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Second Language Acquisition

All children acquire language from birth. Second language acquisition begins to occur after a child has learned his or her first language. There are several stages that students move through as they develop their second language. This page is designed to give teachers information about that development.

Below is an organizer that compares learning in a child's first language (L1) and a second language (L2).

First Language (L1) Acquisition
Questions to Address
Age: When does language acquisition begin and how does it progress?
Language acquisition begins at birth. As babies begin to hear sounds, they begin their acquisition of language. As parents talk and interact with their child, more and more language is learned. They hear the sounds around them and begin to imitate them.
· The first stage is the Pre-speech stage. They make sounds that imitate sounds they hear.
· The second stage is the Babbling Stage. Babies begin to use sounds such as da-da-da or ga-ga-ga indiscriminately.
· In the third stage, the Holophrastic Stage, babies will begin to use one word utterances to name objects.
· In the fourth stage, around 18 months to two years of age, children enter into the Combining Words Stage. By around the age of six, the child’s language is similar to that of adults. (Linguistics, n.d.)

Sound System: How do young children learn the L1 sound system and the rules of the native language?
Young children learn the sound system by:
· Imitating others—As young children hear speech, whether from adults, tv, radio, or other children, they begin to try and imitate those sounds.
· Positive reinforcement—When young children begin speaking, or even babbling, the adults around them reinforce those sounds with praise, a smile, or by returning conversation.
· Interacting with others—as children begin speaking to adults or other children, speech is returned

Learning Environment: Where does L1 take place and under what conditions and circumstances does early language learning occur?
Children begin learning their native language at birth. Their learning environment would be their home and the family homes of those adults close to them. Some children will also be in learning environments such as day cares, preschools, and church settings. All of these environments combine to enhance the child’s language learning.
Depending on the learning environment, the circumstances under which they learn can be different. In the family home environment, learning would be informal. Daily talking and reading with children would foster language development. More formal learning would take place in day cares, preschools, and church settings, where children are targeted for language learning.
Second Language (L2) Acquisition
Questions to Address
Age: When does second language acquisition begin and how does it progress?
Second language acquisition begins to occur after a first language has been learned. There are several stages of second language acquisition:

· Pre-production, also called “The Silent Period”— Students in this stage may be listening and hearing the new language, but does not speak. · Early Production—Students in this stage may begin to speak a few words or phrases, usually with many errors. · Speech Emergence— Students in this stage may use simple phrases and sentences. They may be able to ask simple questions that may or may not be grammatically correct. · Intermediate Fluency— Students in this stage are beginning to use more complex sentences. They may even begin to express their thoughts and ideas, and ask questions about their learning. · Advanced Fluency-- Students in this stage will approximate a native speaker. Most ELL students at this stage will have exited the ESL programs. (Haynes, 1998)

Sound System: How do second language learners learn the sound system and rules of the second language?
Second language learners begin to learn the sound system when they begin school taught in the target language. If they are in an ES L program that uses the Sheltered Immersion approach, they are immersed in the target language throughout the day. Through direct instruction and daily interactions with peers, students are acquiring the new language.

Learning Environment: Where does early L2 language acquisition take place and under what type of conditions?
L2 language acquisition takes place mainly in the classroom setting through direct instruction.
Using direct vocabulary instruction, as well as games, music, and storytelling will help children learn the second language in a meaningful way.Using hands-on activities, manipulatives, and various visuals will also help students with L2 learning.

Related Factors: What is interlanguage and fossilization and how do these things impact SLA?
Interlanguage is the process that occurs when second language learners create a language system of their own (Module 2 Notes). Fossilization occurs as a result from interlanguage. Fossilization can impact second language learning when errors that are made within a student’s interlanguage are used over and over again and become permanent learning. (Gass, & Selinker, 2001)

Resources for SLA organizer

Linguistics 201: First language acquisition (n.d.).Retrieved from

Haynes, J. (1998). Stages of second language acquisition. Retrieved from

Gass, S., & Selinker, L. (2001). Second language acquisition, an introductory course.
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


For games and activities that help kindergarten children with second language learning, click the link below.


For appropriate teaching strategies and ideas for second language learners, click the link below.


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