1st Language vs. 2nd Language Acquisition Language acquisition is the process by

Language acquisition is the process by which language ability develops in humans. There are two types of language acquisitions- firs language acquisition and second language acquisition. While the former deals with early childhood language development, the latter has a nurture aspect to learning in adults. Humans have long debated whether language can be developed in the absence of speech and various experiments by Psammeticus, King James V and Akbar support the hypothesis that language in the absence of speech is not possible.

First language acquisition or the native tongue of a person is the language a child has heard from birth. The speed with which the language is acquired is indeed remarkable. All children go through certain stages in language development even if the rate between children varies. Though parents do not ‘teach’ a child a language, nevertheless by the time the child enters pre-school he has more or less mastered his target language. Theories abound in the development of early language training. These theories are much more accurate and advanced than earlier ones promoted by Braine 1976, and to some extent Bowerman (1973) among others; which relegated the child’s entire early learning grammar to associative style learning. In recent years the focus has shifted to the understanding of the actual infrastructure of the child’s brain that actually produces the inaccurate grammar. Thus first language acquisition can be divided into three main theories:

a)Cognitive theory (Jean Piaget)-The child develops language as a part of the broader intellectual development. Simple ideas are expressed before more complex ones even if they are grammatically more challenging.The child has an operative level of language which is bound by the abstract knowledge of grammar (Pinker 1984, Hyams 1986, Radford 1990, Wexler 1996, and Radford & Galasso 1998).Pinker suggests that the child’s limited high-scope memory is responsible for the errors in transitive and tense agreement errors. It is believed that these errors are caused so that the memory is not burdened by whole lexical chunks, not allowing any space for more complex functions to be processed. According to Cook, V.J., Long, J., & McDonough, S. (1979), a child’s grammar is a system in its own right rather than being a fragment of adult language. The child develops his language skills based on his needs and interests. They believe that if there is a relationship between language development and cognition then language depends on cognition. The outcome of first language acquisition is the same regardless of the intelligence of the individual. This theory however does not explain why language develops in the first place.

b)Imitation and Repetition- Repetition and imitation of adult words are a major part of children’s speech. However this theory neither explains why children use words that they haven’t ever heard (taked, broked), nor the development of language where adults (at least a majority of them) do not coach children in language.

c)Innateness of language features (Chomsky) - This theory believes that children are pre-destined and hard-wired to speak. They have certain aspects of language programmed into their brain right from birth.

Second language acquisition on the other hand deals with the acquisition of a language after the native language has been established. Second language learning seems to rely more on cognitive mechanism in order to fashion general problem solving learning strategies to cope with the material. It is generally seen that people who acquire a second language are not as proficient at it as native speakers; Once again theories abound on the acquisition method of a second language.

a)Contrastive analysis (Lado) - Students transfer forms, meanings and distribution of forms and meanings from their native language to the foreign language.

b)Krashens theory of second language acquisition- This has five main hypotheses:

a.Acquisition-Learning hypothesis- There are two main systems of second language performance- students either ‘acquire’ a second language subconsciously in the way of meaningful communication; or they ‘learn’ a second language in the form of formal training classes giving conscious knowledge such as grammar rules.

b.Monitor hypothesis- This establishes a relationship between acquisition and learning. The ´monitor´ acts in a planning, editing and correcting function when three specific conditions are met: that is, the second language learner has sufficient time at his/her disposal, he/she focuses on form or thinks about correctness, and he/she knows the rule. As conscious learning has a smaller part to play in second language performance, monitoring should be kept to a minimum.

c.Natural order hypothesis- Based on research findings (Dulay & Burt, 1974; Fathman, 1975; Makino, 1980 cited in Krashen, 1987) which suggested that the acquisition of grammatical structures follows a ´natural order´ which is predictable.Krashen rejects grammatical sequencing when the goal is acquisition

d.Input hypothesis-, 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

e.Affective filter hypothesis- A number of ´affective variables´ play a facilitative, but non- causal, role in second language acquisition. These variables include: motivation, self-confidence and anxiety. On the other hand, positive affect is necessary, but not sufficient on its own, for acquisition to take place.

Learning of the language is much more than just syntax and vocabulary. While there are many similarities between first and second language learning, the variation in situation and other factors also produces many differences. One difficulty is filtering out differences that are accidental rather than inevitable. Children mostly acquire language in different settings with different exposure to language than second language adult learners and they are at different stages of mental and social maturity (Cook 1969). It may be inherently impossible to compare the two A more precise version of this question asks whether adults still have access to Universal Grammar in the mind.


Bowerman, M. (1973) Early syntactic development: a cross-linguistic study with special reference to Finnish. CUP.

Braine, M. (1976) Children´s first word combinations. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development. 41. (n. 164).

Chomsky, N. (1965), ´Formal discussion: the development of grammar in child language´, in Bellugi, U., and Brown, R. (eds.), The Acquisition of Language, Indiana, Purdue University

Cook, V.J. 1969. The analogy between first and second language learning. IRAL VII/3, 207-216

Cook, V.J., Long, J., & McDonough, S. (1979), ‘First and second language learning’, in G.E. Perren (ed.) The Mother Tongue and Other Languages in Education, CILTR, 7-22

Hyams, N. (1986) Language Acquisition and the Theory of Parameters. Dordrecht: Reidel

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

Lado, R. (1957), Linguistics Across Cultures, University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor

Lado, R. (1964), Language Teaching: A Scientific Approach, McGraw- Hill

Pinker, S. (1984) Language learnability and language development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Radford, A. (1990) Syntactic Theory and the Acquisition of English Syntax. Basil Blackwell.

Radford, A. & Galasso, J. (1998) Children´s Possessive Structures: A case study. Essex Research Reports in Linguistics 19. 37-45.

Wexler, K. (1996) The development of inflection in a biologically based theory of language acquisition. In M. Rice (Ed) Toward a genetics of language. Mahwah, N.J: Erlbaum.