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Learning Your Second Language

We do not acquire a second language; we learn a second language. Through formal instruction, we learn its building blocks, study the meaning of its words and the construction of its grammar. We listen to its tonality and learn the ways in which the second language differs from our first language. Mastering a second language takes a great deal of practice. We are fearful of making mistakes.

However, mistakes are helpful; they are how we learn.

When we begin to learn a second language, we carry the rules of our first language with us. If we are unable to use the rules of the second language, we fall back upon the rules of our first language; we substitute the sounds, words, and grammar of our first language. Linguists call this 'interlanguage." With study and practice, our interlanguage begins to approximate the second language, known to linguists as the "target" language. Our performance, over time, becomes surer and more "automatic." 

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!        

Because a second language is learned, the ability to speak and literacy in the target language go hand -in-hand, and are not separated in ESL instruction.