EXERCISE 1 - Acquisition versus Learning
My interviewee’s L1 is English. His L2 is German. He studied his L2 in college and developed it further during a three-month business trip to the former Czechoslovakia, Austria, Germany, and northern Italy. I interviewed him twice regarding his learning/acquisition of English then his learning/acquisition of German.

L1

Ask your partner to:
1. Describe an English rule they learned consciously.
“For the subjunctive case, always use the plural of the verb.”

2. Say how they used it to start with.
“My English teacher gave us a whole bunch of sentences that were incorrect and we had to correct them and rewrite them.”

3. Say the extent to which they use it now.
“The rule has been internalized so I don’t consciously use it anymore.”

4. Evaluate how useful they found it.
“Other than passing the course in English grammar, it doesn’t have much use anymore. It’s just something I remember.”

5. Say what they can do in English they did not learn but acquired.
“Organizing information using the words ‘first,’ ‘second’ and ‘third’ – I don’t remember that specifically being taught, but it’s something I know.”

6. Remember how they acquired this.
“I don’t remember how I acquired this. It must have gone all the way back to first grade.”

7. Say how important they found it.
“It’s important. You’re not expressing yourself properly unless you know how to make differentiation.”

L2
Ask your partner to:
1. Describe a German rule they learned consciously.
“The rules for conjugating verbs.”

2. Say how they used it to start with.
“It was just memorization.”

3. Say the extent to which they use it how.
“Not much. I don’t speak German very much now, but anyway, it’s something you very quickly internalize because there is a close parallel between German and English.”

4. Evaluate how useful they found it.
“Knowing the rules for conjugating German verbs makes learning and using new verbs easier.”

5. Say what they can do in German they did not learn but acquired.
“The colloquialism, ‘Ohne sparen geht es nicht,’ which essentially means, ‘If you don’t save, you can’t have it.’ Directly translated to English it would read, ‘Without savings goes it not,’ but somehow I understood what it meant anyway.”

6. Remember how they acquired this.
“I saw that phrase on a billboard. It was an advertisement for a bank.”

7. Say how important they found it.
“Knowing phrases is much more important than just knowing words.”

CONCLUSION
Do you agree with acquisition versus learning?
The ultimate goal for any language learner (L1 or L2) is to be able to produce the language without having to think about how to construct it. According to the interview above, overall, acquisition appears to be a more powerful force in learning a language than memorization. Knowing some grammar rules can be useful, however, for a beginning L2 learner. After some knowledge of the L2 has been developed through academic study, subconscious learning or acquisition should take over for production of the language to become effortless. The grammar rules that my subject learned in his L1 and L2 eventually entered his subconscious knowledge base while additional command of the language was automatically acquired through exposure to the spoken and written language. This suggests that while some study of vocabulary and grammar is useful, teachers of English as a second language should focus on creating opportunities for language acquisition.