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ISSN : 2241-4665

Ημερομηνία έκδοσης: Αθήνα 27 Ιουνίου 2022

“Second Language Acquisition: I Learn English My Own Way”


Χανδρινός Κωνσταντίνος

Έκτακτος Επιστημονικός Συνεργάτης, Α.Ε.Ν./Α

Υποψήφιος Διδάκτωρ ΕΚΠΑ.




One of the integral responsibilities of a teacher is to assist the students in their learning process. However, in order for the teacher to achieve his/hers desired objectives s/he has to consider a plethora of factors ranging from designing the most effective lesson  plan to accommodating the different cognitive processes that each child employs in his/hers conquest of knowledge. This short article will focus on four individuals and their fundamental distinguishing features in second language acquisition.





1. Introduction

            In this short paper and for a better understanding of the individual differences, the four people will be investigated in groups of two, one group will consist of two people born in Canada and the other group of two people that arrived in Canada from abroad.

            The two first persons that this paper will examine are two females both born in Montreal, about the same age and with similar educational backgrounds. Their names are Nicoleta and Maria and both can speak three languages, namely, English, French and Greek. They both started to learn Greek from birth and at the age of five, they started their learning English and French.


2. Case study

            First of all, it is of paramount importance to deliberate on the fate of the girls’ first language and the role it may have as a factor in the successful learning of the second and even third language. Interestingly, Nicoleta admitted that she is experiencing a degree of subtractive bilingualism with respect to the Greek language. In addition, she reported that, sometimes, she caught herself code mixing her first language with the other two when she spoke with her Greek friends and family. When I asked her what would be a possible reason for this loss of her first language, she stressed the lack of informal instruction and education in her first language and the poor usage of Greek in her house with her parents who used the majority language of their new country; therefore, with sadness she realizes that this inadequate knowledge of her first language may have contributed to some of her problems in learning French and English.

            Alternately, Maria had a different story to tell. She said that both her parents always speak to her in Greek and are aware of the importance of cultivating and maintaining the first language. For that reason, she received formal education in her first language. According to her, the formal education/instruction she received in her first language played an important role in better acquiring French and English.

            During the discussion, both confirmed the findings in Dr. Lightbown’s book concerning intelligence and aptitude. In other words, both women said that their written and reading production was quite good. However, their oral production abilities were not good, especially in French, even though they followed a French immersion program. Concerning English, they both blame the phenomenon of negative correlation that plagues the instruction of English, whereby as the students advance to higher grades the quantity of time devoted to teaching English as well as the quality of instruction deteriorates.

            Furthermore, Dr. Lightbown in her book mentions that aptitude, motivation and personality may be important in the successful learning of a second language(s). Nicoleta and Maria again confirm that those factors may play an important role in their learning process. In other words, Nicoleta was able to use her natural aptitude to build/perfect her first language. During her summer trips in Greece and only by hearing people speaking, she was able to mimic their way of talking thereby acquiring new vocabulary, which she usually forgot after returning back home. In addition, Nicoleta considers herself an outgoing person who always tries to get her message across. She also mentions the fact that motivated her to refine and achieve native like oral mastery in French and English was her employment as a salesperson, where she was required to carry on daily conversations in both languages with clients and co-workers.

            Maria on the other hand views herself as a visual person who requires to see and/or read before she is able to memorize and learn new vocabulary or something else.

In addition, she also is an outgoing person who enjoys conversation, especially with people of other cultures, where she uses the opportunity to pick up new and exotic words and learn about other cultures.

            Now let’s consider a person who is not born in Canada but arrived as an immigrant. Dora came to Canada seven years ago at the age of twenty. Her first language is Greek and she has high school education. English was her choice of second language, which she started acquiring at the age of eighteen. According to many researchers, when she started learning English she had passed the critical period hypothesis and the language center of her brain started to become atrophic in respect of accepting a new language; therefore, it is believed that she would not easily reach ultimate second language attainment.

            During the interview, she mentioned that her scholastic aptitude and achievement, while she was receiving her formal education, was average and she had some problems with reading and writing English. However, she did not experience any serious problems in using the language orally in practice conversations with the rest of her classmates. The reason for her easiness in oral use of the language would be the fact that she has the natural aptitude for memorizing words and sounds she hears; therefore, she prefers the aural style of learning and enjoys audio visual material presented in class.

            However, when she arrived in Canada she had to overcome some enormous barriers in order to reach native like standards. To elaborate, after she came to Canada and realized that she had a distinguishable heavy accent, she became even more self-conscious of the way she spoke and became more reluctant to talk English with native speakers. But her motivation to succeed and find better employment propelled her efforts to overcome that emotional obstacle. In addition, after a few years and with her new job in Toronto, she had constant exposure to English, which assisted her to achieve ultimate attainment.

            Finally, Nikos is another person who arrived from outside Canada, this time for another reason, namely, to study. Nikos started learning English at the age of seventeen, an age that according to the critical period hypothesis learning a new language may be a challenging adventure. However, Nikos’ scholastic aptitude was quite high; therefore, he says that the acquisition of English as a second language did not pose serious problems concerning vocabulary and written production. His rate of acquisition confirms the findings in Dr. Lightbown’s book, where she suggests older learners may learn faster, and be “more efficient with more sophisticated vocabulary and style”.

            Moreover, the fact that Nikos has a “noticeable” accent did not deter him, unlike Dora, on the contrary, he took pride in being different. In addition, he views himself as a friendly and sociable person who grasps every opportunity to use/perfect his second language skills. Also, he says that he cherishes every moment of talking with native speakers from whom he is able to improve his “heavy Accent” and at the same time learn new different words. In addition, his desire to excel in his studies in his new language propelled his efforts to perfect his second language as much as possible.


3. Conclusion

            The task of learning a second language is enormous and as Dr. Lightbown presents in her book, a plethora of factors may contribute to the success of learning a second language. Some of these factors may include, cognitive style, aptitude, motivation, to some degree age and even first language. Every person is different and learns in a distinct manner and at a different rate. As a final thought, Dr. Lightbown says: “[teachers should] encourage [and help their students] to use all means available to them as they work to learn another language” (41).




Ausubel, D. David, Joseph D. Novak and Helen Hanesian. Educational Psychology:

A Cognitive View. 2nd  ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and winston , 1978.


Macneil, D. Richard. “The Relationship of Cognitive Style and Instructional Style to the

Learning Performance of Undergraduate Students”. Journal of Educational

Research. V73, n6, p.354-59, Jul-Aug. 1980.


Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. How Languages Are Learned. Oxford: Oxford University Press. New York. 1998.



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