The Six Levels of Acquiring a New Language

The Six Levels of Acquiring a New Language

Unlike a mathematical algorithm, language yields only a few correct answers. Instead, it’s a complex tapestry of nuanced meanings, a symphony of sounds that convey many messages. This complexity can be illustrated by examining the six levels of language:

Prosody: This is the rhythm and tone of language. It’s like the music of speech and can even express emotions. Interestingly, this musical aspect of language starts being learned even before birth.

Phonetics: These are the basic sounds of speech. Learning the sounds of a new language can be challenging, especially for adults.

Phonology: This involves recognising sounds as meaningful parts of words. This can lead to funny misunderstandings when listening to a foreign language.

Morphology: This is about word structure. It’s how we understand new words by recognising familiar parts.

Syntax: This refers to sentence structure. Even fluent speakers of a second language can sometimes mix up sentence structures.

Semantics: This is all about meaning, which often depends on context. A word can have many meanings, and the context helps us determine which one is intended.

What’s truly astonishing is that babies learn all these six language levels simultaneously. Some, like prosody, are even absorbed in utero. The foetus hears the sounds of its mother’s voice and those of other close family members, preparing it for mother-tongue language acquisition even before birth. As revealed by decades of research, this remarkable language acquisition process in babies and infants involves numerous clever, natural, and organic methods.