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The Secrets of Second Language Acquisition

by Rosetta Stone
Second Language Acquisition

Research shows that adult learners with cultural and intellectual curiosity tend to learn language quickly and effectively. Although there’s no one-size-fits-all fast track to fluency, committing to daily practice and utilizing powerful and effective language-learning tools can make picking up a new language fast.

The process of learning a second language, sometimes referred to as “second language acquisition” (or SLA for short), is both as rewarding as it can be challenging. There are some important logistical considerations: 

  • Which language best suits your goals?
  • What’s your motivation for learning a new language?
  • How much time can you spend practicing?
  • What learning styles work best for you?

Success in language learning depends a lot on your answers to these, as well as your mindset and the ways in which you approach your learning. The right attitude—combined with research-backed approaches to second language acquisition—can help you unlock your second language in no time.

What is second language acquisition?

Second language acquisition (SLA) is not only the process of becoming bilingual, but also its own field of study that investigates the process of learning a new language. SLA embraces diverse disciplines, ranging from linguistics to computer science, psychology, cognitive science, education, and anthropology. By researching these fields of study and gaining insights from their interdisciplinary intersections, Rosetta Stone has been able to design more effective learning materials for language learners of all ages.   

How long does second language acquisition typically take?

While there’s no fast track to fluency and each language has its own unique learning curve, there’s a lot in your control. You can prioritize language learning by committing to daily practice, investing in effective language-learning tools, and discovering your preferred learning styles.

Rosetta Stone’s Your Plan helps keep you on track and motivates you to be consistent so you can reach your goal. Simply input your motivation for learning the language and estimate your current skill level, and we’ll provide a learning plan designed for you and your needs. Depending on your schedule and progress, you could breeze through the first few stages of second language acquisition in a matter of weeks or months.

What’s the best way to accomplish second language acquisition?

A key factor in how quickly you’ll gain the confidence to speak a second language is the type of learning method you use. There is some benefit to finding an approach that suits your learning style, but be warned: not all language learning methods or programs are created equal. Quality, research-backed programs like Rosetta Stone tend to yield better results than freebie language learning apps because we employ proven learning strategies to make our lessons and materials convenient, effective, and gratifying all at once. You can even accomplish SLA on the go—get access to our first-rate features such as audio content, Stories, and downloadable lessons on our mobile app.

As mentioned earlier, there’s a mainstream conviction that only children can learn a second language because their young minds are more malleable and receptive than adults are. This idea is largely responsible for the abundance of bi- and multilingual early education programs and the increasingly high demand for au pairs or caretakers who can teach young children foreign languages.

However, research indicates that a youthful mind isn’t the full story behind second language acquisition—great news for adult language learners like you!

Instead of just envying children’s capacity to absorb new languages like a sponge, let’s look to them for three key insights into how to learn a language at any age.

1. Get immersed

First, we can infer from the way children learn a language that exposure to language in an immersive environment plays a key role in language acquisition. Immersive environments are defined as situations in which the target language is in use constantly and consistently by fluent speakers, regardless of whether the learner fully comprehends what is being communicated. Most children spend years absorbing language in an immersive environment, namely their homes and early educational settings, before they ever speak aloud.

Despite the benefits of immersive environments, you probably shouldn’t perfectly replicate what babies and toddlers do, that is, sitting in silence with the hopes of passively absorbing your target language through osmosis. However, we can learn important lessons from young children in immersive environments: adult language learners should be patient with ourselves and recognize that partial—not perfect—comprehension in immersive environments can do wonders for our second language acquisition.

Fortunately for adult language learners, dynamic immersive environments that promote language learning can take many forms. You don’t have to live under the same roof or attend school with speakers of your target language, and even traveling abroad isn’t necessary. Instead, you can lose yourself in literature, closely watch films and TV, and take our Audio Companion on the go to listen to native speakers of your second language.

2. Have the mindset of a learner

When you observe children, especially toddlers, it’s apparent that they’re super comfortable assuming the role of learner. They consistently employ an open-ended, curious approach when tackling new tasks, without fear of failure. Whether they’re climbing the stairs, opening cupboards, or speaking their first sentences, stumbles don’t equal setbacks.

To expand on the example of speaking sentences, children may not even notice their glaring errors; likely, they’re probably uninterested in a language’s web of grammatical rules in general. This is the case because, simply put, complex grammar rules aren’t usually necessary for getting their point across to those around them. An example of kids’ erroneous, but fully intelligible, grammar is when they say “brang” when they mean to say “brought”— adorable and ultimately not incorrect enough to impede communication.

Adults’ grammar errs in subtler ways, and such small errors hardly ever thwart successful communication. For example, when’s the last time you couldn’t articulate yourself to your family, friends, or coworkers because you were fretting over misplaced modifiers, split infinitives, or prepositions placed improperly in a sentence? Hopefully, the answer is never, and the answer will be the same when speaking your second language, too.

At the end of the day, children teach us that an open-ended and relentlessly curious attitude toward learning may lead to imperfect communication, but it brings us closer to second language acquisition faster than adultish perfectionism ever could. Rosetta Stone appreciates this approach to second language acquisition, employing it to help you communicate in your second language with confidence immediately, not after you slog through boring vocabulary lists and memorize grammar rules and their exceptions. 

3. Know your motivation

Another important insight that we can learn from children is that they are motivated to speak because language is their key to engage with others and interact with the world around them. Ask yourself why you’re motivated to learn a second language—are you aspiring to communicate with loved ones, or are you hoping to enrich your cross-cultural experiences around the world? Keeping your motivation in mind will propel you to successful second language acquisition in the same way that it propels children to first language acquisition.

In fact, research has shown that a conclusive factor in the success of second language acquisition is such cultural motivation, or what researchers have called “acculturation and cultural openness.” Adults with daily exposure to their second language and the right language learning mindset can succeed just as much as younger learners do.

Don’t just take our word for it: read about these polyglots who embody the idea that cultural openness—coupled with consistent exposure to their target languages—matters more than age for successfully acquiring a second or third language. 

Second language acquisition is worth it

It can be a challenging endeavor that requires consistent commitment, but learning a second language is worth it. It’s not just about the leg up it’ll give you on your résumé or the conversations you’ll have with locals on your next trip overseas. It’s also about the opportunity to connect with others across diverse cultures, become a more engaged citizen of the world, and even improve your cognition and expand your mind in the process.

There are a few reasons Rosetta Stone should be your first choice as you begin the process of second language acquisition. First and foremost, Rosetta Stone developed the Dynamic Immersion® method by observing and analyzing the ways in which children learn languages. We’ve replicated these strategies and learning environments and have integrated them throughout all our program.

Secondly, Rosetta Stone knows how fast-paced and on-the-go life can be, so our app is designed to enable maximal exposure to a second language at your convenience. Whether you’re listening to lessons during your commute or trying out vocabulary scavenger hunts on your lunch break, you can learn and immerse yourself at any moment of the day.

Last but not least, Rosetta Stone encourages speaking from the very first lesson by sidestepping memorization and rule-following, instead getting to the heart of real-world conversations. With Rosetta Stone by your side and at your fingertips, you’ll find yourself learning and speaking the language, not just the words, and that distinction makes all the difference.

Want to start acquiring a second language? There’s no time like the present.

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