difference between second language and foreign language

Second Language Learning vs. Foreign Language Learning

Learning two or more languages creates career opportunities, increases self-confidence, and builds cross-cultural awareness. However, students should understand that there are important differences between studying a “foreign” language and studying a second language.

Students who enroll in a second language program (ESL), such as University of Bridgeport’s (UB) English Language Institute, are committed to studying another language more thoroughly than they would in a traditional “foreign language” class. They are often determined to meet their goal of truly acquiring the language for use in their academic, professional, or daily life. In second language programs, the daily language of instruction is English, translation is strongly discouraged, and students are generally more invested in their own learning.

Programs typically referred to as English as a Foreign Language (EFL) have a different purpose. ESL students study in an English-speaking country whereas EFL students typically study in their home, non-English-speaking country. Generally, ESL students need English for their studies/career and their day-to-day communication, whereas EFL students need the language to complete tasks, such as reading and/or researching in science and technical fields.

Traditional Modern Language classes offered at UB are similar to EFL classes. Foreign, or Modern, Language learning inspires students to learn about other cultures and may even lead to interest in truly mastering a second language. According to Kathleen Engelmann, Ph.D., Dean of the College of Science and Society at UB, “Foreign Language Learning is a wonderful way to open students’ minds to other cultures and to challenge assumptions about how we communicate. Foreign Language Learning can be the first step that opens the door to Second Language Learning.” UB currently offers courses leading to a minor in the following languages: Arabic, Japanese, Korean, Russian, French, Spanish, and Chinese and will soon offer Conversational Italian as well.

In contrast, the English Language Institute is designed for students who plan to use the second language in their daily lives. We prepare international and domestic students with an “intermediate” or higher level of language proficiency for their future academic and professional careers. And more importantly, we allow them to build another “home” for their communication.

For more information about language learning at UB, contact Steven Rashba, stevenr@bridgeport.edu. Rashba is the Director of Modern Languages and the English Language Institute and currently teaches Advanced ELI 140 (Research Writing for ESL Students). He has been affiliated with UB for 23 years and is one of the world’s approximately 3.95 billion bilingual (or more) speakers.