What is the Difference Between Learning and Acquisition

The main difference between learning and acquisition is that learning is a more conscious and deliberate process than acquisition, which is more subconscious in nature.

We use both the terms learning and acquisition frequently when we are talking about learning a language. Here, acquisition involves the non-conscious assimilation of a language, mainly through first-hand exposure. On the other hand, learning involves studying it through formal instruction and conscious comprehension.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Learning  
     – Definition, Features 
2. What is Acquisition
     – Definition, Features 
3. Similarities Between Learning and Acquisition
     – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Learning and Acquisition
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Learning, AcquisitionDifference Between Learning and Acquisition - Comparison Summary

What is Learning

Learning a language is usually a process of formal education where the educator uses formal teaching methodology and gives the students instructions facilitating their understanding of the rules related to a particular language. When it comes to the teaching and learning process, teachers focus more on emphasizing the form of language rather than focusing on a particular text. Therefore, when it comes to learning, the teacher can be seen busy explaining the grammar rules to students while students are busy trying to comprehend those grammatical rules and structures.

Compare Learning and Acquisition - What's the difference?

Learning, unlike acquiring, requires some conscious effort from the side of the student. Generally, students are quite content when they get direct instructions. However, for someone to be fluent in a language, the process of learning itself is not sufficient. For instance, if you are a student learning French, you can learn the grammar rules and sentence patterns by conscious learning inside a classroom, but you won’t be able to achieve mastery in the French language unless you acquire more knowledge in French culture through subconscious reading and listening.

What is Acquisition

The acquisition of a language is a non-conscious or subconscious process. A child first starts to acquire his mother tongue from his mother or the surroundings. This language acquisition does not involve learning grammatical rules or structures. The following table indicates different stages of language acquisition in a child.

Whether it is a child or an adult, anyone who is learning a new language first acquires sounds and vocabulary and then the sentence patterns and structures. However, a formal learning process will be provided to him only in a formal setting like a school. Unlike in learning, in language acquisition, the children acquire words and sentence structures without any kind of formal or informal instruction.

Learning vs Acquisition

When it comes to learning new languages, the acquisition is more efficient. Children who are learning their native language may never make grammatical mistakes during conversations or writing as they have acquired it through a subconscious process. This sub-conscious acquisition gives them no rules of grammar but gives them the instinct to differentiate between what is the proper use of language and what is not. Furthermore, the process of acquisition gives us the chance to learn through a trial and error method.

Similarities Between Learning and Acquisition

  • Learning and acquisition are two terms associated with language learning.
  • Both learning and acquisition facilitate the learner to become fluent in a language.
  • Both learning and acquisition involve the four skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking

Difference Between Learning and Acquisition


The acquisition is the non-conscious assimilation of a language mainly through first-hand exposure, while learning involves acquiring a language through formal instruction and conscious comprehension.


Acquisition of a language demands natural and meaningful communication in the language, but learning of a language involves more explanation of grammar rules and less natural communication.


Learning is a relatively deliberately done conscious process, while acquisition is subconscious or non-conscious.


The main difference between learning and acquisition is that learning is a more conscious and deliberate process while acquiring is more subconscious in nature. However, learning and acquisition are both equally significant for anyone who wishes to achieve fluency in a new language.


1. Lemetyinen, Henna. “Language Acquisition.” Simply Psychology, 1 Jan. 1970.
2. “Learning Languages.” Learning Center, 24 Sept. 2021.

Image Courtesy:

1. “To-learn-school-hands-skills” (CC0) via Pixabay
2. “Language Acquisition Phases” By Dinglebrob – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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