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What is the difference between language acquisition and language learning?


The process of learning a new language often starts at the uneasy path of text books or online language apps. But there is a big difference between learning a new language and acquiring it.

What is learning? Put simply, it is all those lessons you will have studied and memorized. After a year of learning a new language through the text books and online tutorials, you might be wondering why you just can't have that conversation with a native in a country where your target language is spoken.

It is agonizing when you can learn how to say simple terms and phrases like, "I am opening the door of the car" yet discover knowing this is pretty useless, if you are to have a free-flowing conversation. In learning, we begin to understand basic structures of the language. We see how sentences are constructed and any genderisms take effect.

However, acquisition is a whole new ball game. Think about a poem, or even words to a song, and see how you actually remember the words. This is all good, because you have learned the words off by heart - but you have not actually acquired anything.

It is no good learning the poem word for word, if you cannot write one of your own. Think also of acquisition like the way a child learns a language. Even an older child never worries about grammatical rules and will often speak using a colloquial or a plural/ singular error.

Yet, they are seemingly fully understood. Acquisition is happening to a child all of the time. It is not something they have just picked up in the classroom or around the dinner table. They see it on shop signs, road billboards, as well as other children talking and in books read aloud.

It is the same way we learned and acquired our first language and it has to be the way you acquire your target language too. So, does this mean you will have to travel to a country which speaks your target language? Ideally, yes.

The internet and the shrinking world does allow us to reach out to people who are interested in communication and can help with the acquisition part of the language. The key thing to remember is that when you take up a foreign language course make sure there are several different structures available.

Learning vocabulary, conjugated verb structures and grammar word orders alone is not enough. You need conversation, listening skills and watch the emotion of the speaker. In other words, you must acquire the language - as well as learn it.

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