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The Other Tongue

Language is a body of words, and a set of methods of combining them to be understood by a community and used as a form of communication or exchange of information. It is therefore an integral part of life, culture, and living. The word tongue is sometimes used in place of language. Therefore, the words mother tongue, native tongue, mother language, native language, and first language all refer to the language one first learned or the language one grew up with. On the other hand, any language that is spoken by someone which is not a person’s first language is regarded as a second language. Therefore, in my opinion, a person’s second language can be regarded as the half-sister of the mother tongue. This article explores the natural acquisition of a second language, and the lasting effects it has on an individual.


Again, we begin with a short case study:

Necessity was placed on Cynthia to learn the language of her new environment for healthier and effective communication and also for proper integration into the life and norms of her new community. This decision and process seem to be more important because she intends to live a larger part if not the rest of her life there. Besides, Cynthia is such an amazing and interesting young lady who makes friends easily. For these and her interactive nature, she chose to be deliberate with her learning and as well catch fun as she progressed. Her zeal and passion made the indigenes intentional by engaging her with the language at every available opportunity. 


The study and process of how individuals acquire a second language is called second language learning. The language to be learned is referred to as L2 or target language, as against L1 which means first language acquired. The term second language is generally used to refer to any language learned by an individual besides the first language (mother tongue). However, this is different from the situation of bilingual learning in which a child acquires two languages simultaneously from childhood. This is obtainable in a situation whereby the parents or any member of the household speak two different languages. Therefore, the term second language acquisition is only applicable when another language is acquired or learned after the first language. 


Although the word acquisition is used to stress the non-conscious nature of the learning process, learning and acquisition are commonly used as synonyms in recent times. The idea of second language acquisition is also used when an individual learns the third, fourth, or fifth language and even more as the case may be. For clarity, the goal of learning a second language is usually to acquire a native-like fluency which simply results in bilingualism. So, it is not the process of bilingualism. Learning a foreign language is a typical example of learning a second language because it comprises the basic processes obtainable although in different situations.


A common phenomenon that progressively develops during the process of learning a second language is interlanguage.  Interlanguage occurs when aspects of the learner’s native language are unconsciously integrated into the new language he is attempting to acquire, the way learners acquire elements of a new language remains constant irrespective of the learner’s background or strength of prior language instruction. Nonetheless, the language(s) that learners already know can significantly influence the process of learning a new language. This influence is called language transfer.


The extent of interaction and engagement, how connected the learner is to the community of the second language, as well as the gender of the learner are some of the crucial societal factors that impact second language acquisition. Likewise, individual factors such as age and learning strategies can affect the acquisition as some persons can lose the ability to comprehensively learn a language after a specific age in childhood. Personality, motivation, anxiety, and social attitudes are emotions that also influence acquisition.


The use of a second language is undoubtedly common with the diversity of mankind which is very much evident in the way individuals use their first and second language.  Some use the second language so skillfully as though that is the only language they can communicate with, whereas, some first language users are more confident displaying their competence even when their first language is not the native language of their parents. In this case, the native language of the parents is usually a local or substandard language variety. 

So, the children are not interested in learning it. This they do with the assistance and support of their parents who do not expose them to the language at all, nor make them see any reason it is important to learn it.  However, some individuals have the same command of a first and second language with almost the same level of competence, and they engage in both languages equally. More so, any level of use counts regardless of how small or seemingly ineffective it is.


The development of a first language is proportionally fast compared to the acquisition of a second language. However, the rate of development is not always the same in two or more first or second-language users. It is important to mention that, it is not all second language learners that are successful. This can be responsible for incomplete or poor grammatical knowledge even after many years of exposure to the new language. Consequently, incomplete grammatical knowledge can result in the abuse of the language with the long-term effect of generating an inferior version of the language. 

Second language learners can attain the level of competence and proficiency of a native speaker, even though such learners undoubtedly represent an extremely small fraction of those who start learning a second language. Therefore, to attain the level of competence and proficiency of a native speaker, a learner must be deliberate and determined to actively engage in the new language continuously.


To sum up, the notion of a second language implies that the learner has a first language before considering the acquisition of another one which usually results in bilingualism. Also, the use of the term second language bears two perspectives: the acquisition of the second language as well as the mastery to attain the level of fluency of a native speaker. In other words, the notion of a second language refers to the chronology of language learning and the level of language command in comparison with a primary or dominant language. In this second sense, ‘second language’ points to a lower level of actual or believed proficiency. Therefore, the word 'second' also means ‘weaker’ or ‘secondary’.



Do you speak any other languages in addition to your mother tongue?

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Tags: #L1 #secondlanguageacquisition #SLA L2 #secondlanguagelearning


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