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Differences between Learning and Acquisition in Mandarin Learning

For forty years, the scientists have made great progress in researching the cognitive process, thus producing a new subject called cognitive psychology. The language acquisition is a part of human’s cognition. Krashen’s acquisition and leaning hypothesis makes great influence on the research in language cognition. At present, almost the experts in foreign languages teaching fields are discussing the acquisition. Karshen believes that acquisition is the approach that the children learn the first language, which is subconscious and connotative. However, leaning is conscious and to understand language normally from the linguistics, just like the teaching in classroom.

After research, Karshen got the conclusion that the first thing is acquisition if one wants to obtain one language but learning is auxiliary. In addition, he thinks the language knowledge learned can’t be transformed into acquisition and can‘t be used to express the thoughts naturally. For some of the foreigners who learn Mandarin Chinese, they may know another important theory of Karshen, that is, we acquire language through the understandable input and the attention is paid to the information but not the form of the language.

Since our Chinese language teaching is not only the conscious learning, but also needs much attention to the form of language, many people have a kind of complex feeling to the theory of Karshen, that is, it is reasonable but single-sided to a certain degree. We all have the feeling that much of language is acquired and learning language is totally different with the learning of math, physics and chemistry. If it is not learned in the way we are using, then what is it?

In Karshen’s theory about the acquisition of language, there is an important assumption that there is a language acquisition device in people’s mind. When the understandable language information is input to the brain, this device will acquire language automatically. Even though he didn’t explain anything about the inner structure of this device, we can find from the theory of Chomsky who is also a famous linguist that students who participate in volunteer programs in China may know. He believed language is produced because there is universal grammar in people’s mind.

Even though there are many differences between the first language acquisition and the second language acquisition, we have no evidence to prove both have difference in essence. Therefore, there is no reason to think the second language is obtained through learning. As a result, the issues should be studied is how to teach by using the method of the language is acquired.

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