Foreign language

In some countries, learners have lessons taken entirely in a foreign language: for example, more than half of European countries with a minority/regional language community use partial immersion to teach both the minority and the state language. This method is also highly used in Canada, wherein anglophone students spend all of most of their lessons learning the materials in French.

Since the 1990s, the has tried to standardise the learning of languages across Europe.

In 2004, a report by the Michel Thomas Language Centre in the United Kingdom suggested that speaking a second language could increase an average worker's salary by £3000 (€3 300) a year, or £145 000 (€159 000) in a lifetime. Further results showed that nine out of 10 British companies thought their businesses could benefit from better language skills. Studies show that a bilingual or multilingual person can earn much more than a computer programmer or engineer because they can use their abilities in foreign language to obtain success in a wide range of career paths. In addition, due to the increase in the number of people from different parts of the world, a multilingual person can more easily communicate with prospective customers.

Although significant differences between the definitions of second language and foreign language may be hard to find as the two terms are often taken as synonyms, research has been carried out to shed light on the differentiating traits of the two. The distinction between acronyms TESL (Teaching of English as a Second Language) and TEFL (Teaching of English as a Foreign Language) shows the attention different researchers have paid to the concepts of foreign language and second language.

Richards and Schmidt (2002: 472) provide the following information about second language:

They also define a foreign language as a language which is not the native language of large numbers of people in a particular country of region, is not used as a medium of instruction in schools and is not widely used as a medium of communication in government, media, etc. They note that foreign languages are typically taught as school subjects for the purpose of communicating with foreigners or for reading printed materials in the language (Richards and Schmidt, 2002: 206).

Fasold and Connor-Linton (2006), Falk (1978) and Hudson (2000) provide similar definitions for the two terms. O'Grady et al. (1384) don't mention the exact terms 'second' and 'foreign' language, but they emphasise on the role of learning environment in teaching non-native languages.

So, the distinction between 'second language' and 'foreign language' is a geographical and environmental distinction. We can mention 'second-language situation' and 'foreign-language situation' as two situations of learning, not two kinds of languages. So a foreign language is not always a foreign language and a second language is not always a second language. Since the distinction is geographical, the two situations (learning second language and learning foreign language) can be considered as a continuum. At one extreme, we may find learners learning without external help and direction purely from exposure to the non-native language through living in the target language environment (second-language learning) and at the other we find learners learning the non-native language exclusively in language teaching setting and classrooms (foreign-language learning).

The purposes of second-language learning are often different from foreign-language learning. Second language is needed for full participation in the political and economic life of the nation, because it is frequently the official language or one of two or more recognised languages. It may be the language needed for education. Among the purposes of foreign-language learning are traveling abroad, communication with native speakers, reading foreign literature or scientific and technical works.

There are some major differences between foreign and second language teaching and learning. In second-language learning, one can receive input for learning both inside and outside the classroom. They can readily put to use what is learned, as can the child learning its first language, so much naturalistic practice is possible.

Second-language learners are usually more successful in developing non-native language skills and what is learned may be essential for getting along in the community, so motivation is stronger.

Acculturation that is a main aspect of learning a language is easier in the case of second-language learning and the emotional role of language (as opposed to communicational role) is easier to use for learners.

The major characteristics of the planned condition of the classroom in the case of foreign-language learning as opposed to natural conditions of second-language learning are:

There are some other issues in teaching and learning foreign language and second language including the type of motivation and the distinction between 'learning' and 'acquisition' that I will discuss them in separate parts.

There is often a distinction between acquisition and learning in linguistic and pedagogic literature. Children are described as 'acquiring' their native language, where there is no previous information and knowledge in their mind. On the other hand, adults are said to 'learn' a non-native language. Acquisition is viewed as a natural, unconscious, untaught, and probably unteachable process, while learning is somewhat artificial, usually conscious and possibly dependent on instruction and study.

The distinction between acquisition and learning can be used in this discussion, because the general conditions in the case of second language offer opportunities for acquisition, because it is informal, free, undirected or naturalistic. On the other hand, educational treatment in the case of foreign language may offer opportunities mainly for learning.

Nevertheless, acquisition can take place in the case of foreign-language learning and learning can take place in the case of second-language learning. For example, immigrants to the US can attend language teaching classes in the target language environment. On the other hand, foreign-language learners that are far from target language environment can sometimes acquire some points for example by listening to foreign radio, reading literature etc.