There is a lot of information to wade through about first and second language acquisition. I have tried to summarize the different stages of each below as well as some useful links to additional information. You will also find a table below that outlines first and second language acquisition as well as compares the two. As you will see they have similar characteristics and both need similar learning environments to be successful.

L1 Stages
L2 Stages
L1 and L2 Table

Helpful Links:
Differences between L1 and L2
This site looks at different features of each and shows how they differ.
Stages of Second Language Acquisition
This chart shows the different stages with the number or words expected, suggested activities and tells what a teacher can expect.
L1 Acquisition Summary
This site offers a detailed summary of the stages of L1 acquisition as well a the similarities it has to L2 acquisition.

Stages of first language (L1) acquisition
Babbling (Prelinguistic): 6-8 months, basic sound production, a range of sounds are produced
One word production (Holophrasic): 9-18 months, one word is used to convey wants and emotions
Two word production: 18-24 months, simple sentences
Multi-word stage (Telegraphic): 24-30 months, lacks grammar, but is producing multi-word sentences
Later multi-word stage (Language stage): 30+ months, grammar emerges, sentences are longer and complex

Stages of second language (L2) acquisition

Pre-production: the silent stage. The student has some basic understanding of concepts but does not produce many, if any words. Use of a lot of visuals and physical (TPR) and gesturing activities to relay comprehension is helpful.
Early production: Student produces a few words, vocabulary is limited, but can use one and two word responses. Student needs many opportunities for listening and using the target words in context.
Speech Emergence: Student begins to produce short sentences and responses and should begin to read. Vocabulary is expanding
Intermediate Fluency: Student can produce longer more complex sentences, making fewer errors. Student is gaining in academic language and vocabulary.
Advanced Fluency: Student has control of language and makes few errors, comprehending academic language. Vocabulary is extensive.

First Language (L1) Acquisition
Questions to Address
Age: When does language acquisition begin and how does it progress?
Generally L1 acquisition begins when children are infants and they begin to babble. As they continue to grow the babbling turns into one word meaningful utterances brought about by the world directly around the child. Further progressing with interacting with his/her environment with two and then multiple word sentences.

Sound System: How do young children learn the L1 sound system and the rules of the native language?
Children learn the sounds and the rules of language through listening, repetition and imitation of those around them. With trial and error, they lengthen their thoughts and ideas based on the reaction/reinforcement from those around them in order to satisfy a want, need or expressing of emotion.

Learning Environment: Where does L1 take place and under what conditions and circumstances does early language learning occur?
Early language occurs with interaction with others and the environment around the child. Children listen and imitate those around them attempting to find meaning in their “words” and received positive and negative reinforcement for their efforts.
Second Language (L2) Acquisition
Questions to Address
Age: When does second language acquisition begin and how does it progress?
Similar to L1 acquisition, the child usually begins with a silent period and as he/she gradually gains confidence and experience with the target language, he/she will attempt single words, gradually expanding and forming short sentences.

Sound System: How do second language learners learn the sound system and rules of the second language?
ELL students learn sounds and the system of rules through modeling of sounds along with meaningful experiences to help retain the new information. Students use learned responses, memorized chunks of information to respond. Learning from continued modeling from others and attempting to imitate or repeat the language as modeled.

Learning Environment: Where does early L2 language acquisition take place and under what type of conditions?
L2 acquisition is best prompted by a very visual environment, i.e, pictures and people. An environment without pressure to produce language and a student is given good models to observe and learn from. L2 students should be given ample opportunities to watch, listen, imitate, role play, draw and participate in activities that do not force a student to produce until ready.

Related Factors: What is interlanguage and fossilization and how do these things impact SLA?
Interlanguage is the incorporation of certain aspects of the L1 into the L2 and fossilization is the the elements from the L1 that have been incorporated into the interlanguage become fixed. These elements are very difficult to “unlearn”. A student will continue to become more proficient in the L2 with continued study and practice, but the elements that were fossilized will continue to be erroneous aspects to in the target language even with intense study.

Christie Patti
Cedar Bluff Elementary School
Knoxville, TN