Posted by: Admin | December 10, 2010

Language Acquisition

Written by: Mobit

I. Introduction

Human in the world have to communicate with others. To fulfill the social characteristic they have to achieve the communication device.  So, they have to learn or to acquire a language either by subconsciously or consciously. Children in this case, actually have different ways of acquiring the language form adult.

Children, normally learn the first (mother) language in the first year of life and they will need about on 5 years old. And the learning process will be continued at the following years, they will be at puberty/ teenager times (about 12-14 year) and in adult (about 18-20 year). They learn language in their daily activities although will get an un-expected progress in some cases, such as in vocabularies.

The word “first language acquisition” is not only for one but also two languages, because in current time, learners tend to learn more than one language. For example parents, who always use in two languages in life and communicate in different language at home and out home.

Children, who acquire a language when they have had good systems of first language, will be called a second/ foreign language learner, because they don’t have problems anymore with their language they used. The next language they have acquired will be called the third language and the next will be the forth.



II. Stages in Language Acquisition

A child who has just born doesn’t have language ability. They are given ways of expressing their feeling likes crying but not ways of communicating with others. They are given at their birth a set of language procedures and rules, not the knowledge of a set of language categories (Dan Slobin, 1986). Language is a learnable thing; all human who are given normal device of communication can achieve it.

The learner cannot communicate without learning process. They have to learn how to state or make an utterances or even a letter. To have a good language a child has to effort to learn how the other has learnt.


The followings are the stages of language acquisition:

1. Babbling stages

This stage (about 6 months), is the first stage of language acquisition. Children, just begin to bubble and say words that listener cannot understand what the children said well, because they say un-meaning words. They also try to say/ re-say words (sounds/ accepted words) that they listened form the surrounding. They produce un-real word, which is not accepted form, the environments.

They also try to re-say the intonation pattern word, which is said by the adults.


2. Holophrastic stage

At this stage (1 year), children begin to state a repeated phrase for same meaning words. They repeat and repeat a word or phrase, and they have understood what they said. For example in bahasa; “Mam”, means they want to eat. “ Pa” means they want their father be near him. In progress, the words they have said will have more a meaning. At this stage their parents will be the special person of them, because only them who know what the children said.

According to some children researchers, words at this stage can be words are related to children’s   behaviors themselves, to express feeling or to name something.


3. Two words, a phrase stage

Children, at this stage (about 2 year) begin stating phrase that has two words. They try to use sentences that have two words, which has grammatical relationship characteristic “subject and predicate” although another relationships are not used yet, likes inflection, pronouns and plural.


4. Like Telegram stage

At about two years old, children have understood sentences completely. They begin to try understanding about grammatical relationship, although they start discourses from them, from the place and time when it happened (the here and now).

Some researchers state that children who are able to say 2-3 morphemes, they have had grammatical aspects, such as content word. Fromkin & Rodman give some examples:

“Cat stand up table” (Kucing berdiri di atas meja.)

“ What that?” (Apa itu?)

“He play little tune” (Dia memainkan lagu pendek.)

“No sit here” (Jangan duduk disini), etc.

There are some theories; children at their age have a way to learn language. According to the experiments, children won’t repeat sentences that expected-adult completely.

He’s going out.” Will be repeated “ He go out.” (Fromkin & Rodman)

The other theory said, that children learn by reinforcement, that is the learner have said right word/ sentences must be given a positive enforcement, and vice versa.


III. Theories of children language acquisition

We have talked about the stages of first language acquisition. In this part we are talking about some theories of language acquisition that has been found by many researchers. Here are, we focus on second language learning. We have to limit the material to avoid misunderstanding between first or second language.

Before we talk about the theories, we will remind that the stages of first language acquisition are different from second language. Psycholinguist, especially Krashen & Terrel have differed “words of acquisition” between mother language and second language. They tend to use “acquisition” for mother language and “learning” for second language.

The second language will be learnt in any ages. The learners have different aim and the level of language learning.  Sri Utari Subiyakto – Nababan differs second language ‘acquisition’ types, those are “Led Acquisition” that the learning process are determined by teacher; included material, difficulties grade and teaching strategy relevant to the learners need, and “Natural Acquisition”, that the learners learn language without teacher. They tend to learn from their daily communication and feel to have external pressures that force them to use their language potency, practice it without teacher.

Here are some theories related on the second language ‘acquisition’ has been stated by Klein, from Europe and Krashen &Terrel from US.


1. Identity Hypothesis (the sameness acquisition)

The basic idea of the hypothesis is about language acquisition of scientist and author (Klein). It will have relevancies if the learners have ever acquired first language before learn second language.  It says that the language acquisition between the first and the second language through same process and rules.


2. Krashen and Terrel Hypothesis

They state that there are 5 hypothesis related to language teaching approach theory.


a. Acquisition vs. Learning

The theory says that adult learners are able to internalize the acquisition of second language rules through learning language unconsciously (acquisition/ implicit) and consciously (learning/ explicit).

Here are some differences between acquisition and learning (Krashen and Terrel)

Acquisition Learning
Having same characteristics with native children language acquisition
Formally knowledge
Picking up second language Knowing about second language
Subconscious Conscious
Formally teachings don’t help student Informally teachings will help student


b. Input Hypothesis

This hypothesis states that acquirer (not learner) has accepted harder language input, that it will increase the learner language ability. Consequently learners will face new vocabularies/ phrases or grammatical at their acquiring process.

This hypothesis doesn’t differ between children and adult, but adult tend to facilitate children’s learning process. Unconsciously adult will modify their utterances in order to be easy to learn by the children. The results of modification are called caretaker speech (bahasa pengasuh). So indirectly the adults have taught the children.


c. Natural Order Hypothesis

This hypothesis focuses on grammatical acquisition. Children who learn first language will have same acquisition order with the adults who learn second language, but the way of acquisition will be different for any ones. The result of the research is that the function word will be caught earlier than another structures.


d. Monitor Hypothesis

This hypothesis states that the result of conscious acquisition is to monitor learner to make utterances. The monitoring before utterances causes the speaker doubt to say it and otherwise will replay to gain right utterances. The monitoring will gain a good result if the speakers have a time to consider whether the utterances are going to say has been right grammatically or has not.


e. Affective Filter Hypothesis

This hypothesis focuses on learners’ attitude in language learning. They, who make positive attitude, will easy to have result of learning and vice versa.

Krashen and Terrel state that the learners who have good motivations and confidences in learning process usually succeed in learning second language from the ones. Beside them, something that very important is low anxiety level.


3. Contrastive Hypothesis

The hypothesis states that the second language acquisition is influenced by acquisition of mother language. Indonesian learner cannot learn English without imagining the structure of Indonesian itself.  Lado says that the problem will be gained by the learner can be predicted by comparing the source culture and the target culture systematically.

For example, we compare sentences ‘outside’ structural (phonology, morphology and syntax) of the first and second language with ‘inside’ structural (meaning of the context). So, the meaning will be found in the second in order to gain the same meaning of the one.


4. Behaviorism and Language Acquisition

Language, according to B.F. Skinner, is the most important language behaviors because only the human that can reinforce it and the reinforcement happens through the responses that can be seen on other people.

He gives two categories of oral behaviors, those are command and demand, (such as reinforcement and reward speech), likes “Please give me the chalk!”, ”Open the window!”, ect.   and contacts (responding about the world), likes “I am exhausted”, “I watched a film yesterday.”, ect.

The responses reinforcement is the key of language progress comprehension.


5. Cognitive and Language Acquisition

The psychologist, Dan Slobin (Wardhugh, 1986) states that a baby is born with a set of language procedures and rules, not the knowledge of a set of language categories.  The procedures and language rules might process linguistics data.

Children will master language in their own ways. They find strategies of developing their language by learning from the environment where they live. They will pass the language acquisition about on 3-4 years old.  The following language developments show their general cognitive of the children.

The processes of adult language acquisition, according to the theory, have same process with children. But, adults acquire their language don’t through the bubbling stages, holophrastic stages and so on. They will start from correlate pattern and language function; they will say some new concepts of language through the old pattern used.


IV.                Conclusion

Language is something important for human, because we, as a human cannot communicate well with others without language. The ways of acquiring of the human are different, especially the children and adult, for first/ mother language, second or third language and so on. They have different stages of language acquisition.

The linguist has had various views of the language acquisition. Sometimes they focus on different part on their research, but in this case, whatever they have had found,   has tried to determine how we have to understand part of linguistics, that is psycholinguistics.



  1. Psikolinguistic, Suatu Pengantar, Sri Utari Subiyakto-Nababan, Gramedia, Jakarta, 1992
  2. Cara Baru Mendidik Anak Sejak dalam Kandungan, F. Rene van de Carr, MD dan Marc Lehrer, PhD.



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