Learning English as a second language

Published 19th November 2012
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by Gema Martinez Paredes

The acquisition of English as a second language usually begins once a first language has been established. Often, when a child starts school they will be introduced to a second or even third language. Children find it easier, but anyone can learn a second language at any age, you just need a lot of practice!

English is one of the most important languages in the world, mainly because it is often used as the language of business. The pace of social language learning is different from the pace of learning an academic language. According to some studies, school-age students learning English as a second language will count for 40% of the world’s population within a few years. The Asian and Hispanic populations are the largest contributors to this percentage.

When learning English in an academic environment, we go through five stages: basic, elementary, pre-intermediate, intermediate and advanced.

  • Basic: the time spent at this level usually lasts 0-6 months. Although we don’t speak much at this level, we can understand about 500 words and with these we can form very basic phrases.
  • Elementary: usually lasts 6 months. People develop an active vocabulary of approximately 1000 words. They make many short sentences, and respond to questions with ‘yes’ and ‘no’, they begin to understand simple texts and respond with short answers.
  • Pre-intermediate: lasts for 1-2 years. At this level, they understand much better and begin to communicate with other, although sentences contain grammatical errors.
  • Intermediate: lasts for 1-2 years. They start to form more difficult sentences when writing and speaking.
  • Advanced: usually lasts for 2 years. The person already has native speaker level, speaks English fluently and can understand all kinds of texts.

In the case of learning English in a social situation, the person who is learning a second language needs to put into play a number of social strategies which are essential when interacting continuously in the classroom. In the study mentioned previously, they describe two types of experience in this regard; one conducted in a real situation of communication in natural English and the other in a regular school environment.

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