Four Stages of Sequential Second Language Learning

January 9, 2016

Here at La Piccola Scuola in Seattle, we strive to create Italian Lessons for Children that broadens vocabulary, encourages growth and embraces fun learning.  We also work hard to support home learning and enhance the language skill development that is being achieved at home.  To give you a better understanding of how children learn a second language, we’ve highlighted the four stages of sequential second language learning, as shared by


Stage I: Home Language Use

For the first few days, children may persist in using their first or native language even if others do not understand them.


Stage II: Silent Period

After children realize their first language is not working, they enter a silent period in which they barely speak and rely heavily on nonverbal means to communicate with others. The younger the child, the longer the silent period may last.


Stage III: Telegraphic & Formulaic Speech

Children will start to speak in the new or second language. In this stage, they will only speak in small utterances (e.g., Me Down) or by repeating the words of others.


Stage IV: Productive Language

Children are now ready to express their own thoughts and construct their own sentences. In the beginning, these sentences may be very basic or grammatically incorrect; however, this improves over time.


Parents of dual language learners should not be alarmed if their children exhibit any of the above behaviors (e.g., silent period). These behaviors are common for children who are learning a second language. Also, research has found that children who begin to learn a second language before the age of 6 or 7 are more able to speak the new language like a native speaker than children who didn’t start until after ages 6 or 7 (Bongaerts, 2005).  

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