Session 1 Summary: How does someone learn a new language?

Misconceptions About Second Language Acquisition

Misconception: “Children learn language effortlessly, and much faster than adults.”


  • Children have an advantage in pronunciation, but older learners have advantages in learning new words and structures. Native-like pronunciation is not necessary for effective communication.
  • Children use far less language than adult learners, giving the appearance of being more fluent more quickly.
  • Older learners usually learn more language in the same time period; a new language can be learned at any age.

Misconception: “The more English the better.”


  • Children in bilingual programs, where only half of the school day is in English, actually show greater progress in learning English than children in full English immersion.
  • It is important to also value the development of the native language.

Misconception: “Learning a language is learning “content” or “information”.”


  • Learning a new language is not like learning other subjects, such as math or history.
  • It is developing new skills, in reading, writing, speaking and listening.
  • It is more like learning to play the piano than like learning history!

Key Ingredients in Learning a New Language

  1. Comprehensible input: Everyone needs opportunities to hear the new language, at their level. If the level of the language input is too difficult or too easy, the language will not be learned. Sometimes the book and curriculum are far above learners’ real language levels, because students have not really acquired the language in the book, year after year.
  2. Opportunities for output: Students need opportunities to use the new language. Normally, classes need to have a lot of pair and small group work, to provide these opportunities. Even large classes can utilize pair and small group work effectively.
  3. Fluency development: All language learners need many opportunities to read, write, speak and listen in the new language. It is important to help students achieve fluency through classroom activities, and specific, fluency-building tasks both in and outside of class.
  4. Motivation: It takes many years to achieve high proficiency in a new language, and teachers should use approaches which build and sustain student motivation. Task-based and project-based approaches can be more motivating than those that focus heavily on learning grammar or vocabulary.
  5. Time: Students need sufficient in-class and out-of-class time using the new language. Two class periods per week is not really sufficient. The frequency of lessons is important as well: shorter periods more frequently is best.