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Differences to Consider Between 1st Language and 2nd Language

Differences to Consider Between 1st Language and 2nd Language | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Learning is a complex process, especially when it comes to learning languages. This is because each language learning experience is unique since it is dependent on the situation, motivational factors, and the experiences of the learner. The very first language experience that any human being has is very early on in their childhood. Typically starting around the age of 1 or 2 years. The other languages they may come across during their lives and pick up from school, work, books, movies, or language classes will always be a much different experience than the language they had originally learned by being exposed to it and surrounded by it. Of course, some individuals are exposed to more than one language during early childhood and possess more than just one native language. This is just one of the reasons why learning languages is one of the most complicated topics related to the learning process.

This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Zahra A. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.

First of all, the acquisition process of the native language must be taken into consideration and examined thoroughly.

Seeing the process of learning during a time when someone is acquiring their first language leads to the fact that it is more of a natural acquisition. To understand this, one may have to think back to their younger years and come up with different ideas of how they were able to learn their first language. The examples of how may include role-play, which is something that children normally do to gain a better understanding of the world around them. Another example might be the repetition of sounds and songs by hearing them over and over. However, when examining the cause and effect regarding this matter, one can say that the cause is natural. Meaning that when the child is learning the language it is entirely voluntary. It is a matter of need. The child has not yet found any possible way to thoroughly communicate what it is that they may want or need at that time, which is why it becomes necessary for them to learn the sounds and usage of different words. The need during this time makes first language acquisition nearly effortless. To make it simple to comprehend, it is basically because they have no choice but to adopt the language they are most exposed to and the language that is spoken by their caregivers.

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Yet when it comes to the matter of learning a language later on in life things start to greatly differ from the previous scenario.

Second language acquisition is more of learning rather than ‘acquisition’ because it requires the individual to study through instruction. If someone was to search for the definitions of the two words, they will know that to ‘learn’ means that a process of studying and gaining knowledge has to be in order. Acquiring something does not require that same effort. For example, someone could acquire a new property, which would mean they would now own that property and it would be their ‘possession’ rather than something gained by studying. This shows that to learn a second language there is studying involved. Studying would include all aspects of the language. These aspects include vocabulary, grammar, receptive skills, and productive skills. Receptive skills are reading and listening, whereas productive skills are writing and speaking. Now, for the learning to take place, the student must have some form of instruction to guide them. This could be a TEFL or TESL teacher, but could also be an audio guide. Either way, it is a form of instruction. However, for someone to consider a potential second language that they may want to learn, they have to choose it. There is no longer that sense of the ‘need’ to communicate, especially with their caregivers.

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For EFL and ESL teachers it is very important to be able to understand the differences between these two language learning experiences and why they are unique to their situations. After having taken a look at first language acquisition versus second language acquisition, one can conclude that the learning experience of the second language should be brought as close to the first language experience as possible. Of course, it is not possible to learn the second language the same way that one had learned their native language. Still, TEFL teachers can use tools that they may remember from the situations during first language acquisition. For example, they could use the role-play activities the same way that a child uses role-play to practice the language. Another thing that may help students is if the teacher focuses on communicating with the students in the language being taught, rather than to speak to them in their native language. This would create the ‘need’ component that had been missing when it comes to second language acquisition. Every little thing that makes it easier for the human mind to pick up on their native language, is to be taken into consideration and implemented during second language acquisition to make learning easier for the students.

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