Module 1| Background to Language Learning| Differences between L1 and L2 Learning

differences l1 and l2

L1 and L2 Learning Comparison

Think carefully about L1 and L2 learning. What kind of differences can you see between them? Take the student’s age, ways of learning and context in which they are learning into consideration.


L1 learning

L2 learning (in the classroom)


Baby to young child.

(L1 learning lasts into adolescence for some kinds of language and language skills, e.g. academic writing.)

Usually at primary school and/or secondary school. It can also start or continue in adulthood.

Ways of learning

By exposure to and picking up language.

By wanting and needing to communicate, i.e. with strong motivation.

Through interaction with family and friends.

By talking about things present in the child’s surroundings.

By listening to and taking in language for many months before using it (silent period).

By playing and experimenting with new language.

Sometimes through exposure but often by being taught specific language.

With strong, little or no motivation.

Through interaction with a teacher and sometimes with classmates.

Often by talking about life outside the classroom.

Often by needing to produce language soon after it has been taught.

Often by using language in controlled practice activities.


The child hears the language around him/her all the time.

Family and friends talk to and interact with the child a lot.

The child has lots of opportunities to experiment

Caretakers* often praise (tell the child he/she has done well) and encourage the child’s use of language.

Caretakers simplify their speech to the child.

Caretakers rarely correct the form and accuracy of what the child say in an obvious way.

The learner is not exposed to the L2 very much-often no more than about three hours per week.

Teachers usually simplify their language.

Teachers vary in the amount they praise or encourage learners.

The learner does not receive individual attention from the teacher.

Teachers generally correct learners a lot.

The nerd baby says ...

  • Students who are learning a foreign language must be exposed to a lot of language and use it to communicate and interact. They must have enough chances to be able to focus on form. This aids them to make L2 learning similar to L1 learning. It gives L2 learners (usually L2 learners are older than L1 learners) the opportunity to make use of their different language processing abilities.
  • Teachers must do as much as they possibly can to motivate students since motivation is an important factor in language learning.
  • All students are different from each other in many ways. For example: they are different by age, personality, in their learning style etc… Therefore teachers must attempt to personalise their teaching in order to suit their learning preferences and needs. This can be done by changing and varying the teaching style, materials, topics, approaches etc…
  • Some students might find the silent period as useful whereas others would not. Adults would most likely not find it useful.
  • It is the teacher’s duty to make sure that the students are supported and persuaded to make use of English as much as they can when they are out of class. Doing this will heighten their exposure to it. Some activities they could do for this are listening to the radio, listening to songs, reading books, magazines, internet articles, speak to others who are English speakers, talk to tourists, make penfriends who are English speakers, etc…
  • In order to help students to build their fluency, motivation and confidence, the teachers must attempt to make their own language simpler to a level of difficulty that the students can learn from. They must also refrain from correcting the student’s mistakes too much. Students will then have chances to acquire the language and experiment with it.
  • Teachers must attempt to give the students sufficient praise and individual attention as much as possible.

Test your knowledge

Think about how you learnt English. How did the age, ways and context in which you learnt help you to be successful?

What do you think would assist your students to learn the English language better than they do now?

Questions 1-9 given below are ‘features of learning’. In the box are learners. Match the features with the learners.


A.     L1 learner

B.     L2 beginner classroom learner

C.     Both the L1 learner and the L2 beginner classroom learner


Features of  learning

  1. The learner is occasionally encircled by language which he or she finds interesting.
  2. The learner acquires the language from the rich language which he/she is surrounded by during the day.
  3. The learner learns when he is with his or her family and friends.
  4. The learner makes occasional errors.
  5. The learner usually hears language which concentrates on one single point.
  6. The learner makes use of the language in controlled practice activities.
  7. The learners needs sufficient time to process the new language that he or she has learnt.
  8. The learners gets a great deal of encouragement individually.
  9. Before speaking, the learners keeps quite for quite a long period of time.