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What Is the Order of Acquisition?

Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

The order of acquisition applies to people trying to learn a second language. The term refers to the manner in which these people apply the order of acquisition of their first language to their second language. That is to say that the concept describes a sort of transference of certain aspects of the methods used in “acquiring” the first language, to the process of learning the second. This can be seen in people who constantly use a certain grammatical structure in their first language, while trying to speak a new language. It has become ingrained in their minds that this is the pattern words have to follow to make sense. In order to learn a new language, they have to make a conscious effort to relearn how the grammatical structure of the new language should actually flow.

An example is someone who is trying to learn another language, perhaps, an African language. If the first language acquired by the person is English, while trying to learn the new language, he or she will follow the same pattern of established logic of grammar. This is the effect of the order of acquisition. Such a tactic will not work since most of the grammatical orders that apply in the English language do not apply in the African language.

Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

For example, if the person is trying to learn how to say “he told me” in Igbo language, the learner would expect the words to flow in the same or similar structure. The Igbo language does not have pronouns denoting gender; rather, there is a universal word that applies to all living things, not just people. Words like “he,” “she” and “it” do not have specific representations in the language. This might cause the second language learner to experience some difficulty, due to the natural tendency to transfer the order of acquisition of the known language to the new one.

Another concept relating to the order of acquisition of a second language is that of the silent period. The silent period refers to phase in the state of learning a new language in which the learner does not say anything at all in the new language. Such a person may be learning the basics of the new language and trying to find a correlation between the order of acquisition of the first language and the second one. If factors like pronouns and implications of words do not line up, the learner will use the silent period to try and grasp the concept of the new language.

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