First and Second Language Acquisition
In our everyday lives, the origin of our ability to communicate is usually not often taken into consideration. One doesn't think about how every person has, or rather had at one time, an innate ability to learn a language to total fluency without a conscious effort – a feat that is seen by the scientific community "as one of the many utterly unexplainable mysteries that beset us in our daily lives" (3).. Other such mysteries include our body's ability to pump blood and take in oxygen constantly seemingly without thought, and a new mother's ability to unconsciously raise her body temperature when her infant is placed on her chest. But a child's first language acquisition is different from these phenomena; different because it cannot be repeated. No matter how many languages are learned later in life, the rapidity and accuracy of the first acquisition can simply not be repeated. This mystery is most definitely why first language acquisition, and subsequently second language acquisition, is such a highly researched topic.
On the surface one would look at child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition and see similarities. In each case the learner first learns how to make basic sounds, then words, phrases and sentences; and as this learning continues the sentences become more and more complex. However, when one looks at the outcomes of these two types of acquisition, the differences are dramatic. The child's ability to communicate in the target language far surpasses that of the adult. In this paper differences in these two processes that most always produce such different outcomes will be explored.
Before this exploration begins, however, I would like to state that I am looking at child first language acquisition and adult second language acquisition because they both seem most relevant to our lives right now – as college students who have most definitely mastered our first language at a young age, and are mostly likely attempting to master our second as adults. One could also look at situations where only one variable is changes (e.g. child first vs. child second or child second vs. adult second) but these comparisons are not represented in this paper.
The first area of difference between first (L1) and second (L2) language learning is input – specifically the quality and quantity of input. It is the idea of the "connectionist model that implies... (that the) language learning process depends on the input frequency and regularity" (5).. It is here where one finds the greatest difference between L1 and L2 acquisition. The quantity of exposure to a target language a child gets is immense compared to the amount an adult receives. A child hears the language all day everyday, whereas an adult learner may only hear the target language in the classroom – which could be as little as three hours a week. Even if one looks at an adult in a total submersion situation the quantity is...