Stages of Second Language Acquisition

By Julio Foppoli

Many students often worry or complain about their inability to produce spoken (and sometimes written) language. They have studied a language for 6 months or even longer and they can produce just a few words and phrases. Usually, even teachers feel their students are not making as much progress as they should. After all, they say, they have been practicing patterns, drills, even some conversations in class but nevertheless, although their students can understand many things, when it comes to producing them on their own, they are at a loss.

The good news is, this is not bad or undesirable at all! It is part of a four-step language acquisition process that could be broken into:

1) The Silent Period: in this stage, most students understand more than they can produce. They can understand when someone talks to them but they cannot express their ideas in the same way. They can answer “yes” or “no.”

2) Early Production: learners can answer some “yes” or “no” questions,they use repetitive language patterns to express ideas and they try to express concepts by using one or two words only. They cannot find the words to make complete sentences.
It is important to bear in mind that comprehension precedes production. This is especially true in Second Language Acquisition. You can always understand more of a language then you can produce.

3) Speech emergence: in this stage, learners can communicate with simple phrases and sentences. They will ask simple questions that may or may not be grammatically correct. It is common to see thay they will start some short conversations.

4) Intermediate Fluency: at this stage, learners are using more complex sentences when speaking and writing. They can express opinions and share their thoughts. They also have the ability to formulate questions in order to ask for clarification.

5)Advanced Fluency: a student at this stage will be near-native in their ability to perform in the second language, although there may be some gaps specially when it comes to idiomatic uses of the language.

It goes without saying that this article is not exhaustive and actually whole books could be written on each of these stages and that my intention while writing this article was to present the lay reader with a glimpse of the different stages of this captivating topic.

By being aware of these stages, you can feel confident about your learning process and you can lower your anxiety levels if you feel you cannot express exactly what you have in mind. Time is your ally here!

If you need more info on the topic, just Google the following keywords “stages of second language acquisition.” You are way on your way to learning about your own learning!



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