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How L2 Language Acquisition Differs from the L1 Language

How L2 Language Acquisition Differs from the L1 Language | ITTT | TEFL Blog

L1 language refers to students’ first language or native language while L2 language refers to the language they are learning in particular. Hence, L1 has a ‘natural’ environment for the students to learn while for L2, the environment has to be ‘built’ and requires certain ways of catching up. Specifically, they are different from the following perspectives.

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


students are born in the L1 environment where people around are talking and learning in L1; but there may be little or no L2 sign in the environment where they grew up. Students may approach L2 the first time in school.

Role model:

almost everyone around is the model for learning L1. Students can learn the way they act, the tone they announce, the pronunciation they speak now and then and acquire as their own. For L2, the role model is usually the teacher which they can model only during the lessons.

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students generally communicate with L1 and don’t require particular language preparation while for L2, it’s difficult to spread because of the different levels of the speakers.


L2 can only be practiced maybe only in the class where the teacher acts as a guide and organizer.

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students will try out the L1 language and learn to adapt to people automatically in an unnoticeable way but they may be afraid to make changes or even try L2 language even in the classroom.

Therefore, L1 is more of a total immersion that students don’t have to study for a specific purpose and it’s acquired naturally and easily. However for L2, it’s learned almost through its use where a specific purpose is being imposed. L2 acquisition is motivation-driven. For most people, they only need L1 throughout life and some people, may have to learn L2 to get a certificate, to get a particular job, to work, to study abroad, etc.

As a TEFL teacher, it’s our job to help the students get through the difficulties of learning English. And due to the peculiarity of L2, we should take many factors into account during the teaching course.

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The principles of acquiring the first language

First, language acquisition is not a linear process and students don’t always master the easier parts first. Hence, we should be able to create meaningful contexts for them to study rather than teaching abstractly. For example, the group works to stimulate the traveling scenario in foreign countries to get students active and passionate in learning L2.

Second, we should ensure students have time to maximize their practicing English and enhance their confidence in using English. Reserve a particular amount of time in every lesson for student talking activities in the engage and activate stages.

Third, we should keep improving ourselves and make ourselves better so that students can see a better role model and become an incentive to make changes and study well. We should be open to negative opinions about ourselves and make changes accordingly.

Fourth, avoid using L1 in the class as possible to reduce their reliance on L1 and strengthen their abilities in communicating with L2. L1 may be used for young learner starters but should never become the major language in the class. But we may make the learning of L2 as similar as learning L1 to make it easier to learn L2.

Fifth, authentic materials should be combined with non-authentic materials to familiarize students with native English things and influence their language accuracy. Songs, movies, and entertainment series are generally always attractive to all kinds of students of all levels.

Sixth, the need for learning L2 should be made clear frequently to impress the students the usefulness and advantages of L2 mastery. It can save half of the work if the students are incentivized and driven to learn by themselves.

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