The most straightforward solutions are often the best ones in life. The same counts for acquiring a second language. You will find hundreds of different methods and strategies, which promise you to be the holy grail of language learning. I always ask myself, “Why can we find so many different schoolbooks for the same language?” It is the same language, isn’t it? Where is the big difference? This issue leads me to a fundamental question. Before we talk about all the learning methods we should ask ourselves, “Do we want to learn or acquire a language?”
On the other hand, “language acquisition”, developed by Stephen Krashen, focuses on the reason why language exists: Communicating your message in a conversation!
What is the difference between learning and acquiring?
The theory of “language learning” refers to conscious learning like studying grammar. You memorize rules, cases, exceptions, etc. Actually, you learn about a language and its structure, which is exactly what linguists do. Hence, if your goal is to analyze a language then learning is what you should do.
On the other hand, “language acquisition”, developed by Stephen Krashen, focuses on the reason why language exists: Communicating your message in a conversation! It does not require extensive knowledge of theory. On the contrary, it happens rather subconsciously. This is also how you acquired your mother language.
It makes absolute sense. When having a conversation you also don’t want to think consciously about every single word coming out of your mouth. I guess that you want to reach the level of “having a feeling for the language”. Then you can tell that it just sounds right, which is the case when you speak in your first language.
When does language acquisition happen?
At this point, you should have made your choice. If you decided to acquire a second language then I give you the two most important requirements to make it happen.
This is arguably the key element. Comprehension happens when you understand the real message during a conversation. Your brain triggers acquisition learning only when you get the sense of the message.
Example: Your mother tongue is German and you are an absolute beginner in Russian. Watching Russian movies on Netflix won’t help you at all. It is not comprehensible because you don’t understand the sense of the message. It is just noise for your brain.
Low affective filter
Your brain must be receptive to your conversation partner’s message. If the message is not relevant for you or you are not interested in it then a filter prevents acquisition. High motivation, self-confidence and low anxiety facilitate the delivery of the message.
Example: Compare your hobbies with a school subject you didn’t like. You will agree that it is easier to remember your favorite footballers’ or celebrities’ names than integration formulas.
I hope you enjoyed reading about language theory and it didn’t raise your affective filter.
Krashen, S. D. 1982. Principles and practice in second language acquisition (1st ed.). Oxford ; New York: Pergamon.