Applied Linguistics

Difference between first and second language acquisition

First Language Acquisition

First language acquisition (FLA) actually refers to infants’ acquisition of their native language. They acquire language through a subconscious process and are unaware of grammar rules. Children do usually not require explicit instruction to learn their first language (FL). They just pick up the language, the same way they learn how to roll over, crawl, and walk.

Moreover, children may acquire more than one (FL). For example, children who grow up in a house where parents speak only the English language will acquire only English. However, children who grow up in a bilingual household (say French and English) will learn both languages.

Theories of (FLA)

There are several theories of LA, all of them describing how a child learns a language. In the Behaviorist approach, which was mainly expounded by B.F.Skinner, LA is a process of experience and language is a conditioned behavior – a production of correct responses to stimuli. According to this theory, children learn language step by step: imitation – repetition – memorization – controlled drilling – reinforcement. However, limitations of this behaviorist approach led to the development of Nativist or Innateness theory, which states that children are born with an innate capacity to learn a language. Difference between first and second language acquisition

Noam Chomsky, the main figure in this theory, originally theorized that children are born with a LAD  in their brains. He later modified this theory to include the theory of Universal Grammar, a set of innate principles common to all languages. According to this theory, the LAD in children’s brains allows them to deduce the structure of their native language through exposure to the language.

Cognitive theory is another theory explaining LA. According to this approach, LA must be viewed in the context of children’s intellectual development and environment. This also focuses on exploring the relationship between the stages of cognitive development and language skills.

Second Language Acquisition (SLA)

(SLA) is learning a second language after the first language is already learned. Anyone can learn a second language, but children usually find it easier. In fact, this is a process of learning; learning occurs actively and consciously through explicit instruction and education.

Moreover, according to the linguist Stephen Krashen, SLA occurs in five stages: preproduction (silent phase), early production, speech emergence, intermediate fluency, and advanced fluency.

Preproduction – At this stage, learners learn terms of the new language and practice them.

Early Production – Learners can speak in short phrases of one or two phrases. They also collect new words.

Speech Emergence – At this stage, learners know thousands of words and can communicate using simple questions and phrases.

Immediate Fluency – Learners have an advanced vocabulary and can use more complicated sentence structures. They can also share their opinions and thoughts.

Advanced Fluency – By this stage, learners will finally have several years of experience, and can function at a level close of native speakers. Difference between first and second language acquisition



FLA is children’s acquisition of their native language, while SLA is learning a language after acquiring the mother tongue.


While FLA is a subconscious process, SLA occurs actively and consciously.

Education and Instruction

FLA does not require explicit instructions or education, while SLA requires explicit instruction and education.

Native-like Fluency

Since FLA involves acquiring the native language, speakers are fluent in their FL. However, it is often difficult to reach a native-like fluency with the second language.


LA is the process through which humans gain the ability to be aware of language and to understand it as well as to produce and use words and sentences to communicate. FLA is children’s acquisition of their native language, while SLA is learning a language after acquiring the FL. Moreover, FLA is a subconscious process, while SLA is an active and conscious process. This is the main difference between FL and SLA

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