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What Is Second Language Acquisition?

A street sign in English and Chinese. Someone who has Chinese as a first language might learn English as his second.
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  • Written By: S. McCumber
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Image By: Guillaume Baviere
  • Last Modified Date: 30 July 2014
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Second language acquisition refers to the ability to speak a language other than one’s native tongue. There are several ways to acquire a second language, including classroom instruction, audio aids, language software and immersion. People choose second language acquisition for a variety of personal and business reasons.

Humans normally learn language during their formative years through hearing it spoken and receiving feedback on their attempts to emulate it. This type of immersion works well with the very young because they have fewer needs and their communication requirements are limited. Learning this way as an adult can be effective but it is more difficult because of practical concerns that require an adult be able to communicate effectively for a wide range reasons.

Second language acquisition sometimes is achieved at a young age when there two different languages are spoken in a household. There usually is one language that is considered the primary language of the household. The second language may be picked up by a child in the home to varying degrees depending on who is speaking the language, how often it is heard and how often it is required to be used by the child.

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Many adults choose formal instruction to aid in second language acquisition. Classes in most major languages can be found at area colleges or community centers. Classroom instruction is generally weighted toward teaching the language through grammar analysis and reading and writing the language. Students are also taught to speak and hear the second language, though conversational fluency is sometimes sacrificed in a classroom setting.

Computer software is a contemporary tool in second language acquisition. Software designed to teach a language uses many visual and audio clues to help the student achieve conversational fluency. Most software also allows for analysis of the student’s pronunciation to provide feedback and correction.

Immersion learning is an effective form of second language acquisition. It follows a pattern similar to that used by children learning to speak in that it relies heavily on context and feedback. Language students can attempt immersion learning by living in an area where the second language is spoken as a primary language or by attending functions where the language is spoken extensively.

People have many reasons to learn a second language. Businesses that cater to ethnic markets often seek out employees who are bilingual and can speak both the primary language of the business home and the language of the market it serves. Second language acquisition is also useful for people who wish to converse with relatives or friends who speak a different language. Others choose to learn a second language to read literature or watch films written in the language or to help them communicate when they travel abroad.

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