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1st language v_ 2nd language acquisition In today's world, speaking english
, as a first or second language, has become a necessity and the vast majority of us will have to learn a second language as a child, teenager or adult.
I believe that the 2 main differences in the acquisition of a 1st language against a 2nd language are mainly the environment in which the student lives and whether or not the student is a child or an adult.
The child starts hearing the language in-utero, then is totally emerged in it and can not escape it. The child therefore learns his 1st language effortlessly, accepting patterns of speech or grammar without questioning, mimicking what he/she hears.
The amount of 1st language acquired will differ from child to child as it is directly related to his/her socio-economical environment. In extreme cases, if the child hasn’t been exposed to any language in his/her early years, he/she will not be able to communicate.
We may acquire our native language without any conscious effort but will still need to study it at school/university to extend ourselves and broaden our depth of knowledge.
Even the best teaching environment will only be able to offer a student total immersion in a language for a limited amount of time during the class. I firmly believe that the best way to learn a second language is, after acquiring the basis of the language, to spend time in the country where the spoken and written language constantly challenges the student.
I think that we underestimate the amount of learning which can be achieved by just being surrounded by a second language even without paying attention or trying to listen to it. I had to listen to Peter and the Wolf in German for a couple of months when a child I was looking after would listen to it at bedtime, and was astounded to be able to recite the whole story after a few weeks with my limited German.
The debate is open as to whether it is easier to learn a second language in the first 6 years of a child life or as an adult.
Some studies believe that young children are able to pronounce and reproduce sounds before the age of 6 which adults are unable to achieve later on in life.
Adults however seem to have more ability in learning a second language as their cognitive skills are more developed and will understand grammar and complex patterns which are explained to them. Adults, however, will tend to compare a 2nd language to their mother tongue, try to translate literally, question syntax instead of accepting and embracing another language in its entirety.
Learning a second language can also be hindered by a lack of motivation if the student has not personally chosen to learn it.
I have personally tried and spoken to mothers who have tried to speak to their children in the mother's native tongue who said that the children understand the second language but do not speak it ; they inherently see no need to be speaking a language that only the mother and a few others speak around them ; children have a need to be socially accepted by their peers and to speak their language.
Contrary to what some language methods claim, learning a second language at any age does take time, commitment and effort.