The main difference between first language and second language acquisition is that first language acquisition is a child learning his native language, whereas second language acquisition is learning a language besides his native language.
Language acquisition is the process through which humans gain the ability to be aware of language and to understand it as well as to produce and use words and sentences to communicate. All humans have the ability to acquire a language. It is this ability that sets them apart from all other living beings.
Key Areas Covered
1. What is First Language Acquisition
– Definition, Characteristics, Theories
2. What is Second Language Acquisition
– Definition, Characteristics, Stage
3. What is the Difference Between First Language and Second Language Acquisition
– Comparison of Key Differences
Language Acquisition, First Language Acquisition, Second Language Acquisition
What is First Language Acquisition
First language acquisition actually refers to infants’ acquisition of their native language. They acquire language through a subconscious process and are unaware of grammar rules. Children do usually not require explicit instruction to learn their ﬁrst language. They just pick up the language, the same way they learn how to roll over, crawl and walk.
Moreover, children may acquire more than one first language. For example, children who grow up in a house where parents speak only English language will acquire only English. However, children who grow up in a bilingual household (say French and English) will learn both languages.
Theories of First Language Acquisition
There are several theories of language acquisition, all of them describing how a child learns a language. In the Behaviorist approach, which was mainly expounded by B.F.Skinner, language acquisition is a process of experience and language is a conditioned behavior – a production of correct responses to stimuli. According to this theory, children learn language step by step: imitation – repetition – memorization – controlled drilling – reinforcement. However, limitations of this behaviorist approach led to the development of Nativist or Innateness theory, which states that children are born with an innate capacity to learn language.
Noam Chomsky, the main figure in this theory, originally theorized that children are born with a language acquisition device in their brains. He later modified this theory to include the theory of Universal Grammar, a set of innate principals common to all languages. According to this theory, the language acquisition device in children’s’ brain allows them to deduce the structure of their native language through exposure to the language.
Cognitive theory is another theory explaining language acquisition. According to this approach, language acquisition must be viewed in the context of children’s intellectual development and environment. This also focuses on exploring the relationship between the stages of cognitive development and language skills.
What is Second Language Acquisition
Second language acquisition (SLA) is learning a second language after the first language is already learned. Anyone can learn a second language, but children usually find it easier. In fact, this is a process of learning; learning occurs actively and consciously through explicit instruction and education.
Moreover, according to the linguist Stephen Krashen, second language acquisition occurs in five stages: preproduction (silent phase), early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency.
Preproduction – At this stage, learners learn terms of the new language and practice them.
Early Production – Learners can speak in short phrases of one or two phrases. They also collect new words.
Speech Emergence – At this stage, learners know thousands of words and can communicate using simple questions and phrases.
Immediate Fluency – Learners have an advanced vocabulary and can use more complicated sentence structures. They can also share their opinions and thoughts.
Advanced Fluency – By this stage, learners will finally have several years of experience, and can function at a level close of native speakers.
Difference Between First Language and Second Language Acquisition
First language acquisition is children’s acquisition of their native language, while second language acquisition is learning a language after acquiring the mother tongue.
While first language acquisition is a subconscious process, second language acquisition occurs actively and consciously.
Education and Instruction
First language acquisition does not require explicit instructions or education, while second language acquisition requires explicit instruction and education.
Since first language acquisition involves acquiring the native language, speakers are fluent in their first language. However, it is often difficult to reach a native-like fluency with the second language.
Language acquisition is the process through which humans gain the ability to be aware of language and to understand it as well as to produce and use words and sentences to communicate. First language acquisition is children’s acquisition of their native language, while second language acquisition is learning a language after acquiring the first language. Moreover, first language acquisition is a subconscious process, while second language acquisition is an active and conscious process. This is the main difference between first language and second language acquisition.
1. Vega, Meibis Gonzalez. “First Language Acquisition.” LinkedIn SlideShare, 30 Nov. 2013, Available here.
2. “Second-Language Acquisition.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Apr. 2020, Available here.