Primarily, I would like to mention some differences between the first and the second language acquisition based on Vivian Cook’s online paper. First, the tongue mother or first language is acquired during our childhood; when our ability to learn is unlimited. On the other hand, second language is acquired either when we are teenagers or adults. Then, we can say that our brains have changed along the years what makes a great difference in the acquisition of L1 an L2. Second, acquiring a L1 is a natural process.
Children learn a language without thinking about grammar, syntax, nor structure patterns whereas adults or teenagers learn a second language on basis of grammar rules and syntax. Therefore, we can say that instruction is not needed during first language acquisition, but it is essential in second language acquisition. Third, first language speakers have developed an ability to know or recognize what is right and what is wrong in their language. However, this kind of intuition or ability is not at all developed by second language speakers.
Finally, fossilization in L1 doesn’t exist, or at least, there isn’t any evidence of its existence. Nevertheless, fossilization can occur during the learning process of L2. Now that the differences between them have been developed, I can start talking about some theories regarding L1 and L2 acquisition. According to Skinner, the major exponent of behaviorism, we acquire a language through imitation. We imitate what we hear from other people around us. Then, our attempts of imitation receive reinforcement, and thus we form habits. However, I disagree with him.
It is true that our first words are imitations of what our parents or family say to us; but we have our own brain, and we are able to develop more complex sentences without the necessity to imitate other people. Furthermore, behaviorism treats the second language as a matter of memorizing structures and patterns by heart till the formation of habits. I don’t think that is correct at all. I agree that we, as second language learners, need to learn language patterns in order to acquire that language; nevertheless, I consider that comprehension and internalization of those atterns and structures are more important than memorization. Chomsky argues that human beings are biologically programmed to acquire language. Humans are born with a specific innate ability to discover for themselves the underlying rules of a language what is called universal grammar. I agree with Chomsky in some aspects. We, human beings, are born to talk. We are endowed with that ability. No matter how complex a language can be, we are able to acquire that language. Nevertheless, this ability is temporary.
We can acquire certain kinds of knowledge and skills at specific times in life. This is what states the Critical Period Hypothesis. I think it is true as well. When we are children, our ability to learn is unlimited. We can learn two or three language effortless during our childhood if we are exposed to those languages. According to the cognitivist/developmental perspective, human beings acquire language from experience. The psychologists of this perspective also claims that humans have an innate ability to learn, but they give more importance to the environment.
We acquire a language by interacting with other people and objects. I totally agree with them. Our brain has the power to acquire the language; but if we don’t stimulate it, it wouldn’t work at its total capacity. The purpose to acquire a language is to communicate through that language, and the best way to do that is through interacting with the language. We acquire a language interacting with people who speak that language. Vygotsky an exponent of the cognitivist perspective, states that social interaction is the best way to develop the language.
While we are interacting with other people, we learn a lot of things such as language itself, culture, language into a context, etc. Connectionists, on the other hand, “explain language acquisition in terms of how children acquire links or ‘connections’ between word and phrases and the situation in which they occur” (Lightbown P. and Spada N. , 23). Connectionists say that as we are exposed to a language, we are creating links between words and objects, between phrases and situations, and between phrases and contexts in which these were said.
That is how we build up our knowledge and therefore a language. I think they are right. When we hear a word, we immediately make a picture of that word. For instance, when we hear the word “house,” what we start to imagine a house. If we hear “a big, beautiful house,” we change our picture of a normal house to a big, beautiful house which can have a pool included. The sociocultural perspective has a similar idea to Vygotsky’s idea. We learn through interacting in a social environment. Sociocultural theory [states that] speaking and thinking [are] tightly interwoven. Speaking mediate thinking, which means that people can gain control over their mental process as consequence of internalizing what others say to them and what they say to others” (Lightbown P. and Spada N. , 47). Through social activity, we can start controlling our brains and start thinking in the language that we are learning. Nowadays, teachers are more concern about learning how human beings acquire a language in order to teach a second language.
There are different kinds of perspectives or theories about how human beings learn a first and a second language. I have taken my time to analyze each one of them. However, I can say that I agree with the sociocultural perspective, connectionist, and cognitivist. Each one of them has one thing in common, and it is the social interaction. We cannot learn or acquire a language without interacting with people who speak that language. It’s true that we can learn a lot of grammar rules, sentence patterns, and structures by ourselves.
Nonetheless, a language is not only composed by grammar rules but by their different usages. Pronunciation and pragmatics are two very important issues in learning a second language. The pronunciation of a word is very important so that we can communicate and be understood. Also, one word can have different meanings depending on the contexts. The only way to learn those aspects is through interacting with people. We should not feel embarrassed about making childish mistakes. We are leaning a new language that is very different from our tongue mother.
Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the mistakes that we commit learning a language are the same mistakes that a native speaker committed when he was a child. Finally, I disagree with behaviorism and with the innatist perspective. The first one is against my ideas because we are not only memory. We are thinking beings. We don’t only learn through memorizing words or phrases. We have a brain and the capacity to acquire a language. We are born with an innate ability to acquire a language that is what I agree with the innatist perspective. On the other hand, Chomsky’s ideas about a universal grammar in our brains is what I disagree. Without interaction with the environment, we cannot develop that language.
Cook, Vivian. “The Relationship between First and Second Language Learning Revisited. ” Ntlworld. n. p, 2010. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. Cook, Vivian. “Differences between L1 and L2 acquisition. ” Ntlworld. n. p, 2009. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. Cook, Vivian. “First and second language learning. ” Ntlworld. n. p, n. d. Web. 07 Nov. 2012. Lightbown, P. and Nina Spada. How language are learned. New York: Oxford University Press. 2007. Print.