Stages of Second Language Acquisition

Learning a second language involves various stages that language learners experience. My experience learning English as a second language involved positive and negative sentiments. For this reason, second language acquisition stages are essential to understanding and recognizing.

Many people often discuss the benefits of learning a language, but few can recognize or identify the stages that a language learner experiences learning a target language. If you or your child is learning a language, it may help to know the stage you or your child may be experiencing. This article discusses the 5 stages of second language acquisition.

second language acquisition
Second Language Acquisition

5 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

Many publications and researchers discuss and reference the stages of second language acquisition as a 7 to 10-year process. However, for newcomers, second language acquisition is not the only challenge they experience. For instance, English language learners must also learn to navigate a new school, classmates, teachers, and administrators.

As a new ESL student, I felt anxious during my first few school days. I recall being afraid to speak in English during the first weeks of school. However, each time I got to use my native language, I felt some relief. This was because I knew I understood when I used my native language.

Students learning a language experience several stages of language acquisition during the language development process. For this reason, the stages of language acquisition vary and depend on an individual’s prior language experience.

Research about second language acquisition indicates that language learners benefit from using their native language. For example, the use of a native language facilitates second language learning. However, not every language learner can use their native language while learning a second language.

What influences second language acquisition?

There are various factors that influence second language acquisition. For example, educational background and native language proficiency are critical factors. However, a solid educational foundation allows learners to cope and easily acquire another language. This is because they have the experience of learning in an academic environment. As a result, these kids can transfer what they learn during the second language acquisition process.

Native language proficiency will also play an essential role in language learning. Subsequently, a well-developed first language facilitates learning a second language. This is because a child uses their first language learning experience to learn another language strategically.

The experience of learning a second language may also vary over time. The following stages describe how a person acquires a language. Learners progress through five predictable stages described below.


Preproduction Stage of Language Acquisition

At the pre-production stage, a student cannot speak the target language. In other words, this stage is often called the silent period. It is called the silent period because a child cannot yet use what s/he understands.

However, at this stage, a learner cannot yet speak but begins to understand more language slowly. This includes basic words such as “hello, come here.” He/she may also be able to say simple words.

What can the child do?DurationTeacher / Parent Prompts
• Has minimal comprehension
• Does not verbalize
• Nods “Yes” and “No”
• Draws and points
0 – 6 months• Show me. . .
• Circle the. . .
• Where is. . . ?
• Who has. . . ?
Source: Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and
Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983).

Early Production Stage of Language Acquisition

Meanwhile, in the early production second language acquisition stage, a child begins to speak using more words and sentences. The student focuses on listening and absorbing the new language. When speaking, many language errors may occur.

A learner begins to use short sentences such as “how are you.” Additionally, s/he may understand short sentences and be able to answer using single words such as “fine or good.”

What can the child do?DurationTeacher / Parent Prompts
• Produces one- or two-word
responses
• Has limited comprehension
• Participates using keywords
and familiar phrases
• Uses present-tense verbs
6m – 1 year• Yes/no questions
• Either/or questions
• One- or two-word answers
• Lists
• Labels
Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and
Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983)

Speech Emergent Stage of Language Acquisition

At the speech emergence stage, a student has good comprehension. Additionally, learners can produce simple sentences, use more phrases, and ask questions. However, grammatical and pronunciation errors are often made during this stage.

The learner engages in more conversations but is conscious of their language learning process. Interpreting happens for a shorter period of time because language becomes more fluent. However, jokes and idioms are only sometimes understood.

What can the child do?DurationTeacher / Parent Prompts
• Has good comprehension
• Can produce simple
sentences
• Makes grammar and
pronunciation errors
• Frequently misunderstands jokes
1 – 3 years• Why. . . ?
• How. . . ?
• Explain. . .
• Phrase or short-sentence
answers
Source: Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and
Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983)

Intermediate Fluency Stage

A learner communicates and writes using more complex sentences during the intermediate fluency stage. As a result, a student has excellent comprehension skills. In addition, they engage in academic learning more independently.

In this stage, you’ll see fewer grammatical and pronunciation errors. As a result, students are much more comfortable using the language. Additionally, less interpreting happens in the brain to communicate and understand.

What can the child do?DurationTeacher / Parent Prompts
• Has excellent comprehension
• Makes few grammatical errors
3-5 years• What would happen if. . . ?
• Why do you think. . . ?
Source: Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and
Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983)

Advanced Fluency Stage of Language Acquisition

Once a language learner reaches advanced fluency, they have acquired a near-native level of speech. At this moment, a language learner masters academic language. In addition, language use becomes automatic.

Although grammatical errors are no longer an issue, pronunciation errors may occur. These pronunciation errors may occur because of an accent. An accent may appear depending on the age at which language learning began.

What can the child do?DurationTeacher / Parent Prompts
The student has a near-native
level of speech.
5-7 years• Decide if. . .
• Retell. . .
Source: Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and
Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983)

Navigating the Culmination of the 5 Stages of Second Language Acquisition

The stages of language acquisition are the predictable stages that language learners experience. It is important to remember that parents and teachers play an essential role in the language development process. Recognizing and understanding these stages helps facilitate a child’s language experience.

A critical factor during second language acquisition is a student’s awareness of the language development process. This is because a person’s awareness facilitates and contributes to language growth. Consider sharing these second language acquisition stages with language learners to support their learning experience.

References

  • Classroom instruction that works with English language learners / Jane Hill and Kathleen Flynn, Source: Adapted from Krashen and Terrell (1983)

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