The problem of learning languages is very important in the contemporary world. Foreign languages are socially demanded especially at present time when the progress of science and technology gas led to an explosion of knowledge and has contributed to an overflow of information. The total knowledge of mankind is known to double every 7 years. Foreign languages are needed as the main and the most efficient means of information exchange of the people on our planet.
On the base of the first (native) language people choose the second language to learn. English is on the first place. (While the most widely spread language is Chinese, as the population of this country is the highest in the world). Only then goes German, French and other languages. Over 350 million people speak English as a native language. The native speakers of English live in the USA, in Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand. English is one the official languages in the Irish Republic, Canada, the South African Republic. As the second language it is used in the former British colonies. It is the major international language for communication in such areas as science, technology, business and mass entertainment. English is also one of the official languages of the United Nations Organization and different political parties. It is the language of science, literature, education, modern music, aviation and international tourism.
How a first language is acquired and how relevant is this to the acquisition of a second language?
First language – children language
The first language acquisition means the development of language in children while the acquisition of the second language is based especially on adults. A prominent linguist Chomsky is sure that children are programmed with a difficult organized language acquisition device in their brains that is used by them since birth. That is why he supposes that children have a neurological advantage in learning foreign languages comparing with adults. All in all there is a great amount of linguistic theories about the biological and natural abilities of children to learn languages, but the only right fact is that acquiring a language is a real functional process so to say system.
Any language being a system consists of units so called words that are constructed of small sets of sounds so called slabs. All the words form simple and complex combinations, called word-combinations and sentences. Children start a long-term process of language self-teaching beginning from the simplest things – sounds. They find, catch them in a long continuous stream of adults’ words and sentences. Then they determine sounds sequence that will help them to form simple words afterwards. It is only the first step before children begin to put or to use logically the pauses between words. After passing all these stages children discover the sentences in a language, simple and wrong, but sentences. Only then children achieve success in simple grammar and other language elements.
But everything said before occurs only when a child is grown up in favorable normal conditions. I mean that all these developmental stages go one by one without being missed. There are a lot of examples of “wild” children who lived without parents, isolated, were deprived of social interaction from birth or even grown up by animals. So these children have no language skills or reproduce only indistinct sounds or animals’ voices. In 1967 Eric Lennenberg, a linguist, supposed that there is a critical period in the development of language skills in a child and if no language is learned by the age of 10 (by puberty period), it can not be learned in fully and normal functional sense. And he was right. So even after specialist training, stubborn work and intensive rehabilitation children after 10 years can remain speechless and mute. So isolation and absence of communication can lead to child’s brain degradation and unusefulness in the society.
Second language acquisition
Second language acquisition is a process, when people learn languages in addition to their native one. It means learning any foreign language after early childhood. And that is the fact that most learners compare their first (native) with the second language, trying to apply and use rules of the first language into the second one. It is commonly known that children have more opportunities to learn the second language easily. All in all childhood is the most favorable time for discovering new linguistic abilities. Children can learn languages simply only until puberty when the brain is still plastic and the functions of cerebral hemispheres are not yet broken off. While adults seldom become fluent in this or that language even being very diligent and conscientious as it is extremely difficult for them.
As there is a great amount of language-teaching techniques the results of the teaching process can be different. The effectiveness of language acquisition depends on teaching methodology and systematization. Some people choose self-teaching programs, some read books in original, listen to the cassettes. So many views, so many methods. But there is one main aim – to know the language perfectly, to develop language skills, memory in general.
A lot of people mistakenly begin learning languages with a “silent period”, comparing different word combinations to their first language. It means they don’t pronounce new for them sounds and do not catch this tuneful difference. But at the same time they memorize necessary phrases and lexical turns of speech.
According to the statistics there is one reiterative mistake. Paying attention to vocabulary (lexicon), pronunciation (phonetics and phonology) and at last grammar most learners forget about writing skills. But summing everything up I should say that the most important thing in second language acquisition is systematic measures and practice. No doubt knowledge that is based on the first language is very important and helpful, it develops imagination and logic, but learner should realize that every language is unique, interesting and thrilling itself.
Learning languages is not an easy thing. Language is an international source of communication. Second language acquisition is a long process that takes a lot of time and patience. But to know the second language today is of great demand and absolutely necessary for every educated person. All in all people who learn any foreign language should remember a very good saying of one German poet: “He who knows no foreign language does not know his own one.” To my mind it fully describes the necessary attitude to the native and foreign languages as well. All in all we should look forward and have such an experience as it is of vital importance.