Comparing and Contrasting First and Second Language Acquisition

When is the best time to learn a second language? How fantastic it would be to learn a second language as successfully as we acquired our first language. As globalization progresses across the world, numerous studies on the acquisition of a second language have been studied. By comparing and contrasting the processes of acquisition for both a first and second language in this research, we can learn something about the optimum time for one to learn a second language.

There are four types of comparison and contrast. The first type is the difference between children and adults acquiring their first language. This is actually meaningless because most adults learn the first language when they were young. The second type is the difference between children who are acquiring their first and second language. The third type operates the differences about second language acquisition between children and adults. The last type is the most common and important part of comparison. It is about children’s first language acquisition and adults’ second language acquisition. Therefore, it is logical to make out what the differences and similarities of language acquisition process of children and adults based on the last three types.

In order to compare and contrast first and second language acquisition, we can look at psychomotor, cognitive, affective, linguistic and neurological considerations. Psychomotor considerations concern muscle control, and in regards to first and second language acquisition relate to the development of speech muscles that allow one to control complex sounds determining pronunciation and accent. Cognitive considerations concern an individual’s course of intellectual development, and hold several areas to compare first and second language acquisition. For example, an adult learning a second language could benefit from grammatical explanations and deductive thinking, whereas a child learning a first or second language would not. Affective considerations concern emotions. Linguistic considerations concern the differences and potential dissonance between the first and second language being learned. However, the most interesting set of considerations, and the focus of this article, is neurological.

Neurological considerations concern the brain, and the functions of each of the left and right hemispheres of the brain. One major area of focus is lateralization, the process where certain functions are assigned to a specific hemisphere of the brain, which occurs as the brain matures and is related to the critical period hypothesis. It is believed that once this process is complete, the brain has lost much of its plasticity, and the critical period to learn a second language has passed. We can investigate this theory by comparing and contrasting using the three identified types.

Neurologically, if we compare and contrast the process of children learning their first language and second language, we see there is no difference. However if we compare and contrast the process of children and adults learning their second language, there are many neurological differences. Children that have not yet passed the critical period, considered to be around puberty, are especially able to achieve authentic pronunciation. Adults can develop a second language by learning grammar structures and are able to achieve communicative fluency. In Korea most parents want their children start to learn English as early as possible to get authentic pronunciation. If we compare and contrast the process of children learning their first language and adults learning their second language, the neurological differences are largely identical. Children are able to pick up their language, whereas adults benefit from their cognitive advantages over children and learn through rules and deductive way of thinking.

There are advantages and disadvantages to learning a language with both an immature and a mature brain. If we have the chance to study as a young child, the ability to speak with an authentic accent is a bonus, but these days communicative fluency is more important. So the best time to learn a second language is now. By comparing and contrasting the acquisition processes of one’s first and second language it is clear that despite various differences, one can learn a second language whether young or old.

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