Language acquisition is divided into two categories: first-language acquisition and second-language acquisition. First language acquisition is a universal process, regardless of any language. According to Innateness of Chomsky, a child’s brain possesses specific mechanisms for language learning. From birth, a child gets exposed to the language, listens to the sounds they hear, attempts to imitate them, and eventually produces words. On the other hand, second language acquisition encompasses the process involving the elements of a new language one learns, and these include phonology, grammatical structures, vocabulary, and writing scripts. This process assumes that the learner has prior knowledge in a first or native language.
Several theories have been proposed to explain the process of language learning in children. Behaviorist theory suggests that a child imitates his or her parents. Successful attempts are rewarded through appraisal, and thus reinforced, while unsuccessful utterances are forgotten. However, there are a few limitations, such as the over-application of rules and a child’s inability to reproduce an adult’s utterance. Chomsky criticized behaviorist theory and developed his concept of innateness. All children have an inborn faculty, known as a language acquisition device, and it is triggered by receiving speech input. Since every language has common principles, the brain can process the input according to those. This theory is later supported by the specific areas of the brain, Wernicke’s and Broca’s areas.
As for second language acquisition, there are six stages: pre-production and early production, speech emergent, and beginning intermediate and advanced fluency. First, a student goes through the pre-production phase. Later, one begins speaking with limited vocabulary and short sentences and is bound to make a lot of mistakes. Speech of the individual becomes more fluid, with the ability to form longer sentences. Finally, during the fluency stage, the individual begins to be able to communicate with ease and gradually reaches fluency.
Even though there could be unknown idiomatic expressions and words, one would be able to express their ideas and thoughts in different ways. The amount of time a learner would take varies from person to person. Additionally, if an individual speaks a language similar to the one he or she is learning, whether they are related in terms of grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc., the learning process may dramatically take less time. Nevertheless, regardless of a person’s background, reaching advanced fluency requires many years of study.
In language learning, various instructional strategies play a role in the process. Despite the debates in both language pedagogy and translation studies, only a few experts regard translation as a beneficial method in schools. Many language programs consider translation into and from the target language to evaluate the knowledge and competence of the learners. This was considered the standard method of modern language teaching in Europe. It was later dismissed as it reinforced students to keep using their native language during the learning process, causing interference. Therefore, translation is no longer regarded as an excellent way to test one’s language skills.