The 5 Stages of Second-Language Acquisition
Children come to The French Académie with various levels of experience. Some might be classified as simultaneous bilinguals if they are exposed to two languages simultaneously since birth or shortly after. Others might be sequential bilinguals if they began to acquire a second language after their first. And others have only had a first language experience upon school entry. Wherever the child’s second-language journey might begin, it’s important to note that this is a progression which will move along a continuum for many years.
How do we acquire language?
According to Stephen Krashen, a language theorist from the University of Southern Carolina, “in the same way.” Krashen concedes that there is individual variation in the language learning process, but the main points in the process are the same. In his work, he also emphasizes that in order to make progress in language acquisition, the individual must have exposure to language that is comprehensible to them. In an immersion school, this is accomplished via direct conversation, gestures, books, and the tangible objects used in the classroom every day. With this, Krashen has developed a popularized theory of second language acquisition in which he has divided the process into the following 5 stages.
1. Pre-production or Receptive Stage
Often called the “silent period” or “receptive phase,” the pre-production stage is the language learners first encounters with the language in which they are exposed, but not yet speaking it. This stage often lasts up to six months.
For students without prior language experience, it is not uncommon for them to be in this first stage from the fall through the December holiday season of their first year. It is around the holiday season that students might begin singing songs in French or inserting a word here and there. From here, students enter into the second stage of language acquisition.
2. Early Production Stage
In the early production stage, the second language learner begins collecting new words. They may begin using them here and there in conversation or even begin utilizing short phrases or expressions. This stage might last an additional six months following the receptive stage. They may have acquired roughly 1,000 high-utility words. They might speak in one or two-word phrases and can demonstrate comprehension often in the form of short yes/no or either/or responses.
3. Speech Emergence Stage
In the third stage, the individual has collected a few thousand words and have begun stringing their phrases and sentences together. They still rely on context clues in conversation, but vocabulary continues to increase and errors improve, particularly in repeated interactions. Dialog will include about 3,000 words. This stage of acquisition might last up to another year. Students might ask simple questions or use simple phrases they hear on a regular basis. Longer sentences may emerge with grammatical errors that might confuse communication.
4. Intermediate Fluency Stage
Intermediate fluency can take up to an additional year as progress continues. Speakers might have around 6,000 words. The individual is fluent in social situations, and can successfully communicate in new contexts and academic settings, with some gaps. They can offer an opinion and analyze problems, demonstrating higher-order thinking skills in their second language.
Second language learners will begin thinking in their second language, signifying the progressive leap that has been made.
5. Advanced Fluency
Advanced fluency may take between five to seven years to master. The speaker communicated fluently across all contexts. They may have an accent or miscommunicate idiomatic expressions on occasion, but speech is comfortable and essentially fluent. Although with early immersion programs, there may be no accent at all.
Why Understanding The 5 Stages of Second-Language Acquisition is Helpful
There is a lot of value in understanding the language journey in stages of progression for both teachers and parents. Within a month or two of starting an immersion school, parents might be wondering why their child is not producing their new second language. Guided by this language acquisition model, we are able to see where the child is in the continuum and that they are entirely in the typical range of their language acquisition journey.
First & Second Language Progression is Similar.
It is equally interesting to view the 5 stages through the lens of a first language learner. There are many similarities. With babies, we often see that they can understand us before they are able to produce the language. As toddlers, words begin to trickle in. As language progresses, we hear grammatical errors. Over the years, we reach fluency.