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1st Language vs. 2nd Language Acquisition As children, we all learned our first,
As children, we all learned our first, native language with incredible speed and efficiency. By the time we were five, we had mastered the language spoken around us. We could speak with a large vocabulary, a solid understanding of grammar and with a matching accent. A child´s ability to accomplish this goes against all studies concerning the learning of languages (more accurately, second languages). When we consider the time and effort required for us as adults to learn a second language, it seems impossible that such a phenomenon as first language acquisitions could occur in the way it does. (1 )
To explain this difference between first and second language acquisition, we must first consider differences in the processes. The most obvious and significant difference lies in the ´Silent Stage´, which is usually nonexistent is second language acquisition. The silent stage is the stage in which a child observes. The child listens to intonation, grammar and sounds, watches gestures and may appear to not understand any of it. However, this is not the case. The child is taking everything in and making sense of it all. When it is ready, it begins to experiment with using the language through sounds. As second language learners, adults and children alike do not have the opportunity to take advantage of this stage. We are usually not surrounded by the language we are learning, and our teachers usually disrupt our silent stage. Because we can already speak at least one language, we are expected to practice using the language as soon as we start to learn it. (4 ) Second stage is also usually skipped entirely in second language acquisition. This is the stage where a baby begins to make sounds. These sounds are based on words that it has heard. As adults or even children, we would probably feel strange practicing a new language in this way, and it is not a method widely supported by language teachers. Furthermore, we are usually not surrounded by the new language we are learning. Our second language is often first taught through the use of our native language. We are only allowed to learn rules and specific words. (4 ) Despite these major differences, achieving fluency in a second language is not impossible. Contrary to popular belief, the ´Critical Period´ hypothesis, which says that full second language acquisition is not possible after a certain age, is now believed to be false. It is possible for a person at any age to learn a new language completely. The only exception is accent. After puberty, very few have been able to achieve a native accent. (Second language 1)
A scientific study demonstrated this by looking at cerebral patterns in relationship to a person´s first and second language. Two groups with comparable, high second language proficiency levels were studied. The first group had acquired their second language after the age of 10, the second group before the age of four. When each group listened to a reading in their second acquired language, the cerebral patterns observed in both were identical. The difference in age did not prove to affect the subjects ability to learn their second language. (2 ) Although no one would argue that first language acquisition comes easier and more naturally than second language acquisition, it is comforting to know that the latter is indeed possible. Second language acquisition is still a difficult and sometimes frustrating process, but those who are willing to see it through can achieve the satisfaction of fluency. Works Cited 1.Galasso, Joseph. 'First and Second Language Acquisition.' 2000- 2003. California State University. 30 May 2006 ;. 2.Perani, Paulesu, Galles, Dupoux, Dehaene, Bettinardi, Cappa, Fazio and Mehler. 'The bilingual brain. Proficiency and age of acquisition of the second language.' Brain: A Journal of Neurology 1998: Vol 121, Issue 10 1841-1852. 30 May 2006 ;. 3.'Second language acquisition.' Wikipedia. 30 May 2006. 30 May 2006 ;. 4.'The Stages of Second Language Acquisition Compared to First Language Acquisition.' GeorgiaStandards.org. 1999-2003. Georgia Department of Education. 30 May 2006 .