Language acquisition versus language learning


Linguists distinguish between language acquisition and language learning. Children acquire language through a subconscious process during which they are unaware of grammatical rules. This happens especially when they acquire their first language. They repeat what is said to them and get a feel for what is and what is not correct. In order to acquire a language, they need a source of natural communication, which is usually the mother, the father, or the caregiver.

Language learning, on the other hand, is the result of direct instruction in the rules of language. Language learning is not an age-appropriate activity for very young children as learning presupposes that learners have a conscious knowledge of the new language and can talk about that knowledge. They usually have a basic knowledge of the grammar.

From a neurolinguistic point of view, language acquisition and language learning are processed in two different ways in the brain.

During early infancy, language processing – during acquisition – occurs in many areas of the brain. Only over time it gradually becomes concentrated into two areas: the Broca’s area, which is situated in the left frontal cortex and is involved in the production of the patterns in vocal and sign language, and the Wernicke’s area, in the left temporal cortex that is primarily involved in language comprehension. The Broca’s area is the one actively involved in language acquisition processes, whereas the Wernicke’s area is active in the language learning process.





  • unconscious process

  • does not presuppose teaching

  • the child controls the pace



  • intentional process

  • presupposes teaching

  • the teacher controls the pace

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  1. This has been very helpful in doing my coursework and it has also enhanced my knowledge on language acquisition and language learning.

  2. which is a better way to learn and why?
    can we become or should we learn by the method of acquisition ?
    if yes/no then why and which is the better way?

  3. which is the better way to learn as an adult?
    is it through language acquisition or through learning using another language.
    also, exlpain ways to learn through acquisition.

    • Dear Aditya, I can help you find out what is the better way to learn for you, personally. There is not one way that is better for everyone. Language acquisition, i.e. the way our children learn language, is the most natural way. But we adults have the advantage that we already know one or more languages and we build on our knowledge, we link the “new” with the “old”/”known” and this makes it easier in some way because we know for example what we need to know to great a person or to order something in a restaurant and learn those words and sentences by heart.
      What makes it more difficult for many adults is the fear to fail, the expectation to learn fast and be perfectly fluent as quickly as possible. Some also had bad experiences learning a language before and feel that learning another means to start from case 1. This is actually not the case. If you are British, learning Chinese is more difficult than learning French because Chinese differs more from English than French.
      Acquiring a language like children can be done for adults if you immerse into the language. If you repeat what you hear (by repeating aloud or in your head – depending on where you are) and by asking people around you to only speak the language with you that you want to acquire. There needs to be a need, that you have to speak that new language every day, but you need also to be ready to make many many mistakes, to have many trials and errors before you get it right. I always advice to start with small sentences, to listen to music in that language, to radio, TV everything you can find that helps you learn the intonations, the way people say things in that other language. – I could go on and on, sorry. I guess this is to long for a response. If I can help you with anything, please send me a mail at, ok?

  4. Thank you so much , it was perfectly helpful for me in my coursework . And no, that response was not at all too long , it makes it even clearer .

    • Hi, I am very pleased to hear that this was helpful for you and your coursework! I would love to know what your experience is and how it is going. Please stay in touch 😉

  5. Thats amazing thanks.. yesterday i found a task by my mam to find out difference..nd its helpful for me.. i m student of linguistics.i neend more help how can i contact u nd can u help me out

  6. This work has greatly helped me, thanks, but I have some questions on psycholinguistic,
    1. what are the field related to psycholinguistic and
    2. On what parameters do you think the sub division in psycholinguistic can be base if there are any and what are these subdivisions. thanks

    • Hi Ayodele, thank you for your comment. I’m very glad this helped you. Well, psycholinguistics or “psychology of language” is the study of the psychological and neurobiological factors that enable humans to acquire, use, comprehend and produce language. There are many topics studied by psycholinguists. For example, language acquisition, language comprehension, language production, second language acquisition… It is about studying the way language is acquired and perceived, and in each area of studies one can focus on phonetics and phonology (study of speech sounds), for example one can focus on how the brain processes and understands these sounds, morphology (study of word structures, ex. car vs cars), the formation of words based on rules, like the plural formation or diminutives etc. , then syntax (which is the study of the patterns that dictate how words are combined to form sentences), semantics (meaning of words and sentences), pragmatics (what is the role of the context when interpreting the meaning)…

      I suppose you know that in psycholinguistic there are several approaches to language acquisition. The behaviorist theory, innateness theory, cognitive theory, social interactionist theory, the usage based theory, optimality theory and the native language magnet model. You would choose one or the other – or some of the approaches – depending on what you are analyzing.

      If you tell me what field of research you’re most interested in, I can help you further. – You can always contact me at if you prefer. Or ask here 😉 As you like. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation! ~ Ute

  7. Pingback: Language Acquisition Vs Language Learning | From The Tip Of My Pen :))

  8. Pingback: The difference between acquiring a language and learning a language – Ute's Language Lounge

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