Contrasting First & Second Language Acquisition [1/2]

By Julio Foppoli

Julio FoppoliAs many of you may know, I have been teaching foreign languages for over 20 years now. And it is not uncommon for me to receive new learners that had been studying really hard for many years to the point at which they could be considered advanced in some skills like reading and writing, but they are almost at a beginning or intermediate stage when it comes to speaking and/ or writing.

And I am not talking about lazy students. Some of these learners have spent many hours trying to improve their weak areas either by taking additional lessons with private tutors or by buying subscriptions to expensive podcasts, websites, etc. However, despite their time and effort, they have little to show for it. This causes a lot of frustration in them to the point at which at times they doubt whether they are even cut out to learn Spanish (or any other language for the same matter)

If you’ve read any of my previous articles you should probably know by now that I am truly convinced that in most cases the problem is not the student but the type of training that they receive or the types of materials they use. If you want to find out more about this, I strongly encourage you to read some of my previous articles found here. You will find plenty of scientific information on how languages are learned and acquired.

However, my goal here today is not so much to repeat what I have mentioned before, but actually show you real samples of first language acquisition in native English speakers and also real samples of second language acquisition of people trying to learn English as a second language. 


First Language Acquisition in Action

Just watch the first minute or so of each video and pay particular attention to the way these parents talk to their babies.

VIDEO #1: Mom-Baby (1)


VIDEO #2: Mom-Baby (2)



Second Language Acquisition in Action

Now take a look at this video showing a typical scenario for students learning a second language. Pay particular attention to the way in which the teacher talks to his students:


[Think about it Is the pace of speech in this video similar to the previous three? Do you think it’s better to start slowly like this?]


This is an official Spanish proficiency exam that students take after about 4 and a half years of Spanish studies. It is for learners who are supposed to have a high level of Spanish. There is only one more level above this, so we can imagine these students taking this exam have amazing listening skills. 🙂 You can find out more by visiting their site here.

Click to listen to one of their official exams from 2013
Note: Feel free to skip forward to 2 minutes and 25 seconds where the actual Spanish recording begins

Remember, these learners are “advanced”. The vocabulary they are listening may show that, but how about their pace of speech? Do you think any native Spanish speaker will ever talk like that in a real situation? I can assure you that if any of these “advanced” learners had to understand a native Spanish speaker in a real situation they would likely begin to cry.


Continue to PART 2 (and the solution) 



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