native-like pronunciation for a second language.

Also read: 10 Tips When Teaching English as a Foreign Language to Children

The process of language learning and acquisition

The developmental sequences of language acquisition and language learning are very different from each other. In the situation of L1, children acquire their native language through a period of listening to it, usually from their parents or caretakers. They pick-up the sounds and rules of language by observing, imitating and repeating and then will seek to find the meaning of the words they utter through trial and error. By the time a child is five years old, he or she can express ideas clearly, but the immediate production of language is not neccesarily required. However, L2 learners are urged to speak without this crucial silent period which makes it impossible to develop the language naturally.

The main focus of L1 learning is practical knowledge. You might not know the grammar rule but you are still able to converse in your native language. On the other hand, L2 is theoretical knowledge. It usually happens in a formal environment. Students study grammar rules and sentence structure, but often lack the confidence to communicate with a native speaker.

Also read: Teaching ESL & Knowing Your Audience: Young Learners vs. Adults

The difference in expectations for children and adults

Behavior and attitudes can also affect language competency. Some feelings can be positive or negative for individuals. In L1, children aren't stressed to acquire their native language and are encouraged to produce language. Moreover, they aren't demotivated if they make mistakes. For L2, adults learners are often afraid to make mistakes. Some of them experience "Language Fossilization" which means learners fail to make progress in the second language because of a lack of feedback from native speakers and a general lack of motivation to improve.

In an ideal world, language learning shouldn't take place only inside the classroom, but also outside where learners can immerse themselves in the target language to help them reach a greater level of fluency and accuracy. Language teachers must also be sensitive to the difficulties facing adult learners and do what they can to encourage a positive and productive learning environment.

Also read: 5 Simple Ways to Motivate Your EFL Students

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