Kristen has been an educator for 25+ years - as a classroom teacher, a school administrator, and a university instructor. She holds a doctorate in Education Leadership.
Language Develops in Stages
If you're trying to acquire a new language, whether for fun or out of necessity, you'll discover that second language learning comes with many difficulties that must be overcome. Language develops in stages, and these stages are different for the first language and the second. Let's take a close look at these stages.
Stages of L1 Development
L1 refers to a person's first language. It's the language most prevalent in the home as learners are growing up and the first language used for communication. There are several stages in the development of L1 that virtually all children will go through as they learn to use the language. These stages include:
- Cooing (2-4 months of age), which involves the simple act of making sounds and noises. Toward the end of this stage, children will develop the ability to laugh.
- Pre-linguistic, also known as babbling (6-8 months of age), involves the creation of simple sounds, but children are more able to control the sounds they make . They're learning to make sounds they choose to make and when they choose to make them.
- Holophrastic (9-18 months of age), which is the stage when children are able to utter one-word responses, although they can understand more. They learn to communicate this way and are able to explain wants and needs using one-word utterances.
- Two-word production (18-24 months of age) is when children begin using two-word utterances and even simple sentences. They're able to use these simple sentences to convey meaning. An example might be, ''More milk'' or ''Mama, up.''
- Telegraphic (24-30 months of age), which involves children creating sentences that involve more than just a couple of words. Sentences convey meaning, but lack proper use of grammar or other basic language rules. Because these sentences often appear broken in nature, they are likened to messages sent via telegraph: for example, ''Me want eat'' or ''Mama go bed.''
- And lastly, the multi-word stage (after 30 months of age), which is when the development of language begins to grow exponentially. The final stage in development has children putting together multi-word sentences for the sake of communication. As they grow, their sentences will begin to follow proper rules of grammar and syntax and will become increasingly complex.
Stages of L2 Development
L2 refers to a second language. This is a language that 's learned after and in addition to L1. Just like with L1, L2 develops in stages, including:
- Pre-production, also called the silent stage, where there is more understanding of the language than actual use. Comprehension is still minimal and there's a lot of use of gestures and other forms of nonverbal communication. This stage can last up to six months.
- Early production, in which comprehension is still limited, but a learner is able to use one- and two-word utterances to convey meaning. Present tense use is most common. This stage can last from six months up to a full year.
- Speech emergence, which happens from the first through third years of L2 acquisition. During this stage, learners are beginning to comprehend more and are able to use small sentences for the sake of communication. Grammar errors are still common, however, as are inconsistencies with pronunciation.
- Intermediate fluency, which takes place from the third through fifth years of L2 acquisition. Comprehension is good, and oral use of the language is also much improved. Grammar errors occur less often, and pronunciation is more fine-tuned. Errors are still common in writing, however.
- Finally, there's the stage of advanced fluency, where learners have a good handle on their L2 language. They understand well, speak with very few errors, and even possess a strong L2 vocabulary.
Influence of L1 on L2
Let's now look at how one language, in this case L1, can influence another language, namely L2. L1 can have both significant positive and negative influences on the development of L2.
When learning a second language, it is not uncommon for rules of grammar, syntax, and mechanics to transfer from L1 to L2. Once these rules have been mastered in a first language, they can often be transferred to a second language. This is called language transfer and is common between most languages. Also, depending on the languages in question, many of the basic phonemes and letter/sound relationships are comparable enough to also transfer from one language to the next.
L2 development is never easy and, in many cases, L1 can get in the way of the development of L2. In some cases, language transfer gets muddled, causing more of a misunderstanding than anything. Learners often have a hard time switching from one language to another and can sometimes confuse parts of each language. Confusion between languages is especially common when the learner is trying to achieve complete mastery of L2.
Unfortunately, learning a second language isn't easy. There are several challenges that might get in the way. As noted, for example, a person's first language can easily get in the way of their second. There will often be a natural tendency to revert back to L1 when trying to communicate in L2, and, at times, language transfer isn't as smooth as one would like it to be.
In addition, in some cases, L2 learners become dependent on others to help them as they struggle to learn the language. This dependency can slow their learning and decrease their understanding of L2. It's also worth noting that some learners adapting to a new language must also adapt to an entirely new culture at the same time (if, for example, they have moved to a place where the new language is spoken). Often times, this becomes a challenge as they learn the new language.
L1, a person's first language, and L2, a person's second language, both develop in stages.
The stages of development of L1 include:
- Pre-linguistic (or babbling)
- Holophrastic (one word utterances)
- Two-word production
- Telegraphic (small, broken sentences)
L2 stages of development include:
- Pre-production (or the silent stage)
- Early production (one- or two-word utterances)
- Speech emergence (small sentences)
- Intermediate fluency
- Advanced fluency
As L2 is learned, L1 can have both positive and negative influences on its development. Other challenges that might affect the development of L2 include the tendency to revert back to L1, dependency on others, and a new culture.
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