Many readers will be part way through their French language journey, with the language taking many years to master.
People are realistically always learning in a second language as they encounter new expressions, local slang, and even entirely new grammatical concepts, which they have not come across before.
It is important to understand the nuance between ‘language learning’ and ‘language acquisition’ when you first start to learn a language, although knowing the difference can be helpful even for those who are proficient with French already.
Although most people pick up new languages by traditional language learning (such as in a classroom), learning through language acquisition can help elevate speakers quickly to fluency.
We look at the meaning of the two terms, and how you can use language acquisition to improve your French no matter what your level is.
What do the two terms mean?
‘Language learning’ as a basic concept is the conscious learning of a language through a formal education process.
For example, if you attend a French class or sit down to study vocabulary through a smartphone application, this would be considered language learning.
This is often the primary means people start learning a new language, even if they move to the country.
In comparison, ‘language acquisition’ is the process of picking up a language in a subconscious manner and understanding it through context.
It is how children learn to speak their mother tongue and is often promoted as a way to learn a new language.
This method can be mirrored by adults who can immerse themselves in French, in the same way children are immersed in their first language when growing up.
A mix of both traditional language learning – which helps with grammatical structures and key concepts – and acquisition is best for most people when starting a language, but for more advanced learners acquisition is often preferred.
How do I start learning through acquisition?
One way to learn through acquisition is via reading or listening to meaningful things which interest you on a deeper level, rather than simply reading for the sake of it being in French.
For example, this could be a book from an author you have read and enjoyed previously in English, or keeping up with news about an interest you have in French.
As well as reading, you can use podcasts and films as audio alternatives, as long as you make sure you choose subjects that interest you.
This way you will pick up words and phrases through context rather than sitting in front of a textbook and memorising words, which you can often forget when faced with a scenario of ‘real’ language use like a conversation with a cashier in a bookstore.
Other ideas include swapping your phone’s language to French or writing your shopping list in French – anything to immerse yourself in the language.
Using the language acquisition method, it is important to expose yourself as much as possible and make it part of your routine to have a link directly between your life and the French language, instead of passing it through the medium of English first as you do in a classroom.
If you are living in an English-speaking country, the acquisition process can still be practised but you will have to make more effort to integrate the process into your life.
If you are living in France, it is much easier to immerse yourself in French by turning on the TV or radio, listening to, or speaking to people in public, and reading road signs, supermarket product names, advertisements, etc.