Second Language and the Learning Process

Second language (abbreviated as L2) refers to any language learnt by speakers after the native language, also known as mother tongue.  It can also be considered referred to a foreign language particularly when it is introduced to non-native speakers (Davies, 2007). Acquisition of second language has therefore raised a lot of concern on when it should occur to help majority to learn it easily. Kurhila (2006) argues that the order in which learners acquire different grammatical structures in the second language does not change compared to the first language. However, he states that the variation among individuals’ acquisition of the second language depends on the nature of the first language (Kurhila, 2006). This article is set to establish if indeed the earlier a second language is introduced in school programs, the greater the likelihood of success in learning. Second language acquisition in the learning process is a subject that has led to several studies which will be highlighted in this paper.

Literature Review

Several studies have been done on the second language and the process involved in the acquisition of it. Saraswathi (2004) argues that there are similarities and difference between first language (L1) and second language (L2) acquisition. He asserts that L2 teaching methods recap L1 acquisition and that learning L2 reactivates the process by which L1 was learnt. It is important to note that the term learning is used for L2 while the term acquisition is used for L1. He further enumerates factors that can facilitate the learning of the second language. Saraswathi (2004) maintains that creating exposure to a language provides learners with opportunities to use the language more often in providing an atmosphere that relieves learners of any tension, developing a tolerant attitude to errors made by the students, and correcting all mistakes made by learners promptly facilitates the learning of the second language. Saraswati (2004) also states the factors affecting second language learning such as social context which leads to attitude that appears in the learners as motivation that joins with other factors such as age, personality, capabilities and previous knowledge, moreover, the whole concept explains how the learner uses his learning opportunities to master the second language (Saraswathi, 2004).

Kurhila (2006) found out that the empirical work on L2 speech talk has been largely on language acquisition in which psycholinguistic and mental orientation towards language have taken preeminence. Furthermore, L2 acquisition takes place in a social setting, and the object of inquiry is still the internal mental process, the acquisition of knew knowledge (Kurhila, 2006). His studies shows that learning the second language is affected by the background of the student and that is why teachers tend to study the experience of the student in terms the first language, medical conditions and the circumstances in which they live (Kurhila, 2006).

Davies’ 2007 research on second language acquisition states that the L2 acquisition began in a very traditional applied linguistics way by investigating the problem of learners’ errors. Both teachers and language learners are aware that an error in learning a language is a common phenomenon (Davies, 2007). The applied linguistic contribution in the explanation of error in learning the second language is by analysis of the error as confusion between one or more components of L2 and by looking at the system of error without seeking causes.  Moreover, L2 learning outcome has shifted from being an applied linguistic exercise to a linguistic activity making it a natural process in which a language once studied should be formalized (Davies, 2007). 

In his study about the optimum age in which one should learn a second language, Davies (2007) wonders how and where the second language should be learnt, at what level to learn it, who is supposed to teach it and for what purpose, he states that the question about the optimum age can be answered through an approach called the critical period view. This considers the developmental changes in the brain at puberty and how the changes influence the way a child learns. Before puberty a child is able to acquire a language as a native speaker and afterwards he is capable of learning in a more intellectual way by mastering the second language (Davies, 2007). He then proposes that if the critical period point of view could be true then the universal optimum age for starting to learn the second language should be as early as possible to enable the acquisition as a native speaker (Davies, 2007). However, he summarizes his argument by suggesting that there may be no optimum age since adults can learn more efficiently and quickly compared to children. Therefore, one could wonder if at all introducing a second language in the early stages results to a success in the learning process.

Results and Discussion

The study carried out by Saraswathi (2004) showed that students tend to learn the second language more efficiently at an early age majorly through behavioral approach. According to behaviorists, language learning is a behavior not a mental phenomenon (Saraswathi, 2004). He states the Littlewood features of behaviorism, which includes imitation done by children when they hear sounds and patterns, the children repeat the sounds and patterns until they become as habits (Saraswathi, 2004). This true phenomenon enables students to learn the second language easily at an early age, for instance, learning English is accompanied by listening English songs thus facilitating the learning process, albeit the nature of the first language (L1).

According to Kurhila (2006), nature of the first language affects the child’s ability to master the grammar, spelling and pronunciation of the words in the second language. Therefore, he emphasizes that interaction with the language more often eases the learning process because the problem lies between the learner and the language (Kurhila, 2006). If the learner spends more time to study and meditate on the words, than more words become part of his language. Consequently, starting studying the language at an early stage of learning enables student to learn the second language pretty well. This is supported by the fact that when second language speakers converse with the native speakers, both are likely to benefit because transactions can easily take place among them, treatment at health centers is easy, and getting employment is made possible (Kurhila, 2006). 

Considering the argument of Davies (2007) that learning a language has no optimum age and that both children and adults have almost the same probability of learning a second language, one can look at this phenomenon in two perspectives. First it may be true that there is no age limit in learning a new language because professional educators and administrators argue that spending longer hours learning a language and beginning to learn a second language at an early stage is not necessarily beneficial (Davies, 2007). On the other hand, introducing the second language earlier in the school program is extremely rewarding in terms of the learner development because children tend to master the words very fast. This facilitates the learning process and alleviates the problem of language barrier in the future. The same mechanism applies to adults who enroll for language lessons to accomplish a task either at the workplace or in the political world (Dekeyser, 2007). In addition, “learning second language at an early age can leads to the decay of first language among children, especially if the children are coming from a minority group” (Baker, 2011).


Second Language is considered as the secondary language after mother tongue. It makes communication possible, especially between people speaking different primary languages (first language). Kurhila (2006) argues that factors such as nature of the first language, health condition of an individual, and the background of the student hinders learning of the second language. It is clear that introducing second language earlier in the school program ensures success in the learning process. Reaching the level of proficiency in speaking the second language needs the learning process to start early enough for the learner to accrue optimal benefits. Although, adults can also learn second language at different stages of life, learning it at an early stage facilitates perfect mastery of grammar, pronunciation and spelling. Competency in language speaking is always preceded by a series of practice and meditation hence starting at an early age, especially through the guidance of the teachers, results into language proficiency (Baker, 2011).

Second language proficiency can also be achieved by introducing novel reading in classes. For instance, English as a second language to non-native speakers can best be taught by introducing English novels to the learners. More often than not, students are encouraged to read the novels by noting the difficult words and checking the words in the dictionary in order to know when and where to use them. Memorization and recitation of poems also facilitates learning of the second language, as do storytelling and singing, particularly in younger children below the age of ten. In a nutshell, timely introduction of a second language into the school programs increase the success rates of learning within the learning institutions.

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