TEFL 1st vs 2nd Language Acquisition

Stephen Krashen differentiates between the concepts of language acquisition and language learning in this way: He likens the process of language acquisition to adolescents and young adults living outside of their native country in a year long exchange program where they attain near native fluency but remain unfamiliar with phonology and/or grammar rules. He links the concept of language learning to the traditional approach of teachers/students in classrooms with specific focus on structure and grammar rules. Krashen summarizes, ?Language acquisition does not require extensive use of conscious grammatical rules, and does not require tedious drill.? He further states, ?Acquisition requires meaningful interaction in the target language-natural communication-in which speakers are concerned not with the form of their utterances but with the messages they are conveying and understanding.? While it is safe to say that Krashen?s definitions may be accurate, it is not always possible to facilitate a second language outside of the traditional classroom setting. In fact it is probably true that most second language exposure to learning occurs, at least initially, within that traditional setting.

Behaviorist, Lev Vygotsky, defines his theory of zone of proximal development to ??include all the functions and activities that a child or a learner can perform only with the assistance of someone else. The person in this scaffolding process, providing non- intrusive intervention, could be an adult (parent, teacher, caretaker, language instructor) or another peer who has already mastered that particular function.? Both theorists, highly respected in their fields, approaching 1st and 2nd language acquisition from different ideas, appear to have some common ground and perhaps the now deceased Vygotsky had some influence on Krashen. Both men agree that language formation occurs within a social context?the need for the inclusion of others in that process. Although the terminology belongs to Krashen, his i + 1 theory appears to be compatible with Vygotsky?s zone of proximal development theory. Krashen?s input theory refers to one?s second language acquisition where, ??the learner improves and progresses along the ?natural order? when he/she receives second language ?input? that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence.?

Noam Chomsky?s theory of first language acquisition involves what he terms ?an innate language acquisition device, a neural program that prepares them to learn language.? Chomsky refers to this organized litany of rules as universal grammar.

In truth, whether or not humans are prepared from conception to receive, dissect, interpret, and produce functional language, the process of receiving, dissecting, interpreting, & producing was never intended to be a solitary one. We are bound to this earth with and for each other. It is the opinion of this writer that language must be used to inform, edify, construct, support, and scaffold not merely for today but for the promise of tomorrow. It is of prime importance for this writer to improve the quality of life for each of my students through the language of my spoken words and the language of my actions. On a daily basis, Krashen?s input theory is in place in this writer?s classroom?it is not only observable from teacher to student but also from student to student and student to teacher. It is when trust and the reverence of that trust is present that a significant transfer of acquisition and learning take place.


Chomsky, N. Reflections of Language. New York: Pantheon Books, 1975

Krashen, Stephen D. Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Prentice-Hall International, 1987

Krashen, Stephen D. Second Language Acquisition and Second Language Learning. Prentice-Hall International, 1988

Vygotsky, L. S. Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: The M.I.T. Press, 1985

Author: Sharone Hardesty

Date of post: 2007-04-17