Most of us, especially in countries where English is the majority language, are not aware of the prevalence of multilingualism in the world today, nor the pervasiveness of second language learning. We begin this chapter with an overview of these points, then go on to explore the nature of language learning, some basic similarities and differences between L1 and L2 learning, and “the logical problem of language acquisition.” An understanding of these issues is a necessary foundation for our discussion of linguistic, psychological, and social perspectives on SLA in the next chapters. We follow this with a survey of the theoretical frameworks and foci of interest which have been most important for the study of SLA within each of the three perspectives.
Monolingualism Multilingual competence
The world of second languages
Multilingualism refers to the ability to use two or more languages. (Some linguists and psychologists use bilingualism for the ability to use two languages and multilingualism for more than two, but we will not make that distinction here.) Monolingualism refers to the ability to use only one. No one can say for sure how many people are multilingual, but a reasonable estimate is that at least half of the world's population is in this category. Multilingualism is thus by no means a rare phenomenon, but a normal and common occurrence in most parts of the world.