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Acquiring Your First Language

All human babies are programmed to learn to speak the language(s) spoken to them. Barring an extreme handicap such as deafness or blindness, all babies are as certain to master the art of speaking as they are the art of walking. 

Babies and very young children learn language very systematically. Babies make their first cooing sounds at three-months of age and learn the art of conversational "turn-taking". At six months of age, the baby's vocal tract is constantly busy practicing all sounds created by humans. By nine months, the baby has "honed-in" on the specific sounds of his/her native language. Around  the first birthday, the baby begins to name objects, one word at a time. Soon after, a two-word grammar is created. By eighteen months, the baby begins to move through specific stages of perfecting the secrets of the phonological, morphological, syntactical, semantic, and pragmatic rules of his/her native language(s). 

Can a young child acquire more than one language with ease? The answer is "yes!" Given a chance to interact with others, young children (younger than twelve years of age) can acquire second and even third languages with little difficulty. Such natural acquisition is not usually the case for adults. Adults learn languages by interaction and by negotiating meaning with others, but, in addition, adults require and benefit from formal instruction of language rules.   

Many ESL students wish to express themselves as native English speakers do and become frustrated when they still display traces of native language "accent" in their use of English grammar, pronunciation, or other linguistic elements. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as "perfection" in spoken language. As long as the ESL speaker is understood by native English speakers and uses the basic rules of spoken English, he or she should feel a great deal of pride and achievement in a job well-done!        

While the ability to speak a language is an automatic process, the ability to correctly write a language is not. Acquiring literacy requires lessons, practice, and metalinguistic knowledge.