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Differences between First Language Acquisition and Second Language Acquisition


The paper discusses the understanding of the diversification between first language acquisition and second language acquisition. Certain aspects make second language acquisition different from first language acquisition. This essay writing service describes the variation present in the second language acquisition process and aims to explain the differences between first language acquisition and second language acquisition. The present paper discusses the variation between language acquisition and language learning. It goes on to consider characteristic features of first and second language learners. The differences are predominantly based on acquisition hypotheses, age of acquisition (neurological factors, psychomotor factors, and affective factors), differences in input, duration of process, fossilisation, environment, phonology, lexical development, existence of context, cultural influence, possibility to choose language variety, necessity of practice, and possible success.

Language Acquisition

Language acquisition is defined as‘a language studying process, which can be either native or foreign’ (Hyams, 2012). The term‘first language acquisition’ is often mistakenly applied to those studying a foreign language, where the term‘second language acquisition’ is appropriate. The term‘acquisition’ describes“the subconscious process of understanding and forming language through all facets” (Spikrin, 2005). Language acquisition is an innate ability and is a characteristic of all children, regardless of their nationality, level of civilisation, etc. Implicit learning facilitates acquisition, as it occurs subconsciously. In acquiring a first language, explicit instructions are not required, as infants‘pick up’ the language, learning at the same time as learning to roll over, crawl, and walk, alongside other skills (Bowles& Montrul, 2008).

Language Learning

Compared to first language acquisition, second language acquisition is the process of learning a second language in humans. The critical ability to learn a new, additional language is present in all humans; however, some are better at learning a second language than others. Adults and older children have the capacity to learn multiple second languages. In contrast to first language acquisition, second language acquisition is a conscious and active procedure with the help of education and explicit instruction. Older children and adults are over the critical period, so they need explicit teaching of the second language (Muñoz, 2010 ). In order to learn languages, instructors should provide explicit opportunities to speak and listen to second languages. Get expert's advice and order assignment help

Age of Acquisition

A re-examined theory by Ioup et al. (1994) is the Critical Period Hypothesis. This theory suggests that there are certain ages which are biologically determined for acquiring language. According to Lenneberg (2007), there is a critical age at which language is acquired easily, and beyond this time it is difficult to acquire. He argues that diverse capabilities mature according to the assigned schedule. This period is called the critical age, which ranges from age 2 to 12 for L1. For L2, however, there is no specific critical age. The ability to acquire language during the critical period and the difficulty of studying it beyond this can be explained by following factors.

Neurological factors

The differences between neurological factors in acquiring first and second languages are based on brain lateralisation. As per Ahlsen (2006), the two hemispheres of the brain have different functions. The left hemisphere is predominantly responsible for logic, analytics, and language; however, the right hemisphere is responsible for identification of emotions and faces. According to Scovel (1998), the lateralisation process and second language acquisition are associated. It has been commonly reported that the role of the right hemisphere is more involved in L2 processing than in L1 processing. Similarly, L1 is directly associated with the left hemisphere.

Psychomotor factors

Psychomotor factors explain the difficulties through which native-like pronunciation is acquired. In first language acquisition, the speech muscles are still developing until the age of 5 and maintain flexibility until puberty, which assists L1 acquisition to a native-like level. Cook (2013)  suggests that this flexibility helps children in acquiring their first language. However, in second language acquisition that happens after puberty, the flexibility of speech muscles is reduced, as a result of which the acquisition of native-like pronunciation becomes much more difficult like dissertation writing.

Process Duration

The duration of the processes for L1 and L2 acquisition are also different. It is commonly observed that first language acquisition is rather quicker than second language acquisition. The reason behind this is that acquisition of a first language is an instinctive process that children undergo. However, in second language acquisition, the time interval can vary, because it depends on the time and age at which the process starts.


Fossilisation is a process, only applicable to second language acquisition, that makes language learning a more difficult task. Fossilisation includes numerous conditions, divided into groups. One is the desire to study, which entails the desire of learners to learn language generally, or assumes that the learner wishes to articulate sounds accurately. Another group is based on communicative conditions, which include learners’ desire to communicate with people who have lower levels of language acquisition or have no opportunities to communicate at all. Due to the fact that this is restricted to second language acquisition, it only increases the difficulty of L2 compared to L1.


According to the Comprehensible Output Hypothesis given by Swain (1985), exposure to a target language plays a significant part in language acquisition, as it motivates the learner to communicate and produce understandable output. The environments for L1 and L2 are different, as the classroom environment of L2 is completely different from the first language acquisition environment. L1 has constant immersion and contextualised, appropriate, and meaningful communication compared to L2. L1 learners are around native speakers and have exposure to first language input, which results favourably for them. In contrast, for second language acquisition, hearing and speaking is often limited to a few hours. Exposure is insufficient and sometimes also of poor quality. Second language learners are mostly dependent on following a syllabus, while first language learners have no imposed syllabus.

Cultural Influence

According to the Constructivist theory, it is necessary to provide social support networks along with innate mechanisms. According to Bruner (1960) as cited by Ambridge& Lieven (2007), early exposure is necessary for the child to learn the language better. Cultural influence has a direct effect on L1 acquisition, as this provides the relevant environment necessary for using and understanding the language. In L2, cultural influence is absent but has the opportunity to be created artificially. The process of acculturation requires both social and psychological adaptation.

Opportunity to Choose the Language Variety

Second language acquisition provides an opportunity to select any language, whilst in first language acquisition the choice is restricted, since children are born into a specific environment.

Necessity of Practice

Due to varying capacity for learning, learners are required to practice more in L2, but the acquisition of L1 is an instinctual and innate process which usually cannot be forgotten. Special circumstances such as stroke, dementia, or brain trauma can cause an individual to lose L1, but otherwise it does not need any practice or further training.Probability of Success. This makes the probability of success also differ between L1 and L2. The success rate for native languages is 100%, in contrast to second language acquisition, which requires effort, and success is not assured (Leaver, 2005).

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