Second Language Acquisition

I am fascinated with the phenomena of the human brain’s capacity to acquire multiple languages. First Language Acquisition (the process of acquiring one’s native tongue) is a complex process that includes 4 basic cumulative steps (L-S-R-W). Listening. Speaking. Reading. Writing. Linguist illustrate this process as a latter. When a language is acquired in such a way, it is not only fluent, but infinite (unless one has a major accident that somehow causes permanent amnesia). Acquiring language in the above sequence is called the natural approach.

A baby is exposed to language, and operates in the “listening mode”. Language may be recognized by the fetus FOUR months BEFORE birth (Foreman, 2008). The baby does not begin to talk until….he/she desires to talk. Some begin to speak as early as 9 months, and as late as 6 years old. They begin (approximately) around 12 months to say ‘da-da’, ‘ma-ma’, and about 3 other words. Then they acquire 20 words. After that, being that language is exponential, their lexicon increases to about a million. Reading and writing is not expected from children until they enter elementary school. Fluent reading and decent writing is expected by second grade…SEVEN plus years after their first exposure to the native language.

Now, why is it that second language acquisition (SLA) learners are expected to learn the language in less than a year when it took us 7+ years to barely tap into our own native tongue, and are allowed 10 more years of grades school to refine one’s skills? When an SLA student, or immigrant, steps into the classroom, the approach to acquiring language is reverse, i.e., they are expected to write the language (the, car, is, red, etc.), then to read (Humpty dumpty had a great fall…), then to speak (“My name is Carlos.”). Then, they are never taught any listening skills that deal with the pragmatics, the discourse, or social norms underlined in the targeted language. Thus, competency is hardly ever reached within the desired time frame.

Those of you who have had some sort of Second Language Acquisition, especially in high school, will probably recall that you were expected to WRITE (off the board), and how can anyone forget the “Repeat after me…Hablo, habla, hablamos, hableis, hablaron?”  So the latter was backwards.

The education systems is asking for students to learn how to REFINE their language skills, to WRITE academically, to Speak fluently, and to ONLY listen when learning and acquiring language (either Spanish or English).


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