Second Language Acquisition Barriers


These are the obvious reasons for the problems experienced in second language acquisition, and most of them are related that people attempt to learn another language during their teenage or adult years, in a few hours each week of school time, and they have a lot of other things to take care of, instead a child learns via the constant interaction that he or she experiences, and has not many things else to do. Besides the adult or teenage people have an already known language available for most of their daily communicative requirements.
There are other reasons, for example the suggestion that adults tongues get stiff from pronouncing one type of language and just cannot cope with the sounds of another language. However there is not physical evidence to support this.
Maybe the primary difficulty for most people can be captured in terms of a distinction between acquisition and learning.
The term acquisition refers to the gradual development of ability in a language by using it naturally in communicative situations. Instead the term learning applies to the conscious process of accumulating knowledge of the vocabulary and grammar of a language.
Activities related with learning have traditionally been used in language teaching in schools, and if they are successful tend to result in knowledge about the language studied. Activities related with acquisition are those experienced by the
young child and by those who pick up another language from long periods spent in social interaction, the language used daily, in another country.
Those whose second language experience is primarily a learning one tend not to develop the proficiency of those who have had an acquiring experience.

However, even in ideal acquisition situations, very few adults seem to reach native like proficiency in using a second language. There are suggestions that some features, for example vocabulary or grammar, of a second language are easier to acquire than other, for example phonology. Sometimes this is taken as evidence that after the critical period has passed, around puberty, it becomes very difficult to acquire another language fully. It has been demonstrated that students in their early teens are quicker and more effective second language learners than, for example 7 year old. It may be, of course, that the acquisition of a second language requires a combination of factors. The optimum age may be during the years 11-16 when the flexibility of the language acquisition faculty has not been completely lost, and the maturation of cognitive skills allows more effective working out of the regular features of the second language encountered.
Yet during this optimum age, there may exist an acquisition barrier of quite a different sort. Teenagers are typically much more self conscious than young children. If there is a strong element of unwillingness or embarrassment in attempting to produce the different sounds of other languages, then it may override whatever physical and cognitive abilities there are. If this self-consciousness is combined with a lack of empathy with the foreign culture, then the subtle effects of not wanting to sound like a Russian or an American may strongly inhibit the acquisition process.


Language acquisition is the ability of the brain in its cognitive development & process to conceptualize concepts,structures and semantics in a language , while learning is the active participation and effort to learn a language. Language teachers devise methods as components of language acquisition, while learners use them to learn.

Language acquisition is a natural process for any native to acquire his native vernacular language.Language learning is a structured system for anyone to learn a language.

Language Acquisition & Language Learning:

It is important to understand the difference between language acquisition, in which language is acquired, and
language learning, in which language is learned. The term second language refers to a language developed in addition to one’s first language. Some children acquire a second language in much the same way as a first language, for example, if they move to another country at a young age or if their caregiver speaks a different language. But in most cases a second language is learned, rather than acquired. That is, the second language is developed with a conscious effort rather than by actually using the language naturally. Most learners of Dena’ina are learning in this way, with concious effort.
There are many differences between first language acquisition and second language learning. There are also many myths about these difference. It is generally true that it is easier to acquire a first language than it is to learn a second language. But the reasons for this difference are for the most part based on the difference between acquisition and learning.
One myth is that it is somehow easier to learn a language if it was spoken by your ancestors. Whle there may be a genetic disposition toward the human capacity for language, there is no genetic disposition toward a particular language. Thus, in theory it is no easier for a person of Dena’ina heritage to learn Dena’ina than to learn French (though the ready availability of curriculum and speakers may make French easier in practice).
Another common myth is that children simply learn language easier than adults. Children do indeed seem to develop better pronunciation skills than do adults who learn language later in life. In fact, it is nearly impossible for adults to develop completely native-like pronunciation. However, adults are just as capable of learning language as are children. The reasons it seems easier for children has less to do with age than with other factors that go along with age.
Most significantly, a child is in a very special privileged position in society. Errors which seem cute when made by a child are odd or weird when made by an adult. We are happy to smile and talk “baby-talk” with a child, but reluctant to do this for adults.
Children are happy to babble away to themselves, while adults may be more self-conscious. Overcoming some of this reluctance to appear child-like may significantly improve the success of second-language learners.

Language acquisition vs language learning:

There is an important distinction made by linguists between language acquisition and language learning. Children acquire
language through a subconscious process during which they are unaware of grammatical rules. This is similar to the way they acquire their first language. They get a feel for what is and what isn’t correct. In order to acquire language, the learner needs a source of natural communication. The emphasis is on the text of the communication and not on the form. Young students who are in the process of acquiring English get plenty of “on the job” practice. They readily acquire the language to communicate with classmates.

Language learning, on the other hand, is not communicative. It is the result of direct instruction in the rules of language. And it certainly is not an age-appropriate activity for your young learners. In language learning, students have conscious knowledge of the new language and can talk about that knowledge. They can fill in the blanks on a grammar page. Research has shown, however, that knowing grammar rules does not necessarily result in good speaking or writing.r A student who has memorized the rules of the language may be able to succeed on a standardized test of English language but may not be able to speak or write correctly.


All learners in the process of acquiring a second language have an invisible filter inside of them that has the potential to result in anxiety, stress, and lack of self-confidence. This invisible filter is theoretically called the affective filter, and it has an important role in the learning (or not) of another language.

Some people have a naturally low affective filter and are relatively confident about learning a second language. However, not everyone is so lucky. Many other people have experienced anxiety and inability to effectively comprehend or communicate well in another language. They sweat, stammer, and butcher the language.
They can’t seem to control what comes out of their mouth. Sometimes they can’t even utter a peep.

The affective filter can make or break proficiency in a second language.

It was because of a high affective filter that I took a long detour on my personal route to proficiency in Spanish. In high school I was able to pick up Spanish relatively quickly. As a senior in high school, my Spanish was much more developed than other native English-speaking students and I was the lone native English speaker in the Advanced Placement Spanish literature class. Most of the students in the class were recent arrivals from Mexico and didn’t speak English.

One day as we were reading Don Quixote, the Spanish teacher began to review irregular past tense verbs that were being used in the story. He wrote two sentences on the board with the Spanish verb traer and we had to choose the correct irregular conjugation. I raised my hand and identified the correct irregular conjugation, traje. Suddenly, one of my classmates began to giggle across the room and she said. “No, traí”. Which of course was incorrect, but I suddenly became confused. The teacher quickly verified that I had answered correctly. I was absolutely mortified and sat there in shame for the rest of the class period, even though I had answered correctly. All I could hear was the giggling.
I never spoke Spanish in front of a native Spanish speaker for almost four years. Every time that someone would talk to me in Spanish, I responded in English.

In college I refused to speak Spanish in my classes and my competence in Spanish was always underestimated and
misidentified. In my third year of Spanish at the university level, one professor did not even believe that I was writing my own essays and made me write an essay in front of her. As I walked out the door, she said, “If you could only speak as well as you write-then I would say you are proficient”.

I responded, “I probably could speak as proficiently as I write. It’s sad that it will never happen”.

I’m not exactly sure what happened and when I began to feel comfortable enough to speak Spanish again. I’m sure it had
something to do with the many parents of the children that I taught who seemed impressed with and appreciative of my attempts to communicate with them. It also had a bit to do with the many native Spanish-speakers who barely even noticed the errors that I frequently made.

Over the years I have naturally learned how to lower my affective filter and have become more confident with my proficiency in Spanish. But every once in a while something happens, like a room full of one hundred Spanish-speaking parents who are upset about something, and my affective filter begins to rise. In those moments I’m typically shocked at the disaster that begins to come out of my mouth. I can turn from an advanced Spanish speaker to a blubbering fool in the blink of an eye. Well, maybe not a blubbering fool, but at least someone who sounds like they just started learning Spanish.

In applied linguistics, the grammar translation method is a foreign language teaching method derived from the classical (sometimes called traditional) method of teaching Greek and Latin. The method requires students to translate whole texts word for word and memorize numerous grammatical rules and exceptions as well as enormous vocabulary lists. The goal of this method is to be able to read and translate literary masterpieces and classics.

The Grammar Translation Method:

The Grammar Translation Method is the oldest method of teaching in India. A number of methods and techniques have evolved for the teaching of English and also other foreign languages in the recent past, yet this method is still in use in many part of India. It maintains the mother tongue of the learner as the reference particularly in the process of learning the second/ foreign languages. The main principles on which the Grammar Translation Method is based are the following:

1.Translation interprets the words and phrases of the foreign languages in the best possible manner.

2.The phraseology and the idiom of the target language can best be assimilated in the process of interpretation.

3.The structures of the foreign languages are best learned when compared and contrast with those of mother tongue.

In this method, while teaching the text book the teacher translates every word and phrase from English into the learners mother tongue. Further, students are required to translate sentences from their mother tongue into English. These exercises in translation are based on various items covering the grammar of the target language. The method emphasizes the study of grammar through deduction that is through the study of the rules of grammar. A contrastive study of the target language with the mother tongue gives an insight into the structure not only of the foreign language but also of the mother tongue.


1. The phraseology of the target language is quickly explained. Translation is the easiest way of explaining meanings or
words and phrases from one language into another. Any other method of explaining vocabulary items in the second
language is found time consuming. A lot of time is wasted if the meanings of lexical items are explained through definitions and illustrations in the second language. Further, learners acquire some sort of accuracy in understanding
synonyms in the source language and the target language.

2.Teacher’s labor is saved. Since the textbooks are taught through the medium of the mother tongue, the teacher may
ask comprehension questions on the text taught in the mother tongue. Pupils will not have much difficulty in responding
to questions in the mother tongue. So, the teacher can easily assess whether the students have learned what he has taught
them. Communication between the teacher and the learner does not cause linguistic problems. Even teachers who are not fluent in English can teach English through this method. That is perhaps the reason why this method has been practiced so widely and has survived so long.


1. It is an unnatural method. The natural order of learning a language is listening, speaking, reading and writing. That is the way a child learns his mother tongue in natural surroundings; but, in the Grammar Translation Method the teaching of the second language starts with the teaching of reading. Thus, the learning process is reversed. This poses problems.

2. Speech is neglected. The Grammar Translation Method lays emphasis on reading and writing. It neglects speech. Thus,
the students who are taught English through this method fail to express themselves adequately in spoken English. Even
at the undergraduate stage they feel shy of communicating using English. It has been observed that in a class, which
is taught English through this method, learners listen to the mother tongue more than that to the second/foreign language. Since language learning involves habit formation such students fail to acquire a habit of speaking English.
Therefore, they have to pay a heavy price for being taught through this method.

3.Exact translation is not possible. Translation is, indeed, a difficult task and exact translation from one language to
another is not always possible. A language is the result of various customs, traditions, and modes of behavior of a speech community and these traditions differ from community to community. There are several lexical items in one language, which have no synonyms/equivalents in another language. For example, the meaning of the English word ‘table’ does not fit in such expressions as ‘table of contents’, ‘table of figures’, ‘multiplication table’, ‘time table’ and ‘table the resolution’, etc. English prepositions are also difficult to translate. Consider sentences such as ‘We see with our eyes’, ‘Bombay is far from Delhi’, ‘He died of cholera’, ‘He succeeded through hard work’. In these sentences ‘with’, ‘from’, ‘of’, and ‘through’ can be translated into the Hindi preposition ‘se’ and vice versa. Each language has its own structure, idiom and usage, which do not have their exact counterparts in another language. Thus, translation should be considered an index of one’s proficiency in a language.

4.It does not give pattern practice. A person can learn a language only when he internalizes its patterns to the extent that they form his habit. But the Grammar Translation Method does not provide any such practice to the learner of a language. It rather attempts to teach language through rules and not by use. Researchers in linguistics have proved that to speak any language, whether native or foreign, entirely by rule is quite impossible. Language learning means acquiring certain skills, which can be learned through practice and not by just memorizing rules. The persons who have learned a foreign or second language through this method find it difficult to give up the habit of first thinking in their mother tongue and then translating their ideas into the second language. They, therefore, fail to get proficiency in the second language approximating that in the first language. The method, therefore, suffers from certain weaknesses for which there is no remedy.


The grammar translation method stayed in schools until the 1960s, when a complete foreign language pedagogy evaluation was taking place. In the meantime, teachers experimented with approaches like the direct method in post-war and Depression era classrooms, but without much structure to follow. The trusty grammar translation method set the pace for many classrooms for many decades.

Monty Python made fun of the grammar translation method in their film Life of Brian.

The audio-lingual method, Army Method, or New Key[1], is a style of teaching used in teachingforeign languages. It is based on behaviorist theory, which professes that certain traits of living things, and in this case humans, could be trained through a system of reinforcement—correct use of a trait would receive positive feedback while incorrect use of that trait would receive negative feedback.

This approach to language learning was similar to another, earlier method called the direct method. Like the direct method, the audio-lingual method advised that students be taught a language directly, without using the students’ native language to explain new words or grammar in the target language. However, unlike the direct method, the audio-lingual method didn’t focus on teaching vocabulary. Rather, the teacher drilled students in the use of grammar.

Applied to language instruction, and often within the context of the language lab, this means that the instructor would present the correct model of a sentence and the students would have to repeat it. The teacher would then continue by presenting new words for the students to sample in the same structure. In audio-lingualism, there is no explicit grammar instruction—everything is simply memorized in form. The idea is for the students to practice the particular construct until they can use it spontaneously. In this manner, the lessons are built on static drills in which the students have little or no control on their own output; the teacher is expecting a particular response and not providing that will result in a student receiving negative feedback. This type of activity, for the foundation of language learning, is in direct opposition
with communicative language teaching.

Charles Fries, the director of the English Language Institute at the University of Michigan, the first of its kind in the United States, believed that learning structure, or grammar was the starting point for the student. In other words, it was the students’ job to orally recite the basic sentence patterns and grammatical structures. The students were only given “enough vocabulary to make such drills possible.” (Richards, J.C. et-al. 1986). Fries later included

principles for behavioural psychology, as developed by B.F. Skinner, into this method.


Inflection : Teacher : I ate the sandwich. Student : I ate the sandwiches.
Replacement : Teacher : He bought the car for half-price.
Student : He bought it for half-price.
Restatement : Teacher : Tell me not to smoke so often.
Student : Don’t smoke so often!

The following example illustrates how more than one sort of drill can be incorporated into one practice session :

“Teacher: There’s a cup on the table … repeat
Students: There’s a cup on the table
Teacher: Spoon
Students: There’s a spoon on the table
Teacher: Book
Students: There’s a book on the table
Teacher: On the chair
Students: There’s a book on the chair etc.

Historical Background:

The Audio-lingual method is the product of three historical circumstances. For its views on language, audiolingualism drew on the work of American linguists such as Leonard Bloomfield.
The prime concern of American Linguistics at the early decades of the 20th century had been to document all the indigenous languages spoken in the USA. However, because of the dearth of trained native teachers who would provide a theoretical description of the native languages, linguists had to rely on observation. For the same reason, a strong focus on oral language was developed. At the same time, behaviorist psychologists such as B.F. Skinner were forming the belief that all behavior (including language) was learnt through repetition and positive or negative reinforcement.

The third factor that enabled the birth of the Audio-lingual method was the outbreak of World War II, which created the need to post large number of American servicemen all over the world. It was therefore necessary to provide these soldiers with
at least basic verbal communication skills. Unsurprisingly, the new method relied on the prevailing scientific methods of the time, observation and repetition, which were also admirably suited to teaching en masse. Because of the influence of the military, early versions of the audio-lingualism came to be known as the “army method.

Relationship with other methods and approaches:

Historically, CLT has been seen as a response to the audio-lingual method (ALM), and as an extension or development of
the notional-functional syllabus. Task-based language learning, a more recent refinement of CLT, has gained considerably in popularity.

The Communicative Approach was founded by Robert Langs:

Psychoanalysis has turned reality on its head: We are taught to think of ourselves as distorters and misperceivers, unreliable slaves to our inner fantasies – especially when we are patients in therapy. But the communicative approach has shown that it is more accurate and compelling to see ourselves as highly reliable perceivers, with the understanding that our most valid perceptions are experienced unconsciously and encoded in the stories we tell to ourselves and others. Knowing how to decode these stories is the key to a truly accurate view of the human emotion-processing mind and emotional life.

The full name of the Communicative Approach (CA) is “The Communicative-Adaptive approach.” This highlights the two
most distinctive features of the CA: first, that it is a new way to understand human emotionally-laden communications and second, that it has shown that the primary function of the emotion-processing mind is to cope with – adapt to – immediate emotionally-charged triggering events.

What is the communicative approach?

The communicative approach (CA) was developed by Robert Langs MD, In the early 1970’s. It is a new theory or paradigm of emotional life and psychoanalysis that is centered on human adaptations to emotionally-charged events–with full appreciation that such adaptations take place both within awareness (consciously) and outside of awareness (unconsciously). The approach gives full credence to the unconscious side of emotional life and has rendered it highly sensible and incontrovertible by discovering a new, validated, and deeply meaningful way of decoding unconscious messages. This procedure-called trigger decoding–has brought forth new and highly illuminating revisions
of our understanding of both emotional life and psychotherapy, and it calls for significant changes in presently accepted
psychoanalytic thinking and practice.

The CA has exposed and offered correctives for much of what’s wrong with our current picture of the emotional mind and today’s psychotherapies-critical errors in thinking and practice that have cause untold suffering throughout the world. In essence, the approach has shown that emotional problems do not arise first and foremost from disturbing inner memories and fantasies or daydreams; nor do they arise primarily from consciously known thoughts and patterns of behavior. Instead, emotional disturbances arise primarily from failed efforts at coping with current emotionally-charged traumas. The present-day focus by mainstream psychoanalysts (MP) on the past and on inner fantasies and memories has been replaced in this CA with a focus on the present, as experienced and reacted to consciously and unconsciously-in brief, the primacy afforded by MP to fantasy and imagination has been replaced by the primacy afforded by the CA.

Second Language Acquisition
Demonstrates Proprio-Kinesthetic language learning (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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