Linguists distinguish between language acquisition and language learning. Children acquire language through a subconscious process during which they are unaware of grammatical rules. This happens especially when they acquire their first language. They repeat what is said to them and get a feel for what is and what is not correct. In order to acquire a language, they need a source of natural communication, which is usually the mother, the father, or the caregiver.
Language learning, on the other hand, is the result of direct instruction in the rules of language. Language learning is not an age-appropriate activity for young children as learning presupposes that learners have a conscious knowledge of the new language and can talk about that knowledge. They usually have a basic knowledge of the grammar.
From a neurolinguistic point of view, language acquisition and language learning are processed in two different ways in the brain. During early infancy, language processing – during acquisition – occurs in many areas of the brain. Only over time it gradually becomes concentrated into two areas: the Broca’s area, which is situated in the left frontal cortex and is involved in the production of the patterns in vocal and sign language, and the Wernicke’s area, in the left temporal cortex that is primarily involved in language comprehension. The Broca’s area is the one actively involved in language acquisition processes, whereas the Wernicke’s area is active in the language learning process.
- unconscious process
- does not presuppose teaching
- the child controls the pace
- intentional process
- presupposes teaching
- the teacher controls the pace