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How Learning Differs from Natural Language Acquisition

How Learning Differs from Natural Language Acquisition | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Finegan and Besnier defined language as a finite system of elements and principles that make it possible for speakers to construct sentences to do particular communicative jobs. But different languages in this world are existing there with very complex systems with plenty of arbitrary, irregular phenomena and ambiguous features too.

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

First language or source language (L1) is in its simplest definition means the language an individual learns first to meet his/ her communication requirements chronologically. It happens normally in the early childhood itself of that individual. Hence, usually, every individual feels most comfortable using this first language.

According to UNESCO, whereas second language or target language (L2) is a language acquired by an individual in addition to his/her L1. So, L2 refers to a language learned in addition to an individual’s L1. The acquisition and development of any language as well as to attain the right ability in the whole process of communication are not taken place like magic but time-demanding development some complexities.

Learning vs Acquiring

The term acquisition was originally used to emphasize the non-conscious nature of the learning process and as it is in the case to acquire L1. It would be an inductive phenomenon by default. However, all over the world about L2, the prominent method is to learn an L2 that has been happening due to deduction through the controlled use of syllabuses and manners. So, it must be a conscious act existing with its parameters to count and assess the learning activities and in its all forms of implications. This difference in learning Vs acquisition is a clear signal for all the critical issues between L1 and L2. Nevertheless, in recent years learning and acquisition have become largely synonymous too. In this attempt also most preferable term would be acquisition than learning hereafter.

students in class

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The theory and Practice of Second-Language Acquisition

The process of acquiring a new/second/foreign language is technically known as the SLA -Second-Language Acquisition or SLL- Second-Language Learning, or L2 (Language 2) Acquisition. SLA is also a very extensive and much-debated branch of academia that coming under the sub-division of Linguistics such as Applied Linguistics. Learning a new language other than the mother tongue (L1) is named L2 acquisition, it can also incorporate the learning of L3, L4, and generally, the act of learning of any new language is known as SLA.

Issues of Acquisition of a new language L2 in connection with the acquisition of L1

Here various aspects of L2 learning need to be investigated to know how the L1 is involved in the learning of the L2. The common scenario needs to be avoided that the L1 taking the blame for everything that goes wrong in learning the L2. SLA research insists that the L2 learners have the right to be judged by the standards appropriate for them, not by those used for natives (L1). For example, the current coursebooks mostly based on the L1 learners’ interests and the examinations to compare the L2 students with the native speaker’s performance standards are now a serious matter of research. Among the various concerns of L1 Vs L2, here we are going to discuss three major issues only.

1. The language system (grammar, syntax, spelling, conjugation, pronunciation, stress, intonation, etc.) of the L1 will be different from the L2.

For instance, Malayalam (Mother tongue of the people of Kerala, India- from the Dravidian origin) is the L1 for a certain group of learners. If they want to learn English as (L2), then the basic problem is that the L2- English is a Phonemic language but Malayalam is not. It is a letter-based language with a set of 51 alphabets instead of 26 of English. So here for learning L2, the learners may find many difficulties such as to pronounce the letter groups like; ‘d and t’ and ‘c and k’ as it is being usually done by the native speakers of English.

esl class

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2 The naturalness of language learning (L2) is to minimize the Mother Tongue Influence (MTI- L1)

The L2 learner attains as native-like speech is often the goal for him/her in the normal settings of L2 acquisition. To attain this goal may be thwarted by the MTI. Hence learner feels so timid in L2 communication, especially in its speaking mode. Here the grammar or spelling mistakes will be less inferior to pronunciation issues like correct accent. However, having confidence in the right use of grammar and spelling will not contribute much to this problem too. More than that, they make mistakes while speaking in the L2 by thinking too much about grammar. The primary demand for spoken communication is spontaneity as well as naturalness.

3 Acquiring a new language we may begin to move away from our language (L1) and culture, and this may have placed us with feelings of insecurity sometimes.

We may not be sure about our feelings towards the new language group. This experience is coined by the linguistics feelings of anomie which may be highest when the high level of language ability is reached. This may, at last, lead us to look for chances to speak our language as a relief.

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To sum up this discussion I quote Stephen Krashen, (University of Southern California) an expert in the field of Linguistics: ‘Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language – natural communication - in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.’ Thus the language (L2) that learners use is not simply the result of differences between the L1 that they already know and the language that they are learning L2, but that it is a complete language system in its own right, with its own systematic rules. So, SLA could be most successful when learners are actively involved in directing their learning in both classroom and social settings.

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