What is Second Language Acquisition?
In second language learning, language plays an institutional and social role in the community. It functions as a recognized means of communication among members who speak some other language as their native tongue. In foreign language learning, language plays no major role in the community and is primarily learned in the classroom. The distinction between second and foreign language learning is what is learned and how it is learned.
Learning a second language requires: 1. formal language instruction in an academic setting; 2. interactions with the second language outside of the classroom; 3. pedagogical practices, strategies and methodologies which facilitate second language learning (how); and 4. teaching the four language skills: listening, speaking, reading, writing along with comprehension and thinking (what).
The study of second language acquisition involves: 1. how second languages are learned ( the process); 2. how learners create a new language system with limited exposure (interactions); 3. language proficiency levels (competence and performance of the language); and 4. why some learners achieve native-like proficiency.
How Do Learners Acquire a Second Language?
Learners acquire a second language by making use of existing knowledge of the native language, general learning strategies, or universal properties of language to internalize knowledge of the second language. These processes serve as a means by which the learner constructs an interlanguage (a transitional system reflecting the learner’s current L2 knowledge). Communication strategies are employed by the learner to make use of existing knowledge to cope with communication difficulties.
Learners acquire a second language by drawing on their background experiences and prior knowledge in their first language. They experiment with the second language by using features found in their first language which are similar to those in the second language. This dependence on the first language serves to help the learner construct an interlanguage, a transitional system consisting of the learner’s current second language knowledge. Communication strategies help the learners use what they already know to overcome breakdowns in communication.
Individual differences affect second language acquisition. These differences may be developmental, cognitive, affective or social. There are factors that are fixed which we cannot control such as age and language learning aptitude. There are some variable factors such as motivation which are controlled by social setting and the course taken for developing the second language. Teachers need to know that variable factors are controlled through the learning environment, by knowing their students’ cognitive styles, their learning preferences, how they teach, and what they teach.
There are many different types of learner strategies which teachers need to be aware of in order to understand the strategies children bring with them and how they learn best. Language learners may need to be taught strategies for relating new knowledge to prior knowledge, for organizing information more effectively and for seeking opportunities for communicating with target language speakers.
Researchers identified a natural order of strategies for developing a second language. The order of development starts with the very simple imitation of a word or language structure, to self-talk, to self-correcting, and to role-playing. An awareness of this natural order can help teachers of second language learners plan lessons to facilitate language learning and increase the learners’ self-esteem and self-confidence.
There are several theories of second language acquisition which have provided information on how second languages are learned. The Universalists studied a wide-range of...