World Languages Mandarin Chinese - World: Guānxì Resource Center

Language Acquisition - First and Second Language Acquisition

What is Language?
Language is a complex set of sounds, symbols, and/or gestures (as in sign languages) used to communicate thought. Human languages are dynamic and continually evolving forms of communication.

The study of language (linguistics) suggests language consists of a variety of subsystems:

Thinking and Language
It is commonly recognized that thinking develops before language and that language contributes to cognitive development. Thinking includes observing, describing, comparing, relating, associating, categorizing, questioning, classifying, ordering, predicting, and inferring.

What is Language Acquisition?
Language acquisition is the process of developing the ability to speak and understand the words, phrases, sentences, and more of a language. It is learning and using a complex set of sounds and symbols. Literacy development refers to the abilty to read and write using the literacy systems of the specific language. Both first and second languages are “acquired,” yet they are acquired through different stages.

First Language Acquisition Stages
Acquiring a first language (L1), also referred to as the native or primary language, is generally considered to occur in four stages:
Stage Characteristics Age
Babbling Imitates the sounds of all human languages, gradually dropping the sounds that are not reinforced by the parents, family, or caregivers 6 months – 1 year
Holophrastic
One word
One word has several meanings depending on context and purpose 1-2 years
Two word Two words more specifically convey meaning 2 years
Telegraph
(to infinity…)
Strings more than two words together like a telegram 2-3 years

Throughout the stages, a variety of conditions contribute to the development of L1. Consider the informal ways we foster language acquisition in young children:


When thinking about first language acquisition, keep in mind:

Second Language Acquisition Stages (PDF)
Learners go through different stages of language development than first language learners. A second language is acquired through multiple stages:
Beyond learning oral language, becoming academically competent in a second language includes learning concepts and attaching labels to those concepts.

Acquisition of Academic Language Proficiency
Academic language proficiency, which is critical to success in school, involves all four modalities for academic purposes: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.

Critical components to the development of academic proficiency include both the explicit teaching of academic cognitive skills and the transfer of cognitive skills from the first to second language.

Language Acquisition

How students reach competence in a new language to listen, speak, read, and write at high levels of proficiency.

Curriculum Development

Sample units for elementary, middle, and high school Mandarin Chinese classes developed based on the California K-12 world language standards.

Language Instruction and Student Engagement

Video clips and other information to illustrate best practices in language teaching, specifically demonstrating lessons in the WORLD: Guānxì curriculum units.

Administrative Support

Resources and information to assist school and district administrators in planning, implementing, and improving Mandarin Chinese programs.

Chinese Teacher Exchange Program

Interviews, information, and resources from a program in San Diego County with 18 years of experience hosting guest teachers from a sister school in China.
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