To learn, or not to learn? Or to acquire?!

Acquisition might take from several months to couple of years, whereas learning might last all life long. This assumption is fortified by the input hypothesis represented by linguist Stephen Krashen who made a distinction between language learning and language acquisition, claiming that acquisition is a subconscious process, while learning is a conscious one (Sole, 1994). Conversely, contemporary state school and university curriculum is mostly focused on so called “skill building” approach to language teaching which means that teachers have to teach students to pass through the tests by means of sufficient linguistic skills, therefore it is more likely to be called language learning rather than acquisition.

The language acquisition process often occurs unconsciously, instinctively, inadvertently, without purposeful assimilation. However, the process of language acquisition may be also a conscious, if you are, for example, taught a particular language with a particular purpose, or it can be intuitive when you already acquired a language and developed some speaking skills from your childhood.

To some extend second language acquisition can be similar to L1 acquisition process. This means that second language acquisition should be maximally alike, thereby this process will be effortless and efficient. Moreover, according to Krashen’s theory, the process of  L2 acquisition is similar to the acquisition of mother-tongue (Sole, 1994). Thereby, second language acquisition can be artificially imitated. There are a diversity of methods in L2 teaching that might provide the imitation of L1 acquisition process. For example, Total Physical Response (TPR) and Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) discussed in one of my previous blogs. Given methods empower the students to learn grammar and vocabulary through perception of comprehensible messages, so they acquire L2 subconsciously during listening and reading. Finally, L2 acquisition process might be expediently assimilated with L1 acquisition process.

I am personally convinced that language acquisition occurs beyond stressful memorization of grammar structures and loads of vocabulary. I started to make significant progress as I gave up on memorizing and writing mathematical formulas of tenses to learn using them automatically. Whereas relaxing and joyful activities such as following video blog channels of my interest, reading catchy news and articles, and watching my favourite movies for 101th time in English helped me to start understanding, writing, reading and speaking more fluently than ever before.

What sort of advice would you give to your friends or relatives in order to help them reduce their sufferance in foreign language learning?


Sole, Y. (1994). The Input Hypothesis and the Bilingual Learner. The Bilingual Review, 19(2), 99–110

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6 thoughts on “To learn, or not to learn? Or to acquire?!

  1. Dear Khakim, thank you for your post! I think when you like particular language, culture, country or people associated with the language, you will learn it both intentionally and unconsciously. All the interests and passions will facilitate the language acquisition. On the other hand, it can be challenging to learn language by necessity. For example, cases when people have to master some languages for their job and career. In these situations it can be helpful to find something fascinating that associated with the target language. Things like music, films, culture may stimulate learning process.


  2. Dear Khakim thank you for raising such an interesting topic. I think that the process of ‘learning’ is an inevitable process no matter how unpleasant and dull it can be. In order to acquire one language you should get through the step of memorization and purposeful learning especially when the language is foreign and your linguistic environment is different. Once you have some level of language there is an opportunity to acquire it through enjoyable videos and readings.


    1. Well, if the process of learning was inevitable, 2-3 years old children would have to memorize new words purposefully. But they acquire whole expressions and start to use new words in various contexts. I am writing about children because adults also can acquire languages the same way after critical period. Memorization is not inevitable, it is rather optional. You may memorize new words if you are required to, or if you need to prepare for any kind of event.


      1. Dear Khakim, thanks for your response and the clarification you have made. Yes, I agree with you that kids acquire languages in their age of 2-3. However, what comes to adults, I still have stance that they should first learn language and then acquire, especially when we talk about the working level of one language. For example, I decided to learn Italian which is foreign for me, I cannot start acquiring it from reading articles or watching videos, because this language is totally new for me. First, I need to learn alphabet and how to read, memorize the basics.


  3. Khakim, you have raised an important issue of learning foreign language, thank you. Personally, I have never taught English to my friends and relatives properly because our attempts ended up in talking about different things which take place in our everyday life. That is why I have made up decision to give advices to them. So I offer them to read books of their personal interest like different stories and short novels. They often complain about the lack of time. That is why I usually suggests them to listen to particular audiodiscs of English lessons while they are driving the car as it will save their time.


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