SLA-Speak Series: Acquisition vs. Learning


SLA-Speak Series: Acquisition vs. Learning

Continuing our series on “SLA-Speak”, we’ll now look at “Acquisition vs. Learning”.

Note: This is the second post in the series.

  • The first post is: “SLA-Speak Series: Second Language Acquisition Theory

Acquisition and Learning are two distinct processes involved in Second Language Acquisition (SLA), as proposed by linguist Stephen Krashen. Let’s take a closer look at the differences between these two terms:


  • Acquisition is the natural, subconscious process of learning a language, similar to how children learn their first language. (That is, you learn a language without even realizing it.)

  • It occurs through exposure to the language in meaningful and real-life contexts, such as conversations, interactions, reading, and immersion in a language-rich environment.

  • Learners acquire language skills intuitively without explicit instruction or awareness of grammatical rules.

  • This process is more spontaneous and instinctive, resulting in fluency and natural language use.

  • The acquired language becomes a part of the learner’s mental representation, allowing them to use it spontaneously and creatively in various situations.


  • Learning, on the other hand, is a conscious process of gaining language knowledge through formal instruction and explicit awareness of grammar rules, vocabulary, and language structures.

  • It involves studying textbooks, attending grammar lessons, and consciously practicing language exercises.

  • Learning provides learners with an understanding of the language rules and principles, allowing them to analyze and consciously apply them in their language use.

  • Although learning can be beneficial for gaining explicit knowledge about the language, it may not directly lead to fluency or natural communication skills.

  • Learners who rely solely on learning might struggle to apply the acquired knowledge effectively in real-life situations.

Key Differences:

  1. Acquisition is like learning by being around people who speak the language naturally, while learning is like studying from textbooks or language lessons.

  2. When you acquire a language, you learn more intuitively, like how you learn to say “mama” and “papa” as a baby. When you learn a language, you are consciously trying to understand and remember things like new words and grammar rules.

  3. Acquisition leads to more natural and fluent language use, while learning focuses more on getting things right and being grammatically correct.

In summary, acquisition involves the subconscious assimilation of language through exposure, while learning involves the conscious study and understanding of language rules. Acquisition provides a foundation for fluency and natural language use, while learning adds explicit knowledge and grammatical accuracy.

As the discussions about acquisition and learning in the classroom continue, I’d like to pose this question to language educators: Can both processes complement each other in language acquisition? That is, does effective language development require a balance of both meaningful exposure to the language and formal instruction (acquisition vs. learning)? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Note: We’ll look at more terms in coming blog posts including:

  • Fluency vs. Accuracy
  • Affective Filter
  • Comprehensible Input

I hope this helps. If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

Mach’s gut!

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