First and Second Languages (L1 and L2) and Ways of Teaching Them


Languages that are taught in schools in Nigeria can be grouped into two types namely first language (L1) and second language (L2). First language refers to the mother tongue, the language that the child has acquired before he comes to school, whereas second language incorporates those languages that the child is expected to formally in the school. Such languages may be second or foreign but they are both being regarded as second because their learning is the same. The knowledge of the features of language acquisition and learning of first and second language will go a long way to assist the teacher of language in his teachings. Features of first and second languages; learning is hereby given separately in summary form starting with that of the first language.

Features of first language (L1)

Language is normally learned by a child. The child in this stage is learning a new thing (learning).

The child is exposed to the oral (oracy skill) form of the language.

The child is exposed to the controlled form of the language i. e. he is exposed to the various forms of the language

The child learns the form of the language he is exposed to initially.

The child produces the language in a very creative manner. He is very free in practicing the language. He is not learning it under a structured environment and so he is free with language and he manipulates it as he uses it.

The child receives feedback from the adult world. The adults in the speech community give him feedback about his performance.

The linguistic errors he may be committing will persist until he attains the stage (Age) when he can manage the structure. Such errors are cognitive in nature.

Features of second language (L2 or LF)

It is a linguistic adult that learns a second language. This is to say that whoever learns the second language has already acquired his first language. He is not doing a new thing. He has already done a similar thing in the form of the mother tongue.

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The process of learning is through teaching (formal education)

There is linguistic interference and this is largely obvious in pronunciation.

The adult learner has the ability to process the linguistic data more quickly than the child especially if the two languages belong to the same first language and the second language (being acquired), the more difficult the learners’ task is.

The amount of exposure to the raw linguistic data is limited hence, the teacher’s responsibility to mark out those areas to be exposed to in an order of priority.

Mistakes and errors are parts of the acquisition/learning of a second language. Such should not be embarrassing to the teacher.

The teacher is the model to the learner and therefore he provides feedback to his student.

Language teachers should not be ignorant of all those features as they can help him a lot in understanding the implications for language teaching and he has to take proper care of those implications.

Language teaching methods

Many subjects are usually in schools. One of the most important subjects that is taught in schools is language. In some situations, the number of languages being taught may be two, L1 and L2 or three L1, L2, and FL as the cases may be. The teaching of each subject takes into consideration the characteristics of the subject, the nature of the learners as well as their environments. Teaching is the passing on of ideas, knowledge skills, attitudes, beliefs, and feelings to someone with the aim of bringing about particular changes in that person. “Teaching is an act performed by a teacher with the intention of causing learning to take place.” (Adelodun, 1993: 22)

Approaches to teaching language

There are approaches to teaching language. Many of the approaches were developed with the mind of the second language situation. Some of these approaches are the grammar-translation approach, the direct approach, the audio-lingual approach, and the eclectic approach. These approaches are commonly used in the situation of the learning of a second language.

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Methods of teaching language

There are different methods of teaching too. These methods can be applied to language teaching are well, whether the language is first, second, or foreign. Literature on methods of teaching reveals the availability of quite a number of methods such as the play way, Dalton Plan, Socratic Method, project method, discussion method, group method, assignment method, field/excursion method, demonstration method, lecture method, laboratory method, etc.

All these methods can be grouped into two different forms namely pupil-centered and teacher-centered methods. In the pupil-centered methods, the teacher acts as a guide or adviser to the pupils suggesting activities that are appropriate. The pupils are actively doing the study under the leadership of the teacher. In other words, the method places the pupils (students) at the center of all the teaching activities.

The teacher-centered method is the direct opposite of the pupil’s (student)-centered method. The teacher is the main actor while the pupils are passive listeners. The pupils remain silent for most of the time during the lesson.

It is important that a language teacher employs more of the pupil-centered method rather than the teacher-centered method. However, it is important also to note that one method may not be able to satisfy the teaching objective in any particular topic in a language class. Therefore, there is a need to combine as many methods as will help in achieving the teaching objectives. In order words, there is the need to evolve an eclectic method otherwise known as the situation or integrated approach of teaching. Eclectic in the sense that the method being used is not a particular one but that, which combines all that is good in all the other methods of teaching. This kind of method of teaching is therefore a mixed and balanced method of teaching.

The onus is laid upon the teacher in selecting and choosing the appropriate method of teaching different topics, sets of students, and environments. It has been opined that: “It is notoriously difficult to assess reliably the efficiency of a given language teaching method, and indeed the evidence is strong that certain pupils will learn however they are taught, just as others will not.” (Morrow 1977: 11). The language teacher should, however, be satisfied that he has done his best in the method of his teaching.

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Principles of teaching language

Furthermore, the language teacher needs to be groomed with what really makes for good teaching. There are principles of effective teaching.

  • The objectives and goals of any particular topic to be learned must be stated clearly.
  • The second is the principle of readiness. This has to do with adequate preparation on the part of the teacher and readiness to learn on the part of the students
  • The provision of motivation (incentives) for pupils to learn is another principle.
  • Provision of opportunity (by the teachers for pupils’ active learning is the next principle.
  • Another principle of good teaching is the identification and recognition of individual differences among the pupils.
  • Maintenance of a cordial and good relationship with the pupils is another principle of teaching
  • Lastly, evaluation of the teaching, stage by stage makes for effective teaching.


The goal is not just to make students become users of the language but rather to make them become competent users of the language. If the language being taught is the first language of the student, the students still have to be taught to become competent of the students. And if the language is a second language for the students, it also means that the students will learn the language more through the process of education and thereby become competent users of the language rubbing shoulders with users of the language as a first language.

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