Second Language Acquisition Issues


  1. Developmental errors
  2. Transfer errors
  3. Language mixing

Second Language Acquisition

Many factors can influence the children’s success in learning the second language. Being brought up in the bilingual family, a person can develop speech skills in both languages simultaneously or in sequence. That is why, both languages can affect each other because of similarities or differences in their structures and semantics. Family and school environments are important to affect the process of learning two languages.

Thus, the degree of the second language learning and acquisition can be assessed with references to the number and character of errors made by the learner while using the second language for communicating with the other people. During the process of acquisition of two languages, a child can make developmental errors, transfer errors, and mix languages while communicating orally, and the character of these errors can be analyzed in order to make conclusions about the level of the second language acquisition.

When a child is brought up in the family where parents use two languages to communicate with each other the child can make definite errors and mix languages while attempting to present his or her thought because these two languages used within the common environments can influence each other. Developmental errors are characteristic for a person when two languages are learnt simultaneously or when a child at the first stage of learning the second language (Paradis, Genesee, & Crago, 2011).

Developmental errors are the speech mistakes which can be made by any young person because the basics of the language are not learnt fully, and only the first efforts to use the second language correctly are made by a child. Thus, it is possible to state that developmental errors are rather natural in their character because they are not caused by the impact of the other language (Paradis, Genesee, & Crago, 2011, p. 265).

The examples of such errors are the wrong word order, grammatical mistakes, and the omission of morphemes. For instance, the child omits verbs and some prepositions and changes the word order because of lacking the necessary knowledge about definite grammatical rules. There can be errors in using the endings of words in relation to plurals or possessive cases (“then I said yes and then not my friends and then they ask me to be their friends again”) (Chloe, personal communication, 2013).

From this perspective, a child can formulate the phrase or sentence inappropriately according to their structure because of omitting some important details such as the word order of subjects and predicates. Thus, the child can say ‘sever’ instead of ‘civil’ or ‘paying’ instead of ‘playing’ as a result of confusing words (Chloe, personal communication, 2013). These errors are caused by the similarities in the words’ pronunciation, but they are not affected by the particular features of the other language in which the learner can be more competent.

That is why, these errors can be discussed as developmental ones. When errors in the learner’s speech are caused by the first language background these errors are discussed and analyzed as transfer errors. The role of transfer errors is important to examine and assess the level of the language acquisition from the point of the first language’s impact on the process of learning the second language (Baker, 2007, p. 212).

The child can make transfer errors when he or she is confused in relation to the two languages’ differences and similarities. Thus, it is typical for children to accentuate words according to the accent patterns which are characteristic for the first language’s structure and rules. It is also possible to pronounce words while learning the second language according to the known patterns which are frequently used in the first language.

It is important to note that transfer errors are more closely connected with language mixing than with developmental errors because they are caused by the usage of the other language (Baker, 2007, p. 215). Language mixing along with transfer errors is characteristic for learners who speak those two languages which are similar in their nature, used principles, and rules as well as in the pronunciation of many words (Hartsuikerl, Pickering, & Veltkamp, 2004).

The phenomenon of language mixing is observed when a child uses both languages simultaneously because of spending much time within the environments where people speak two different languages (Heredial & Altarriba, 2001). Living in the bilingual family, a child can mix languages in order to adapt to the situation and provide the necessary word or phrase quickly and without concentrating on the language used (Hartsuikerl, Pickering, & Veltkamp, 2004). There are a lot of concepts and notions which are operated in the family in one language in spite of the concrete situation of communication and language which can be used in relation to these definite circumstances (Greene, Pena, & Bedore, 2013).

Thus, the child can be inclined to mix languages while speaking about his or her family. For instance, grandmother and grandfather can be referred to as ‘Nana’ and ‘Tata’ because these concepts are frequently used in the family in order to speak about relatives as well as father can be called not ‘daddy’, but ‘papito’ (Chloe, personal communication, 2013). The first and second languages are mixed because these words are used while speaking in English. Language mixing is typical for young children because they do not analyze the fact of speaking two different languages, but children use the word which is more common for them, for instance, ‘Nana’ and ‘Tata’ instead of grandmother and grandfather.

The low percentage of developmental errors and language mixing indicates the good level of the second language acquisition. Thus, the frequent usage of such words as ‘Nana’, ‘Tata’, and ‘papito’ cannot be discussed as the influential factor to speak about the low level of the second language acquisition. However, the problems with structuring sentences and providing grammatical forms of words which can be analyzed as developmental errors are important to make conclusions about the level of learning the second language with references to learning and using its basic principles (Baker, 2007).

Therefore, the degree of the second language learning can be assessed by teachers with the help of examining the learner’s developmental and transfer errors and language mixing. Developmental errors are characteristic for the first stages of learning the second language when the key rules are learnt and skills are improved. The concepts of transfer errors and language mixing support the idea about the impact of the first language on the process of learning the second one. From this perspective, the situation of children’s language mixing can be discussed as more typical for bilingual families where both languages are learnt simultaneously.


Baker, C. (2007). A parents’ and teachers’ guide to bilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Greene, K., Pena, E., & Bedore, L. (2013). Lexical choice and language selection in bilingual preschoolers. Child Language Teaching and Therapy February, 29(1), 27-39.

Hartsuikerl, R., Pickering, M., & Veltkamp, E. (2004). Is Syntax Separate or Shared Between Languages? Cross-Linguistic Syntactic Priming in Spanish-English Bilinguals. Psychological Science, 15(6), 409-414.

Heredial, R., & Altarriba, J. (2001). Bilingual Language Mixing: Why Do Bilinguals Code-Switch? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10(5), 164-168.

Paradis, J., Genesee, F., & Crago, M. (2011). Dual language development and disorders. Baltimore, M. D.: Brookes.