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Language acquisition theories in a wider view, various approaches and different theories have been developed over time to study and analyze the language acquisition process. Many theories are proposed to give description of the first language acquisition and second language acquisition. For better understanding of the nature of these two language acquisitions (i.e. L1 and L2), examination, comparing and contrasting are crucial. The outcome of such contrasts and comparisons has vital inference for language teachers. This will help them to design their syllabuses, process of teaching itself and all activities pertaining to classroom. The results will also help the teachers to understand their student’s process of learning.
The second language acquisition L2 has many features as revealed by studies carried out on the issue of Interlanguage. Developed in the 1970s and 1980s, the Interlanguage theory emphasizes the dynamic language qualities that present it as a unique system. Selinker (1969, quoted in McLanghlin, 1987) views Interlanguage as the provisional grammars built by the second language learners on the prospect of achieving the target language. This system is viewed as the leaner’s way of developing the second language knowledge and bears some features of the leaner’s language. It is dynamic, systematic and continuously evolving. The various characteristics of L2 and L1 show similarities and differences.
Similarities between First and Second Language Acquisition
There are numerous studies have been carried out by various researchers for understanding the nature of the first and second language acquisition. These works have identified that both L1 and L2 learners follow a developmental pattern, which is basically followed notwithstanding exceptions. Rod Ellis (1984) expounds in details the sequence of development and outlines three stages of development. They are the formulaic speech, the silent period, and structural and simplification of semantics. The research was made in natural surrounding with the influence of leaner’s language. Thus, learners were promoted to express their thoughts more or less spontaneously. This shows that the L1 and L2 language learners pass through the silent period. Children who are in the process of obtaining their first language usually goes through a period of listening to the language they are exposed to. It is in this period that the child tries to discover what language entails.
In the acquisition of the second language, a silent period is needed by learners. This happens when the immediate production is not required. Generally, majority of second language learners and especially those in classrooms are urged to speak. Conversely, a disagreement exists on contributions made by the silent period in the second language acquisition. While Krashen (1982), in the English Language Teaching argues that it creates a learner’s competence via listening, Gibbons (1985, cited in Ellis, 1994) explains that it is a stage of incomprehension.
The formulaic speech is the second stage of development. These are expressions learnt as unanalyzable wholes and which are employed on certain occasions (Lyons, 1968, cited in Ellis 1994). Krashen (1982) expounds that such sayings can have a routine form – e.g. I don’t know; and also patterns – e.g. Can I have a____? Empirical literature points out that formulaic speech are not only applied in the first and the second acquisition of language but also find its application among the adult native speakers.
Differences between First and Second Language Acquisition
One of the principal disparities leading to L1 and L2 variations is the Critical Period Hypothesis. It is widely known that children pronounces better while on the other hand, adults are known to be faster and better in learning rules and pragmatics. Understanding this may guide a teacher training adults towards practicing pronunciation if this happens to be one of the goals of the language learning. This does not lead to a problem in acquisition of first language but the L2 learners are faced with attitudes and inhibitions. The student’s affective states are vital, as these are the main factors in intervening the learning of language. To create positive attitudes to the process of language learning, relaxation and comfort is a requirement among adults or young adults. Additionally, teachers should free their students from inhibitions with the aim of free interaction and comfortable usage of the language. This could be possible if understanding and trust are enhanced between teachers and their students. More praise than criticism, more positive feedback than negative feedback should be the first step.
The fossilization issue is only attributed to the second language acquisition. While full competence is reached by all L1 learners in the target language, some L2 learners might be fossilized in the target language. Correcting student’s repeated errors can be one form of preventing fossilization. This can be done by practicing more of problematic language than non-problematic language. It is worth noting that, once fossilization happens, it becomes difficult getting rid of it. Therefore, it is advisable that teachers work with caution and assist their students prevent fossilization.
The social issues is another factor. Previous studies indicates that second language learners have an option of choosing to learn language varieties other than the standard form and it depends on the speech community taken as the reference. Such cases are found in natural settings but not in classroom. Thus, it is the responsibility of the teachers and the teaching institutions to make decisions on the variant of the target language to take as the norm. It is vital making students aware of the varieties of the target language, but it is necessary to maintain their consistency in terms of teaching.
The acquisition of L1 and L2 processes are quite complex. Understanding these processes requires the language teacher be more insightful to the factors involved. While the first and the second language acquisitions show some similarities, they also have some differences. There is a need for the teacher to understand that the phenomenon in first and second language acquisition are much interacting and none of the two is solely descriptive. Nevertheless, it becomes unwise for teachers to base their teachings on a single claim in the acquisition of language. Moreover, they are required to criticize, understand, analyze and synthesize before attempting implementation of the teaching suggestions put across. It is vital noting that research has tried to put a line between learning and acquisition. Particularly in L2 education, these terms are interchangeably used. Many arguments on L1 and L2 are inconclusive and many studies were focused in explaining the nature of L1 and L2 acquisition. Many variables affect the acquisition of L1 and L2. Therefore, at the decision making phase of language teaching, the student’s profile is a vital determiner. Finally, combination of theoretical knowledge and teaching situations should be practiced by the language teachers.