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The Principles of Acquiring a First and Second Language

The Principles of Acquiring a First and Second Language | ITTT | TEFL Blog

Learning a language is a process that consists of different factors that have their influence on the mastery of the language. One of the major factors that define how the language is learned and the whole process itself is the answer to the question is it 1st or 2nd language acquisition. In other words, under which circumstances the language or languages are learned. There are several differences between 1st and 2nd language acquisition: immersion, need of the language, and dynamics of the learning.

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

Differences in the process of acquisition

Firstly, the circumstances under which L1 and L2 are learned vary and consequently lead to the different acquisition process. “Language is learned through its use. For L1 this is through total immersion” (Unit 2, p.5). When children are learning their native or first language, they are surrounded by their “educators” all the time and practice the language with “native speakers” every day. Therefore the acquisition of L1 is a natural process and the knowledge is stored unconsciously. On the other hand, acquisition of L2 is a conscious process of studying and learning the language. Students acquire the knowledge through structural practice in the classrooms and thus may have fewer opportunities to learn the language authentically. After the classroom time, students return to the use of their native languages, and thus the immersion into the L2 is temporal.

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Instinct vs. Need

Secondly, first language acquisition is more like an instinct and based on the need to learn the language. While learning L2 is largely a conscious process and thus depends on motivation to learn the language. “There is an obvious need to learn L1 this may not be true for L2” (Unit 2, p. 5). This difference has a significant effect on language learning acquisition and explains why L1 and L2 have a distinct learning process. When a child is learning the first language, he/she does not pay too much attention to the learning process itself, rather it comes as the natural process. The need to learn L1 to communicate creates an environment where the child unconsciously masters the language daily.

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Finally, the dynamics of the learning L1 and L2 vary which creates this major difference between the acquisition processes of the languages. The way how L1 is learned is through constant practice and use of the language. “That as language learning is a dynamic process, it must be used in meaningful contexts and not studied solely in an abstract way” (Unit 2, p.5). Learning of L2 can be based on non-authentic materials and be practiced on separate aspects of the language. This factor creates the difference in how children acquire their first language in comprehensive structure and adults that learn the language through instructions and specific directions.

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In conclusion, the two languages (L1 and L2) are learned in completely different ways since the circumstances and time frames vary. This leads to significant differences in language acquisition and influences the way these languages are used by the learner as the native language or second language. The factors that influence the differences between L1 and L2 based on immersion, the essential need of the language, and the dynamics of language learning. All these factors contribute to why the languages are marked as L1 and L2. The L1 will always be fundamentally different from all other languages learned after that since the process of how the child acquires the language will vary from the process that adult learners use to acquire the new language.

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