The key difference between first language and second language is their acquisition. The first language is the language one learns first, and this is usually a natural and effortless process while the second language is the language one acquires after the first language, and this acquisition is usually a challenging process.
Majority of the world population in today’s world is either bilingual or multilingual, i.e., able to speak more than one language. First language and second language are two terms that are mainly relevant to bilinguals and bilingualism. The first language is one’s native language while the second language is the language one acquires later in life.
What is First Language?
First language (L1) is the language a person learns first. We also call this first language native language and mother tongue. It is actually the language you learn and speak at home. Thus, children learn their first language from their parents, grandparents or caretakers. Therefore, one learns the first language effortlessly and naturally by listening to parents, and other caretakers communicating in this language. For example, a child brought up in an Italian household (all members of the house communicate with each other in Italian) will grow up learning Italian.
However, some people are brought up in families with different language background. For example, if a child’s father is Spanish and mother is Japanese, and both parents use their respective native language with the child, the child will grow up having two first languages.
Furthermore, however many languages you know and speak, you are always most fluent and competent in your first language. You know many idiomatic expressions, sentence structures, and natural patterns of your first language better. Although native speakers of a particular language (those who use a particular language as the first language) are not necessarily knowledgeable about every grammatical rule of the language, they usually good sense about language rules and usage through their experience with the language.
What is Second Language?
The second language is a language a person learns after his or her native language. It can also refer to any language a person uses in addition to his or her native language. In comparison to the first language, this is usually learned at a later stage. For example, students in many south Asian countries learn English as a second language in addition to their native language.
However, the process of learning a second language takes a lot of effort as it requires familiarizing oneself with vocabulary, sentence structure, pronunciation, grammar rules, etc. It is especially true if you are an adult. Many people around the world use English as a second language. The field of English as a Second Language is commonly known as ESL. Using a second language is also a very common phenomenon in the world today.
What is the Difference Between First Language and Second Language?
The first language is the language a person acquires first, mainly by listening to people around him or her communicate while the second language is any language a person uses in addition to his or her native language; this is learnt after the first language. The key difference between first and second language lies in their acquisition; first language acquisition is a natural and effortless process while second language acquisition may require time and effort.
Moreover, although the first language speaker of a particular language is not knowledgeable about every grammar rule, he or she has a good sense or intuition about rules and language usage. However, a second language speaker of a particular language may not be knowledgeable about idiomatic expressions, sentence structures, etc. Therefore, this is another difference between first language and second language speakers.
Below is an infographic on the difference between first language and second language.
Summary – First Language vs Second Language
If a person is fluent in more than one language, the language he or she acquired first is known as the first language whereas the language he acquired later is known as the second language. The key difference between first language and second language is that the first language acquisition is a natural and effortless process whereas the second language acquisition is a time-consuming process that takes a lot of efforts.