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Some Basic Terms in SLA (An Introduction)

Andy Lee, a fictional character, is a Korean-American who was born in the city of Los Angeles. His parents are both Korean who immigrated to the United States. One day, he joined a worldwide audition held by a Korean entertainment company, and was chosen to be one of those to be trained as a singer in Korea. During his training days, Andy learned from basic on how to communicate in Korean both spoken and written. Now, being known as a member of an idol group, he appears in TV stations and often makes people laugh as he slips his tongue between one Korean word and another Korean word.

The illustration about Andy gives us a chance to pops-up some questions about the languages he acquired. Does English become his first language since he was born in Los Angeles? Or, is it Korean language that becomes his first language since his parents are both Korean? If Korean language is not his first language, than does Korean language become Andy’s second or foreign language? Were Andy acquired or learned both the English and Korean Language? Let us find a glimpse of the answers for those questions by first comparing the terms first language acquisition and second language acquisition. Next, we compare the terms second language acquisition and foreign language acquisition. Last, we contrast the term acquire and learning.

First Language Acquisition vs. Second Language Acquisition
The native language that a child acquired is called first language (L1). It is also commonly called mother tongue. In contrast, Ellis (1986) describes second language (L2) as an additional language that a child learned after they have acquired their mother tongue. Gass (2000) uses another term to refer to second language as nonprimary. She also mentions that the broad term second language (L2) learning does not only refer to second language, but also to third or fourth language. According to Ellis (1986), there is a relation between L1 acquisition and L2 acquisition since the study of second language acquisition (SLA) began with the study of first language (L1) acquisition. SLA research has tended to follow the footsteps of L1 acquisition research, both in its methodology and in many of the issues that it has treated.

Second Language Acquisition vs. Foreign Language Acquisition
In regard to the current comparison, the term second language acquisition refers to learning a language in the environment where that language is spoken (such as Italian in Italy, English in the United States), whereas the term foreign language refers to learning a language in one’s “home” environment (such as English in Indonesia, Japanese in Australia). However, many linguists do not really differentiate the use of both terms. Ellis (1986) mentions that second language acquisition is not intended to contrast foreign language acquisition. SLA is used as a general term that embraces both untutored (or ‘naturalistic’) acquisition and tutored (or ‘classroom’) acquisition. Gass (2000) also argues that there is little evidence that the mental processes involved in learning a language beyond the native language differ as a function of whether the learning is in a second versus a foreign language environment. Yet, she also admits that there may be significance differences in terms of the context itself, and hence the materials available to learners.

Acquisition vs. Learning
Based on Krashen’s approach (in Gass, 2000), second language acquisition is contrasted with second language learning on the assumption that in learning an L2, learners develop two independent knowledge systems, one is referred to as acquisition and the other as learning. The term acquisition is used to refer to the unconscious picking up a second language through exposure, whereas the term learning is used to refer to the conscious study of a second language (i.e. knowing the rules, being aware of the rules, and being able to talk about the rules) (Ellis, 1986; Gass, 2000). However, many SLA researchers use the terms (acquisition and learning) interchangeably since many say that Krashen’s ideas on L2 learning are lacked of theoretical thoroughness.
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