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Why is it that, under normal circumstances, children learning their first language always acquire full competency while adult second language learners rarely do so?

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Question: Why is it that, under normal circumstances, children learning their first language always acquire full competency while adult second language learners rarely do so? Language acquisition is one of the most impressive and fascinating aspects of human development. Under normal circumstances, a child can acquire full competency of the first language (L1) with ease but an adult second language (L2) leaner rarely do so. This is due to the differences of learning conditions and learner characteristics of both the child and adult. Ample time We will all agree that a child acquiring L1 has more time than an adult acquiring L2. The child acquiring L1 is using the language as a basic means of communication with his caregiver(s) and friends while an adult acquiring L2 is most probably doing it out of interest or for the job requirements. They may not be using L2 it as frequent as the child using L1. The child has lots of time to practice speaking and using the language in the playground with his friends and at home with his caregiver(s). They do not think about their livelihood while acquiring L1. On the other hand, an adult acquiring L2 do not have much time to learn or use the language. ...read more.


A child acquiring L1 has the caregiver(s) and older children at the playground or school to provide the i+1 but in most cases, an adult acquiring L2 rarely has anyone to provide him with the i+1. Michael Long (1983), a modern interactionist, argues that 'modified interaction' is vital for adult acquiring L2. In Long's view, adult acquiring L2 requires opportunities to interact with competent speakers who modify their speech until the learner understands. Research has demonstrated that conversational adjustments in the form of comprehension checks, clarification requests and self-repetition or paraphrase do aid learner's comprehension of the L2. However, a L2 adult learner does not often have anyone to constantly modify speech for them. Nervousness to speak Even if there is someone who is willing to constantly modify his or her speech for the L2 learner, the L2 learner may not want to be corrected too much. In the Asian culture, 'face' is very important. An adult may not want to be corrected or be found to be incompetent and making mistakes. Therefore, he or she may not even want to practice using the L2 he is acquiring with a native L2 speaker. Krashen (2003) claims that learners with high motivation, self-confidence, a good self-image, and a low level of anxiety are better in second language acquisition. ...read more.


The formal operational stage is the most important stage when considering L1 and L2. At the later part of this stage, the child develops the ability to do formal thinking or abstraction, like an adult. An adult may feel very frustrated in not being able to use the skills they have developed from their L1 to express their thoughts in L2. Therefore, it is hard for adult L2 learner to attain full competency of the language. Cognitive psychologists working in an information-processing model of human learning and performance see L2 acquisition as the building of knowledge that can eventually be called on automatically for speaking and understanding. Norman Segawitz (2003) and others have suggested that learners have to pay attention at first to any aspect of the language they are trying to understand or produce. 'Pay attention' in this context is accepted to mean using cognitive resources to process information. However, there is a limit to how much information a learner can pay attention to. In conclusion, many theories have suggested that it is easier for children acquiring L1 than adult acquiring L2 to achieve full competency of the language. There are, of course, also many cases in which adult acquiring L2 achieved full competency and it is mainly due to the learner's open mindedness. He must be motivation to learn, not afraid to make mistakes and be corrected and find opportunities to practice using the language. ...read more.

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