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The Stages of Second Language Acquisition

Updated on May 17, 2014

Learning a New Language

There are multiple reasons why it is beneficial for people to learn second languages some time in their lives. Practically, the world has become a global marketplace where knowing multiple languages can be an advantage. With 21st Century technology, the world has become a much smaller place. There is a better chance for people to get jobs if they are able to write down two or three languages on their resumes. Many jobs require people to interact with others around the world. Spiritually, learning a second or third language often allows people to become more open-minded and knowledgeable about other cultures, which could lead to understanding and acceptance.

The journey of second language acquisition passes through stages.

Stage I: Pre-Production or Silent

During the first stage of second language acquisition, learners are predominantly silent. Learners are absorbing the language, taking it all in receptively, building their vocabulary up to around 500 words. They are still not speaking, however, aside from perhaps repeating everything the instructor says. They are not actually producing their own language, but rather, echoing. At his point, the learners are able to copy words off a board or from a book, but cannot yet produce their own sentences in writing. Learners will focus their attention on listening to the language and repeating it. This stage could last up to six months.

Stage II: Early Production

During the second, Early Production stage, second language learners will develop vocabulary banks of around 1,000 words. At this point, not only will the learner gain receptively, s/he will also actively use the words in short phrases. Although sentences are still not in the learner's repertoire, two-way communication is now under way. The Early Production learners will make mistakes, but through repetition and practice, they will move up to the next stage. People at this stage can also answer most basic yes/no questions. They are still receiving more than expressing the second language.  Learners spend between six months and a year in this stage.

Stage III: Speech Emergence

At the Speech Emergence stage, second language learners have acquired around 3,000 words.  Their oral language consists of short sentences and simple phrases.  At this point, learners have also gotten enough command of the language to initiate conversation and ask simple questions.  When read to, they will be able to understand short stories that have strong picture support.  Their written expression is also more sophisticated.

Stage IV: Intermediate Fluency

At the fourth stage of Intermediate Fluency, second language learners have an active vocabulary of roughly 6,000 words. Expressive language at this point on the acquisition journey consists of more complex sentences spoken and written. Conversations are also a little more sophisticated, including original thoughts rather than just facts. Grammatical and syntactical errors will still exist in writing, although their reading comprehension will be rather strong. There seems to also be some significant connections made between the second language being acquired and the learner's native tongue.  Learners have been found to be in this stage for up to three years.

Stage V: Advanced Fluency

It could take between four to ten years to achieve proficiency in a second language. This is because cognitive academic language is extremely difficult to learn. At this Advanced Fluency stage, the learner is considered near-native and is able to learn content in the second language. Writing is also well developed and the grammatical and syntactical errors are at a minimum.

Once a person has reached this fifth stage, they can consider themselves fluent in the second language.

The Stages of Second Language Acquisition


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