First and Second Language Acquisition

First and second language learners progress through very similar stages of language development.  However, there are differences. Let’s look at some similarities and differences between first and second language acquisition. Babies learning a first language progress from babbling to single words then two and three-word utterances within a span of about two years (Lessow-Hurley, 1999). During this time they are also learning how language works and how to use it as a tool for communication and expressing thought. First language learners gradually develop the ability to express their needs, make requests, share their ideas, talk about the past and future events, and so on. By the time they enter school, children generally have a good understanding of the sound system (phonology), how words are formed (morphology), and word order (syntax) in their native language. Native English speakers and English learners are already aware of how their primary language works and how to use it for communication purposes. The difference is that English learners need to learn how to express what they know in the second language. A second important difference is that school-aged English learners need to acquire academic concepts at the same time that they are developing proficiency in English. That is, they need to learn English and learn in English.

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