Published by under categories Bilingual Baby, From Lina | comments Comments (4)

Beginning from birth, babies everywhere follow a similar pattern to acquire their first languages according to their individual biological timetable—from crying, cooing, babbling to one-word utterances, two-word phrases, full sentences, and eventually, to complex grammar (see Stages of baby’s language acquisition, and How babies acquire languages?)

How about stages of children’s second language acquisition? Do Children follow similar patterns and reach similar development milestones as they acquire their first languages?

Stephen Krashen and Tracy Terrell first explored five stages of second language acquisition in their 1983 book, The Natural Approach. Thanks to Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (, descriptions about these five stages are well organized and nicely listed, along with approximate time frames and the characteristics of each.

The following list is borrowed from Overview of Second Language Acquisition and Strategies, a downloadable booklet from the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, Strategies and Resources for Mainstream Teachers of English Language Learners. For more information, please visit

It is important to keep in mind that different children may be exposed to a new language at different ages, and that not all children may pass through all stages at the same rate or even in the same sequence.

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Stage I: The Silent/Receptive or Preproduction Stage: This stage approximately lasts from 10 hours to six months. Students often have up to 500 “receptive” words (words they can understand, but may not be comfortable using) and can understand new words that are made comprehensible to them.

This stage often involves a “silent period” during which students may not speak, but can respond using a variety of strategies including pointing to an object, picture, or person; performing an act, such as standing up or closing a door; gesturing or nodding; or responding with a simple “yes” or “no.” During this stage, teachers should not force students to speak until they are ready to do so.

Stage II: The Early Production Stage: The early production stage can last an additional six months after the initial stage. Students have usually developed close to 1,000 receptive/active words (that is, words they are able to understand and use).

During this stage students can usually speak in one- or two-word phrases, and can demonstrate comprehension of new material by giving short answers to simple yes/no, either/or, or who/what/where questions.

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Stage III: The Speech Emergence Stage: This stage can last up to another year. Students have usually developed approximately 3,000 words and can use short phrases and simple sentences to communicate. Students begin to use dialogue and can ask simple questions, such as “Can I go to the restroom?” and are also able to answer simple questions. Students may produce longer sentences, but often with grammatical errors that can interfere with their communication.

Stage IV: The Intermediate Language Proficiency Stage: Intermediate proficiency may take up to another year after speech emergence. Students have typically developed close to 6,000 words and are beginning to make complex statements, state opinions, ask for clarification, share their thoughts, and speak at greater length.

Stage V: The Advanced Language Proficiency Stage: Gaining advanced proficiency in a second language can typically take from five to seven years. By this stage students have developed some specialized content-area vocabulary and can participate fully in grade-level classroom activities if given occasional extra support. Students can speak English using grammar and vocabulary comparable to that of same-age native speakers.


Related posts:
How children acquire second languages?
Stages of baby’s language acquisition
How babies acquire languages?
More resources on bilingualism and its effects
Bilingualism and cognitive development
Being bilingual boosts brain power
Never too early to learn second tongue
Pre- and perinatal education
Parents: child’s life-time teachers


  1. 1
    undoldillzern // January 19th, 2012 at 3:22 pm

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  2. 2
    Ati // March 12th, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    Hi Lina,
    I teach English to kids in a non-English country!
    I have some problems, I don’t know how to teach conversational skills,please help me!!!!

  3. 3
    Lina // March 15th, 2012 at 10:57 am

    @Ati: How old are your students? I think the best way to teach kids conversational skills is to encourage them to actively engage in interaction, such as asking them questions like “how does this work?”, “what is this?”, or “what do you think?” Then you can offer them feedback based on their input. Stay positive and open-minded to their answers since the purpose here is not to seek truth but to motivate kids to have a dialogue with you.

  4. 4
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