The difference between language learning and language acquisition

Taking up a new language brings uneasiness to most of the learners. We often speak about learning a language though this is a process that does not only involve learning by itself. There is a difference between how we learn a language and how we acquire it. As we chose to adopt a new language, we need to consider the process just like any other skills aimed to provide us with the ability to do something well. Particularly if we need to reach a more advanced level.

Then, what do we basically mean when we say ‘to learn and’ to ‘acquire’?

Learning is connected with memorizing, studying and being informed. We learn our school subjects in that way trying to remember various facts and details in a given field of study. On the other hand, the meaning of `acquire` refers to a process when something comes into possession, something is gained through efforts or a natural flow.  For example, you can learn a poem and recite it by heart but acquiring a deeper knowledge of poetry may lead you towards the mastery of writing your own.

How we learn a language?

Things are similar with languages. Learning does not mean you will be able to communicate properly with people who speak that language.

We often learn plain grammatical rules and bunch of words we are unable to use in real situations. You may know how to compose sentences, you may even create complex construction but you may still have difficulties in applying them smoothly whether in speaking or writing. This means you have memorized partially the language but not in all language skills.

This kind of learning is typical for passing standard testing with filing in gaps or multiple choice questions because it only needs passive, conscious knowledge usually gained in a classroom.  Saying that you have learned a language does not necessarily make you good at speaking or listening-skills which require communicative approach.

How we acquire a language?

Language acquisition has a different approach. Firstly, there is an environment with an adequate context that will enable to acquire the language in the most efficient way. The best example for this is the way children learn to speak and communicate.

A child learns in a subconscious way without thinking of grammatical rules as he/ she needs to communicate in the family. They may say ‘childrens’ instead of ‘children’ and they may be entirely understood because the importance is on the text of communication not on the form. This is how all of us acquire our first language.

When it comes to a foreign language, there is a similar situation. Why do we learn a foreign language? We need to communicate with it, speak, listen, read and write. Acquisition stretches beyond classroom and involves real situations. A very good example of language acquisition is how young people adopt slag words and colloquial expression from movies or while staying abroad. In a traditional classroom they are expected to say I`m going to do but in an appropriate environment I’m gonna do becomes their natural language. Language acquisition means that you aim towards achieving a native command of the language both spoken and written as well as in communication.

Having in mind the difference between learning and acquiring a language, it is important to think of the methods when taking up foreign language courses. Few of us are fortunate enough to afford spending time among native speakers in a country where the language is spoken. When you pick up a course, make sure that the methodology of teaching is focused on multiple structures responsible for oral understanding and the capacity for creative communication besides the standard teaching techniques.

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