foreign language


A foreign language is a
language A language is a structured system of communication Communication (from Latin ''communicare'', meaning "to share" or "to be in relation with") is "an apparent answer to the painful divisions between self and other, private and public, and ...

not commonly spoken in the country of the speaker. However, there must be a defined distinction between foreign language and
second language A person's second language, or L2, is a language that is not the native language A first language, native tongue, native language, or mother/father/parent tongue (also known as arterial language or L1), is a language A language is a struc ...
. It is also a language not spoken in the native country of the person referred to, e.g., a
German German(s) may refer to: Common uses * of or related to Germany * Germans, Germanic ethnic group, citizens of Germany or people of German ancestry * For citizens of Germany, see also German nationality law * German language The German la ...

speaker living in the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...

can say that
Filipino Filipino may refer to: * Something from or related to the Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas or ''Filipinas'' ), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, ...
is a foreign language to them, a
Japanese Japanese may refer to: * Something from or related to Japan , image_flag = Flag of Japan.svg , alt_flag = Centered deep red circle on a white rectangle , image_coat = Imperial Seal of J ...

speaker living in
Serbia Serbia (, ; Serbian Serbian may refer to: * someone or something related to Serbia, a country in Southeastern Europe * someone or something related to the Serbs, a South Slavic people * in both meanings, depending on the context, it may refe ...

can say that
Serbian Serbian may refer to: * someone or something related to Serbia, a country in Southeastern Europe * someone or something related to the Serbs, a South Slavic people * in both meanings, depending on the context, it may refer to: ** Serbian language ...
is a foreign language to them, or a
Portuguese Portuguese may refer to: * anything of, from, or related to the country and nation of Portugal ** Portuguese cuisine, traditional foods ** Portuguese language, a Romance language *** Portuguese dialects, variants of the Portuguese language ** Portug ...

speaker living in
Bangladesh Bangladesh (, bn, , ), officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in . It is the in the world, with a population exceeding 163 million people, in an area of , making it one of the in the world. Bangladesh shares land bor ...

can say that
Bengali Bengali or Bengalee, or Bengalese may refer to: *something of, from, or related to Bengal, a large region in South Asia * Bengalis, an ethnic and linguistic group of the region * Bengali language, the language they speak ** Bengali alphabet, the wr ...
is a foreign language to them. These two characterisations do not exhaust the possible definitions, however, and the label is occasionally applied in ways that are variously misleading or factually inaccurate. Some children learn more than one language from birth or from a very young age then they are
bilingual in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, Washington (state), Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the U.S. sta ...

multilingual in Seattle Seattle ( ) is a port, seaport city on the West Coast of the United States. It is the county seat, seat of King County, Washington, King County, Washington (state), Washington. Seattle is the largest city in both the U.S. sta ...
. These children can be said to have two, three or more mother tongues: neither language is foreign to that child, even if one language is a foreign language for the vast majority of people in the child's birth country. For example, a child learning English from his
English English usually refers to: * English language English is a West Germanic languages, West Germanic language first spoken in History of Anglo-Saxon England, early medieval England, which has eventually become the World language, leading lan ...

father and Irish at school in Ireland can speak both English and Irish, but neither is a foreign language to them. This is common in countries such as
India India, officially the Republic of India (: ), is a country in . It is the by area, the country, and the most populous in the world. Bounded by the on the south, the on the southwest, and the on the southeast, it shares land borders wit ...

South Africa South Africa, officially the Republic of South Africa (RSA), is the southernmost country in Africa. With over 60 million people, it is the world's 23rd-most populous nation and covers an area of . South Africa has three capital cities ...

South Africa
, or
Canada Canada is a country in the northern part of . Its extend from the to the and northward into the , covering , making it the world's . Its southern and western , stretching , is the world's longest bi-national land border. Canada's capital ...

due to these countries having multiple official languages. In general, it is believed that children have advantage to learning a foreign language over adults. However, there are studies which have shown adult students are better at foreign language learning than child students. It is because adults have pre-existing knowledge of how grammar works, and a superior ability of memorizing vocabulary.

Foreign language education and ability

Most schools around the world teach at least one foreign language and most colleges and high schools require foreign language before graduation. By 1998, nearly all pupils in
Europe Europe is a which is also recognised as part of , located entirely in the and mostly in the . It comprises the westernmost peninsulas of the of Eurasia, it shares the continental landmass of with both and , and is bordered by the to the ...

studied at least one foreign language as part of their compulsory education, the only exception being
Ireland Ireland ( ; ga, Éire ; Ulster-Scots: ) is an island upright=1.15, Great_Britain.html"_;"title="Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain">Ireland_(left)_and_Great_Britain_(right),_are_large_islands_of_north-west_Europe image:Small_Island_in ...

, where primary and secondary schoolchildren learn both
Irish Irish most commonly refers to: * Someone or something of, from, or related to: ** Ireland, an island situated off the north-western coast of continental Europe ** Northern Ireland, a constituent unit of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and North ...
and English, but neither is considered a foreign language (although Irish pupils do study a third European language). On average in Europe, at the start of foreign language teaching, learners have lessons for three to four hours a week. Compulsory lessons in a foreign language normally start at the end of
primary school A primary school (in Ireland, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, and South Africa), junior school (in Australia), elementary school or grade school (in North America and the Philippines) is a school A school is an ...

primary school
or the start of
secondary school A secondary school describes an institution that provides and also usually includes the building where this takes place. Some secondary schools provide both lower secondary education (ages 11 to 14) and upper secondary education (ages 14 to 18) ...
. In
Luxembourg Luxembourg ( ; lb, Lëtzebuerg ; french: link=no, Luxembourg; german: link=no, Luxemburg), officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, ; french: link=no, Grand-Duché de Luxembourg ; german: link=no, Großherzogtum Luxemburg is a landlocked ...

Norway Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway,Names in the official and recognised languages: : ''Norge'' ; : '; Official names in minority languages: : ''Norga''; ''Vuodna''; : ''Nöörje''; fkv, Norja is a in , the territory of which compr ...

Malta Malta ( , , ), officially known as the Republic of Malta ( mt, Repubblika ta' Malta ) and formerly Melita, is a Southern European island country consisting of an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies south of Italy, east of Tunisia ...

, however, the first foreign language is studied at age six, and in
Flanders Flanders (, ; Dutch Dutch commonly refers to: * Something of, from, or related to the Netherlands * Dutch people () * Dutch language () *Dutch language , spoken in Belgium (also referred as ''flemish'') Dutch may also refer to:" Castle * ...
at age 10. In
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a country A country is a distinct territory, territorial body or political entity. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence or citizenship. A country may be an independent sovereign ...

, all children are taught
Welsh Welsh may refer to: Related to Wales * Welsh, referring or related to Wales * Welsh language, a Brittonic Celtic language of the Indo-European language family, indigenous to the British Isles, spoken in Wales ** Patagonian Welsh, a dialect of Wels ...
from the first year of primary school. The Welsh language is also compulsory up to the age of 16, although a formal
GCSE The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification in a particular subject, taken in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. State schools in Scotland use the Scottish Qualifications Certificate instead. Private sch ...
qualification is optional. 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. In 1995, the
European Commission The European Commission (EC) is the executive branch The executive is the branch of government exercising authority in and holding Moral responsibility, responsibility for the governance of a State (polity), state. The executive executes a ...

European Commission
's White Paper on Education and Training emphasised the importance of schoolchildren learning at least two foreign languages before upper secondary education. The Lisbon Summit of 2000 defined languages as one of the five key skills. Despite the high rate of foreign language teaching in schools, the number of adults claiming to speak a foreign language is generally lower than might be expected. This is particularly true of native English speakers: in 2004 a
British British may refer to: Peoples, culture, and language * British people, nationals or natives of the United Kingdom, British Overseas Territories, and Crown Dependencies. ** Britishness, the British identity and common culture * British English, ...

survey showed that only one in 10
workers could speak a foreign language and less than 5% could count to 20 in a second language. In 2012,
European Commission survey
found that 61% of respondents in the
were unlikely to speak any language other than their mother tongue (page 5). Since the 1990s, the
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated in English as CEFR or CEF or CEFRL, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingl ...
has tried to standardise the learning of languages across Europe. An article from ''
The Atlantic ''The Atlantic'' is an American magazine and multi-platform publisher. It was founded in 1857 in Boston, as ''The Atlantic Monthly'', a literary and cultural magazine that published leading writers' commentary on education, the , and other maj ...

The Atlantic
'' claims that only 1 percent of the adults within the US population consider themselves proficient in speaking a foreign language. This is in stark contrast to many other countries, where the percentage is much higher. Even though there are many benefits that come with learning a foreign language, schools across the United States continue to cut foreign language from their budgets.


Instruments for foreign language learning

In recent years,
computer-assisted language learning Computer-assisted language learning (CALL), British, or Computer-Aided Instruction (CAI)/Computer-Aided Language Instruction (CALI), American, is briefly defined in a seminal work by Levy (1997: p. 1) as "the search for and study of applicati ...
has been integrated into foreign language education and computer programs with varying levels of interactional relationship between computer and the language learner have been developed. Language learning aids such as foreign language writing aid and foreign language reading aid, targeted at the specific language skills of foreign language learners, are also alternative instruments available for foreign language learners.

Research into foreign language learning

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. Also in 2004, a study by University College London (UCL) examined the brains of 105 people who could speak more than one language. The study found that people who learned a second language when younger had denser grey matter than those who learned one later. Grey matter is an area of the brain where information is most efficiently processed, due to the function of specific nerve cells. A series of experiments on more than 300 people from the U.S. and Korea found that thinking in a second language reduced deep-seated, misleading biases that unduly influence how risks and benefits are perceived. Other research has shown that early exposure to a second language increases divergent thinking strategies,Rafael Diaz (1983). Thought and Two Languages: The Impact of Bilingualism on Cognitive Development. Review of Research in Education. Vol. 10, pp. 23-54. helping not only in language-related tasks, but also in areas such as math. Children early on have different ways of expressing themselves, such that they better understand there is more than one way to look at a problem and that there is more than one solution.

Foreign language ''versus'' second language

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: "In a broad sense, any language learned after one has learnt one's native language [is called second language]. However, when contrasted with foreign language, the term refers more narrowly to a language that plays a major role in a particular country or region though it may not be the first language of many people who use it. For example, the learning of English by immigrants in the US or the learning of Catalan by speakers of Spanish in Catalonia (an autonomous region of Spain) are cases of second (not foreign) language learning, because those languages are necessary for survival in those societies. English is also a second language for many people in countries like Nigeria,
India India, officially the Republic of India (: ), is a country in . It is the by area, the country, and the most populous in the world. Bounded by the on the south, the on the southwest, and the on the southeast, it shares land borders wit ...

, Singapore and the
Philippines The Philippines (; fil, Pilipinas, links=no), officially the Republic of the Philippines ( fil, Republika ng Pilipinas, links=no), * bik, Republika kan Filipinas * ceb, Republika sa Pilipinas * cbk, República de Filipinas * hil, Republ ...

(plus Spanish), because English fulfills many important functions in those countries (including the business of education and government) and Learning English is necessary to be successful within that context. (Some people in these countries however may acquire English as a first language, if it is the main language used at home)." 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). Crystal (2003) notes that ''first language'' is distinguishable from ''second language'' (a language other than one's mother-tongue used for a special purpose, e.g. for education, government) distinguishable in turn from ''foreign language'' (where no such special status is implied). He also notes that the distinction between the latter two is not universally recognised (especially not in the USA). Stern (1983) believes that there is today consensus that a necessary distinction is to be made between a non-native language learnt and used within one country to which the term ''second language'' has been applied and a non-native language learnt and used with reference to a speech community outside national or territorial boundaries to which the term ''foreign language'' is commonly given. He argues that while the distinction between 'second' and 'foreign' has a certain justification, it is perhaps less important than it has sometimes been made out to be and it may be misleading. He notes that the distinction became popular after World War II in international organisations, such as UNESCO, in order to meet nationalist susceptibilities in discussions on language questions. 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). A 'second language' usually has official language, official status or a recognised function within a country which a foreign language has not and furthermore these two different situations frequently have important consequences to which attention has been drawn in some books. For example, Persian language, Persian is a second language for Kurdish people, but not vice versa, because there is no Kurdish environment for Persian speakers who are learning Kurdish languages, Kurdish. On the other hand, English is a foreign language for both groups, because there is no contact between Kurdish and Persian people with English people. However, if an Iranian peoples, Iranian person goes to United States, then English becomes a second language for them. Thus, British immigrants to Iran learn Persian as a second language, and Persian speakers study English in Britain as a second language. Meanwhile, people in Kurdistan can speak of learning Kurdish by Persian speakers as a second rather than foreign language. 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: # Psycho-social demands of classroom: The school classroom requires adjustment of the learner to the group processes, classroom discipline and procedures. The learner receives only a limited amount of individual attention. Regular attendance is required. # Preselected language data: The teacher generally introduces preselected target language items. Spontaneity is limited. A planned curriculum is followed with the teacher attempting to realize certain goals regarding the language that is to be learned. # Grammatical rules presented. The teacher may describe a rule in the native language to explain a grammatical structure. The teacher is expected to understand, assimilate and later apply the abstract rule. # Unreal limited situations. Situations for language use in the classroom are limited in variety and scope as compared to those outside of the classroom. The situations which are employed are often simulated. # Educational aids and assignments. In order to assist learning and achieve teacher goals, books, writing or a language lab, for example, may be used. Work assignments may be given to be completed in the class or at home. 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.

Acquisition versus learning

There is often a distinction between language acquisition, 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, Immigration to the United States, 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.

See also

* First language * Foreign language influences in English * Fremdsprachen und Hochschule * International auxiliary language * Language education * Language exchange * Language Resource Center * Language school * Learning by teaching * Multilingualism * Official language * Second language * Teaching English as a foreign language

Notes and references


* Bailey, David. "The Secret to Learning a Foreign Language as an Adult. " Time. Time, 2 Oct. 2014. Web. * Crystal, D. (2003), A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 5th edition, London: Blackwell. * Falk, J.S. (1978), Linguistics and Language, USA: John Wiley & Sons. * Fasold, R.W. and Connor-Linton J. (2006), An Introduction to Language and Linguistics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. * Hudson, G. (2000), Essential Introductory Linguistics, London: Blackwell. * Merritt, Anne. "Are Children Really Better at Foreign Language Learning?" The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. * Richards, J.C. and Schmidt R. (2002), Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 3rd edition, London: Longman. * Service, Elisabet, et al. "Adults' And 8-Year-Olds' Learning In A Foreign Word Repetition Task: Similar And Different."Language Learning 64.2 (2014): 215-246. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. * Steinberg, D. D. (1991), Psycholinguistics: Language, Mind and World, London: Longman. * Stern, H.H. (1983), Fundamental Concepts of Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press. * Sanfins, Nuno (2018), "TEFL or TESL? A study of Language development and progression." {{DEFAULTSORT:Foreign Language Sociolinguistics Language education Multilingualism