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Stages in Learning a Language

written by: Vandana Singhal • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 6/6/2012

To learn a second language, the learners have to pass through several language acquisition stages. Each stage has its own significance in building knowledge of the second language. Every learner must go through the stages to acquire the required fluency at the end of entire learning process.

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    Language learning is a long process that requires the learner to pass through various stages. All learners must go through the following language acquisition stages, however the duration of each stage depends on the learner. How much work are you willing to put in to move quickly through the stages?

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    1. Observation and Imitation (Pre-Production)

    This is the first stage of language acquisition process. This is the silent period when the learner cannot speak the second language. The learner may have some kind of vocabulary, say 500 words or might be repeating what you say but cannot produce the language.

    The learners in this period are very attentive and respond quickly to visuals and pictures. It is important for the teachers to focus on building a receptive vocabulary and attention on listening comprehension activities. Learners can benefit from friends who speak the second language.

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    2. Single Word and Phrase Use (Early Production)

    During this stage, learners are expected to develop receptive as well as active vocabulary ranging up to 1000 words. This stage may last up to six months. The learners will be able to speak small phrases ranging from one or two words. In addition, they may be able to use small language chunks but often not used correctly. You can encourage students in this period by following some easy ideas such as:

    • Give an activity to whole class so that all students can participate.
    • Ask yes/no questions students can easily understand.
    • Ask questions requiring one or two-word sentences and use pictures to support questions.
    • Use pictures to build vocabulary.
    • Prepare plenty of listening activities.
    • Use graphs and charts to help develop writing in second language.
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    3. Speech Emergence (Initial Understanding of Grammatical Rules)

    By this stage, the learners have learned around 3000 words of vocabulary. They are able to speak simple sentences. For instance, students learning English as second language can speak sentences such as “May I come in?" These students can understand simple stories with the help of visuals and pictures.

    Teachers can encourage language learners by giving them simple tasks such as:

    • Reading short texts
    • Matching words with definitions
    • Studying of flash cards
    • Participating in small dialogues and group reading activities
    • Comprehending teachers’ simple instructions and explanations
    • Writing short stories and personal experiences
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    4. Intermediate Fluency

    This stage is reached when the learners have large vocabulary of around 6000 words. They should be able to construct large and complex sentences. They should be willing to speak and express his thoughts in second language. They can translate text in native language to second language. At this stage, teachers should focus on learning strategies.

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    5. Advanced Fluency

    Finally, the last stage of language learning is reached when the learners achieve a near native language fluency in the second language. It takes around 4-10 years to reach this stage. At this stage too, learners can take support from the teachers.