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Posted on 25/09/2011 by J09W Differences between First Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning Differentiating Language learning from language acquisition is considered as one of the many linguistic phenomena that emerged in the 20th century. The need for a systematic study of how languages are learned was developed as part of the cultural and communication expansion the world has witnessed (Ellis 1997, p.3). First Language acquisition is the natural process in which children subconsciously possess and develop the linguistic knowledge of the setting they live in. In contrast, Second language learning takes place where the target language is the language spoken in the language community that differs from the mother tongue “first language” and distinguished from Foreign language learning in which the language is absent from the setting of that community (De Bot, Lowie, and Verspoor 2005, p.7) Many studies addressed the distinction between L1 (First language) acquisition and L2 (Second language) learning. The very first thing to address is the natural process in which L1 learners acquire their language knowledge. L2 learning is more of a conscious one. Compared to L1 learning, L2 learners develop this knowledge by utilising conscious and cognitive efforts. De Bot, Lowie, and Verspoor (2005, p.7) argue that Krashen and Terrel tried to draw a line between second language acquisition and learning by stating that acquisition is a subconscious process and very similar to the one that children develop in their first language. Yule (1985, p.163) defines acquisition to be „…the gradual development of ability in a language by using it naturally in communicative situations with others who know the language‟. He contrasts it with learning: „a more conscious process of accumulating knowledge of the features, such as vocabulary and grammar, of a language, typically in an institutional setting‟. The natural subconscious or conscious learning factor is highly and vitally linked and attached to the linguistic setting. This leads to another major distinction between L1 and L2 learners which is exposure. The L1 acquisition, as defined earlier, takes place in a setting where the acquired language is the language spoken by parents and or caregiver. The acquirer is in a constant exposure to this language. Second language learners have lesser contact with the language, and maybe as few as hours per week in the case of foreign language learners (Yule, 1985, p.163).
There are also some individual differences that play part in this distinction and they fall in two groups. First, physical differences and age: Children who are acquiring their first language are still developing their speech organs. This explains the gradual and natural development of sound production accompanied with the brain development. L2 learners‟ competence is also affected by age-related physical conditions that hinder their learning. Yule (1985, p.145) argues that the readiness of the human mind to receive and learn a new language is most in childhood, which is called the critical period. Ellis (1995, p.67) describes the critical period that in which „…language acquisition is easy and complete (i.e. native-speaker ability is achieved)‟. Second, cognitive and psychological differences: A number of cognitive and psychological learning barriers that separate L2 learners from the L1 acquirers. Recent studies show that motivation plays a great role in attaining language proficiency. Cook (2008, p.136) states that bigger motivation leads to better performance in L2. According to Cook, the motivation for learning falls in two types: Integrative „… reflects whether the student identifies with the target culture and people in some sense‟; and instrumental one in which learning takes place for a career or other practical reason (Cook (2008, p.136-137). Ellis (1995, p.75) even adds two more types of motivation: Resultative motivation that takes place when learning controls the motivation, and an intrinsic motivation in which it involves the activation, arousal, and maintenance of the learning curiosity. There are other cognitive factors that play a role in determining learner‟s effort and competence in the second language learning. Those factors are highly related to aptitude which is “… natural ability for learning an L2″ (Ellis, 1995, p.73)
First and Second Language Acquisition
In our everyday lives, the origin of our ability to communicate is usually not often taken into consideration. One doesn't think about how every person has, or rather had at one time, an innate ability to learn a language to total fluency without a conscious effort – a feat that is seen by the scientific community "as one of the many utterly unexplainable mysteries that beset us in our daily lives" (3).. Other such mysteries include our body's ability to pump blood and take in oxygen constantly seemingly without thought, and a new mother's ability to unconsciously raise her body temperature when her infant is placed on her chest. But a child's first language acquisition is different from these phenomena; different because it cannot be repeated. No matter how many languages are learned later in life, the rapidity and accuracy of the first acquisition can simply not be repeated. This mystery is most definitely why first language acquisition, and subsequently second language acquisition, is such a highly researched topic. On the surface one would look at child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition and see similarities. In each case the learner first learns how to make basic sounds, then words, phrases and sentences; and as this learning continues the sentences become more and more complex. However, when one looks at the outcomes of these two types of acquisition, the differences are dramatic. The child's ability to communicate in the target language far surpasses that of the adult. In this paper differences in these two processes that most always produce such different outcomes will be explored. Before this exploration begins, however, I would like to state that I am looking at child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition because they both seem most relevant to our lives right now – as college students who have most definitely mastered our first language at a young age, and are mostly likely attempting to master our second as adults. One could also look at situations where only one variable is changes (e.g. child first vs. child second or child second vs. adult second) but these comparisons are not represented in this paper. The first area of difference between first (L1) and second (L2) language learning is input – specifically the quality and quantity of input. It is the idea of the "connectionist model that implies... (that the) language learning process depends on the input frequency and regularity" (5).. It is here where one finds the greatest difference between L1 and L2 acquisition. The quantity of exposure to a target language a child gets is immense compared to the amount an adult receives. A child hears the language all day everyday, whereas an adult learner may only hear the target language in the classroom – which could be as little as three hours a week. Even if one looks at an adult in a total submersion situation the quantity is still less because the amount of one on one interaction that a child gets for example with a parent or other caregiver is still much greater then the adult is receiving. This idea of one on one interaction versus a class room setting (where an instructor could be speaking to up to twenty, or more students) also ties in with the idea of quality. It is also much
easier for a parent or caregiver to engage the child in what he or she is learning. It is hard, however, for a teacher to make the topic being learned relevant to the students' lives. This can lead to a lack of concentration, and a lack of motivation – something that will be visited later. The next great and obvious difference between L1 and L2 learning is age. A large part of this train of thought is the idea of a "critical period, or the "time after which successful language learning cannot take place" (4).. This time is usually aligned with puberty. This change is significant, "because virtually every learner undergoes significant physical, cognitive, and emotional changes during puberty. There are three main physical changes one undergoes in regards to language acquisition. The first is the presence of muscular plasticity. A child's plasticity goes away at about the age of five. After this age it is very hard for a learner to fully master pronunciation of a second language. The second change is one's memorization capabilities. It is fairly well known that as a person grows older their ability to hold large amount of information reaches its peak fairly early in life, and then begins to decrease. This is seen most dominantly with very old individuals. The third physical change that occurs is more related to neurology. "As a child matures into adulthood, the left hemisphere (which controls the analytical and intellectual functions) becomes more dominant than the right side (which controls the emotional functions)." (2). This idea is called the Lateralization Hypothesis. The significance these specific neurobiological changes have on language learning will be discussed below. The one advantage adults seem to have over children is their cognitive ability. Adults are better able to benefit from learning about structure and grammar. Unfortunately this slight advantage in ability does not help adult second language acquisition in general. In fact this ability almost hinders them in that they analyze too much. Specifically, they cannot leave behind what they know about their first language, which leads to a tendency to overanalyze and to second guess what they are learning. The final area that puberty changes is within the emotional, or affective, realm. Motivation is much affected by emotional change. A child's motivation is simple. In order to communicate and to be a part of family and society the child must master the target language. This motivation is quite weighty, especially when compared to the motivation that adults have, or rather, must find. Adult motivations usually fall into one of two categories: "integrative motivation (which encourages a learner to acquire the new language in order to become closer to and/or identify themselves with the speakers of the target language) or instrumental motivation (which encourages a learner to acquire proficiency for such practical purposes as becoming a translator, doing further research, and aiming for promotion in their career)" (5).. Either one of these types of motivation must be prevalent for successful acquisition to take place. The final change that takes place, and changes language learning has to do with egocentricity. Children are naturally egocentric. While learning their language they are not afraid to make mistakes, and in general, they do not feel abashed when they are corrected. Also, their thoughts
usually do not surpass their language ability. Adults, on the other hand usually suffer form a fairly large amount of language learning anxiety. Adults often "feel frustrated or threatened in the struggle of learning a different language" (5). Mistakes are seen more as failures then as opportunities for growth. "The adult learner may also feel greatly frustrated, for being only able to express their highly complex ideas at a discourse level of an elementary school pupil" (5). These new emotions leave an adult learner in a slightly helpless position, unable to regain the egocentricity of their childhood, which is just on more hindrance in a line of many. Although the desired outcomes of child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition are exactly the same, the actual outcomes are in reality quite different. Factors such as motivation, quality and quantity of input and a lack of egocentrism, among many other factors, will forever stand in the way of adult second language learning. In conclusion, because of so many varying factors, both the processes and outcomes of child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition are extremely different, and are only connected by a common goal.
Similarities and Differences between First and Second Language Acquisition
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In both first and second language acquisition, universal grammar may influence learning. In second language learning, universal grammar may influence learning either independently or through the first language. In both first and second language acquisition, there are predictable stages, and particular structures are acquired in a set order. Individuals may move more slowly or quickly through these stages, but they cannot skip ahead. In both first and second language acquisition, making errors is a part of learning. Learners need to make and test hypotheses about language to build an internal representation of the language. In the initial stages of learning, learners may use chunks of language without breaking them down or processing them as independent units. In later stages, they may make new errors as they begin to process the parts of each chunk according to the rules of their language system. For example, a learner may start out using the correct form of an irregular verb as part of a language chunk, but later overgeneralize and place a regular affix on that same verb.
In both first and second language acquisition, the learner uses context clues, prior knowledge, and interaction to comprehend language. In both first and second language acquisition, age is an important variable affecting proficiency. In both first and second language acquisition, learners can often comprehend more complex language than they are able to produce. In the initial stages of learning, learners go through a silent period. In both first and second language acquisition, a learner's proficiency can vary across situations. In both first and second language acquisition, learners may overgeneralize vocabulary or rules, using them in contexts broader than those in which they should be used. In both first and second language acquisition, learners need comprehensible input and opportunities to learn language in context in order to increase their proficiency.
In first language acquisition, the basis for learning is universal grammar alone. In second language acquisition, knowledge of the first language also serves as a basis for learning the second language. There may be both positive and negative transfer between languages in second language learning. In first language acquisition, children spend several years listening to language, babbling, and using telegraphic speech before they can form sentences. In second language acquisition in older learners, learning is more rapid and people are able to form sentences within a shorter period of time. In formal second language learning in older learners, learners are able to use more metacognitive processes in their learning. They can consciously analyze and manipulate grammatical structures, and they can explicitly describe how language works. This can speed the learning process. In second language learning in older learners, learners bring more life experience and background knowledge to their learning. They have more schemata and more learning strategies to help them learn the second language. In second language learning in older learners, there may be less access to universal grammar, and sensitivity to phonological distinctions not present in the native language will be reduced. Students learning in a classroom setting may also have fewer opportunities to learn language authentically. These factors may reduce the likelihood that second language learners will attain native-like proficiency. First-language learners always attain native proficiency, unless they have a disability that affects language learning. In first language acquistion, learners have many chances to practice with native speakers (especially caregivers). In second language acquisition, learners may or may not have the opportunity to practice extensively with native speakers. Almost everyone acquires a first language, but not everyone acquires a second language. Acquiring a first language happens naturally, while acquiring a second language often requires conscious effort on the part of the learner.
http://multilingualism.pbworks.com/w/page/21913433/Similarities%20and%20Differences%20between %20First%20and%20Second%20Language%20Acquisition ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/elt/article/download/2384/2247
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