First Language vs. Second Language Acquisition The difference between first language


The difference between first language acquisition and second language acquisition is a topic I am very familiar with. Currently I am learning German, and even though I am living and fully immersed in a German speaking country the acquisition of the language seems to be anything but natural. Through my own experience I have noticed there to be three major differences between first and second language acquisition - environment, motivation and cognition.

First language acquisition is an innate process in human development. A child's acquisition of their native language goes hand in hand with their needs, interests and environment. The development of first language skills often takes place under conditions that cannot be duplicated later on in life. The child will have no prior knowledge of another language to interfere or add confusion to the learning process. It also appears that children learning their first language do so with incredible speed and accuracy without much instruction from their parents. It seems outside of prompting their children to utter their first word parents do not actively 'teach' their children their first language. Most parents, outside of those who happen to be English teachers, wouldn't have the ability to explain the grammar and structure of the language to their children and yet children are able to 'crack the code' and master the language that is spoken to them. For a child the motivation behind learning their native language is to be able to communicate in order to have their basic needs met and have the ability to function as a member of a family or community. Children also don't break learning their native language into components such as grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation ' they view their language as a complete, inseparable entity.

Second language acquisition is typically determined by some external factor (whether it be for personal interest, career, or home relocation) since the learner already has a first language to think and communicate with. Success in which a second language is acquired will be greatly determined by the motivation of the learner. Environment also plays a great role in second language acquisition as most students are trying to learn the language in an unnatural setting such as a classroom. Unlike myself, most people who are trying to acquire a second language are not living in the world where they would be surrounded (through conversation or media) by the language. Learners of a second language, especially adults, often feel pressure to be able to speak the new language immediately. Children acquiring their first language are allowed to let it unfold naturally ' first by gurgling and babbling, then by saying simple monosyllable words until the language has fully developed at the child's own rate. However, adults and school-aged children are expected to be able to produce complete words and sentences at their first introduction to a second language. Adults hoping to acquire a second language will have greater cognitive skills than an infant acquiring its first language. This ability to think and reason may aid with quicker 'working' knowledge of the language than first language learners. However, prior knowledge of a first language might impede the acquisition of a second language. Second language learners might try to find ways to 'fit' the new language into patterns or structures of their native language disregarding the rules of the new language.

The motivational, environmental and cognitive differences between first language acquisition and second language acquisition result in very different outcomes and create a need for diverse acquisition processes. However, the desired goal ' competency and fluency in the learned language ' are the same.