Second Language Learning and Mother Tongue Influences

Before understanding what mother tongue influences refers to it would be helpful to know

How Second Language Learning Takes Place?

To start with it depends on reasons for learning a second language e.g. why do you want to learn language other than your mother tongue.?

Language learning is a creative yet so subtle process that we don’t even realize when we acquire or learn a new language. Language acquisition is unique to humans, com'on only homo sapiens are endowed with this gift!!!

Today, most people know more than one language and Second language acquisition or even third language learning because of many factors which influence second language learning. So, is 2nd Language Acquisition Different than Mother tongue.

Language learning may happen at either of the following stages in life:

Childhood, because of existence of more than one language in immediate environment.

Adulthood, for professional requirement or interest.

To understand second language learning process we will need to look at the process of Language Acquisition itself and how  second Language Acquisition is different than mother tongue?

He that understands grammar in one language understands it in another as far as the essential properties of grammar are concerned. The fact that he can’t speak, nor comprehend, another language is due to the diversity of words and their various forms, but these are the accidental properties of Grammar….. Roger Bacon (1214-1294)

Do we put efforts in learning our mother tongue?


We kind of gather different aspects of our mother tongue or first language at various stages, i.e. initially by babbling, word formation, sentence formation, and grammatical patterns. Most of us would have started to converse by 4 years+.

Similarly,L-2 or second language words learning also occurs in same stages provided it is being learned simultaneously. However, proficiency in second language depends on the inputs received from the immediate environment.

There are many people who grow up with two languages but show native language skills in one language only?

I have come across so many people from bilingual families when they seem to be fluent in one language. Why is it so?

Mother tongue influences which affect Second Language Learning

Unlike learning or first language, L-2 acquisition depends on many factors; most of these are connected to human characteristics.

Researchers studied English Second Language learners to find why they were met with repeated failures in teaching of English to adults. They discovered that children learn second language faster than adults. Hence, they arrived at theories or principles, after tedious research in many countries, that second language acquisition.

AGE: Children learn second language much better than adults because language tools develop with growing up, with continued exposure and constant use of the language. Children although cannot speak before a certain age but because they are always in touch with the language, they start- thinking in that language.

Did you know we are born with Universal Grammar which helps us to learn a language/s?

So, children exposed to two languages learn words- pronunciation, grammatical patterns of the two different languages and imbibe them into their system. Whereas, when adults learn a second language they struggle to keep away influences of first language from second language, for example- syntax and pronunciation.

Most L-2 learners subconsciously transfer language rules of L-1 to L-2, sound system or word order. They actually develop an intermediate language system unique to them before they are comfortable with second language completely.

According to experts these language errors become permanent and difficult to undo unless of course the learner has undying resolve to learn a second language with native like proficiency.

MOTIVATION: It is the single most important factor for Second Language Learning.

Therefore, enlisting goals for learning an L-2 is a good start. It helps to have clear goals in order to have a systematic approach to lingo learning.

INTELLIGENCE/ TALENT: We all are adequately intelligent to learn anything. The trick is to know your strengths, talents and intelligence type to learn second language with ease. Learning a second language doesn't require you to have high IQ, but a high interest in it.

Read my story to know how I learnt the second language just in few     years.

FAVORABLE ENVIRONMENT: You know language learning is different from other subject because it is a medium of expression. Real language learning takes place outside books or classroom.

Therefore, if you really really want to excel in language of your choice, you must make it habit to use your target language i.e. language you want to learn in each given opportunity like:

Read in L-2 as much as possible.

Speak in that language; join social groups with native speakers of your target language. Speak, speak and speak. Simply put- Practice.

Listen: Watch videos, news, talks, presentations, debates to train your ears to hear L_2 sounds, sentence patterns etc.

Write: Start with a journal or diary writing. Then write your views opinions, feelings about issues, topic. Contribute in online forums, blogs. Become a member of second language learner forums to be with fellow learners.

So, Second language learning is not difficult provided you have Patience, Perseverance and Practice.

What would really help you to succeed in your mission L-2 is to have clear goal i.e. your reason for learning a new language. There are many reasons why people invest their time, energy, money and resources in learning a second language.

Why do you Want to learn a Second Language?

Second language Acquisition or Second language learning has become synonymous with needs and demands of today's world. There are numerous reasons for second language acquisition and various levels of second language users.

What are your reasons??? Go through the following list and note down ones applicable to you.

  • Mandatory learning English as a second language in middle or high school as per school educational policy.
  • You moved to a new country and had to learn Country’s language, a second language for you to survive or you picked up that language subconsciously by simply being present there.
  • A tourist in a foreign country would be happy to know just enough language to survive his/her satay. S/he would actually get by with survival vocabulary
  • Temporary residents in a country will pick or consciously learn core vocabulary for smooth conversations with natives.
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Is Second Language Acquisition Different than Mother tongue?

The only critical factor in learning L1 and L2 is perhaps the reason that L2 learners already possess fully developed grammar of their native language.

Learner’s knowledge of L-1 is rooted so deeply that it interferes with rules of target or second language e.g.

Speakers may use syntax of their language SVO English in to language that follows SOV German (sentences with auxiliary)

Hans hat ein Buch gekaufen .

Hans has a book bought.

Secondly, experts posit that there is a critical age to language learning. There is no clarity on the age but puberty is considered to be the time after which language learning stops.

However, there are exceptions for instance, some adults learn second language much later in life but, with motivation and dedication manage to achieve native like competence.

Actually It is easier learning languages from the same language family than learning of languages from separate language groups.

For example, native speaker of Chinese will face more difficulty in vocabularies of English language than a native speaker of German because German is closely related to English.

Here is a breather for you;

English second language learning will be easy for you if you know your specific reason for learning so that you can map your journey accordingly.

Learn English or any other L-2 without hesitation, inferiority complex and pressure to master it as a native speaker.

Your target language, second language or third language is not your inherent lingo; you were not born with it.Be what you are and value your mother tongue and master English as a subject learning.

Unless your second language is for professional use, be easy on yourself. Do not try to be second language user as a native speaker immediately.

Of course you can, anyone can. But it takes time- long time, efforts and loads of practice to reach expert language user rank.

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