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The Principles and Peculiarities of Second Language Acquisition

The Principles and Peculiarities of Second Language Acquisition | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Language is one of the most significant aspects that differentiate humans from other species. The method of human communication is considered unique as it incorporates both spoken and written communication. The use of language in communication consists of the use of words in a structured or conventional way. Language acquisition is considered one of the most unique and impressive aspects of human development both psychologically and cognitively. However, every human acquires the language they encounter as children. It is from this point that they can learn multiple languages, although these languages will always be unique from the first language they were exposed to. The uniqueness of the first language from the languages learned exposes the differences between first language and second languages.

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

Factors of difference for first and second languages

The most significant factor that makes the second language different from the first language is the age. It is considered that children at the age of six have already acquired full proficiency in the first language. This means that the acquisition of the second language is largely reliant on the proficiency one has in the first language. According to the critical period hypothesis (CPH), language acquisition should occur during the critical period, which is often estimated to be between the age of 2 and ends at puberty (Dehaene, 1997). At this point, there is the lateralization of the language function. Adults often find it difficult to learn a second language compared to children or individuals in their early years. The difficulty encountered by adults in learning the second language is often as a result of older individuals getting accustomed to their first or native language.

adult student

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The arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievements often influence language acquisition since achievements are considered collectively. The first language is one of the most important factors of an individual's culture. The second, however, is not important as it may not be attached to an individual's culture. The second language instead influences a person's culture but not in a significant manner that allows it to be considered as an element of culture. Learning a new language often involves understanding the notion of culture about the second language. According to Condon, culture is considered as a way of life and that no matter how people live, their behaviors and thoughts are often based on their cultures (Condon, 2008). The openness of culture to diversity allows for easier learning of other languages.


Personality among children often does not make much difference in language acquisition, especially in first language acquisition. However, it makes a huge difference in the learning process of the second language. It is considered that learning a second language requires learners with an extrovert personality (Marsden, 2013). Learners who are introverts, on the other hand, are slow in the acquisition of the second language. The intuition that particular stable and distinct personality traits are linked to the efficient acquisition of the second language has been proved and applied in linguistics over the past.

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Learning a second language requires motivation from individual learners. Learners with good motivation to learn the second language are likely to learn faster compared to those that don’t. However, the acquisition of the first language does not involve any motivation since learning the first language is considered as a natural phenomenon (Dehaene, 1997). The first language is acquired subconsciously, and there is no need for motivation to acquire it.

teenage students

Influence of the first language on second language acquisition

Learning a second language is largely dependent on the structures of the first language. If the structures laid by the first language are similar to that of the second language, it is easier for learners to understand and acquire the second language easily. It is easier for a native English to learn Dutch more compared to other individuals such as the Hindi since their first language is often structured almost in a similar manner as that of the Dutch (Nejjari, 2012).

Both the first and second languages affect one another. Considering that first language is often natural and is often solidified in an individual's intellect and psychological development, it is often considered that the second language does not affect the first language (Gardner, 2007). The relationship and the difference between the first and the second language are constant, although complex in nature. The first language determines the perceptions regarding the cultures offered by the second language.

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Differences between the first and the second language

The first language is considered as the native language of an individual while the second is often acquired by individuals in an attempt to perfect communication with other non-native individuals. The first language is considered as an instinct often triggered by birth and development with experience exposed to it (Cook, 2016). The second language, on the other hand, involves an individual's choice to learn.

There is often no alternative to the first language as an individual cannot decide his or her first language. It often comes to the individual by birth and as an inheritance of a legacy. The second language is often fixed by an individual, and an individual has various options to choose their second language (Owens, 2016). The acquisition process for the first language is often considered as rapid while the second varies according to the second language or the individual wishing to learn. The first language is, however, considered as rapid compared to the second language.

He first language is acquired while the second is learned, meaning that the first language is dynamic and abstract compared to the second language. There is nothing passive in second knowledge learning since it involves gaining knowledge and instructions. Acquiring proficiency in the first language often takes a period of six years, while that of the second is slow and may exceed a decade (Cook, 2016).

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The uniqueness of the first language from the languages learned exposes the differences between first language and second languages. Language acquisition is considered as one of the most unique and impressive aspects of human development both psychologically and cognitively. The effects of age, language, personality, motivation, and culture in language draw the mutual influence in which both the second and the first language share in common.

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