What Is The Difference Between Studying, Acquiring, And Learning Another Language?

Have you ever wondered about the difference between learning, studying, and acquiring another language?

Understanding these distinctions is crucial for setting realistic language learning goals and managing expectations.

To understand the skills and time needed for each language learning goal, please refer to our previous blog post: Choosing Your Language Learning Goal

However, this blog post will discuss the meanings of acquisition, learning, and studying as they apply to different language learning goals.

Since most language learners want to develop the ability to speak a new language, we’ll give extra focus to discussing this particular goal.

Let’s begin by looking at the definitions of these three words: study, learn, and acquire.

  • Study: The activity or process of gaining knowledge of something by reading, memorizing facts, attending school, etc.
  • Learn: To gain knowledge or skill by practicing, studying, being taught, or experiencing something.
  • Acquire: To gain (a new skill, ability, etc) through continued effort.

No matter the subject being studied, learned, or acquired, the definitions remain the same.

Studying vs learning

We often use the words learn and study interchangeably, but they are two different actions.

One great distinction is that studying is usually associated with formal education, whereas learning can take place in both formal and informal settings.

At the same time, studying is more of a passive activity, and learning is more active and experiential. Nevertheless, both actions involve acquiring knowledge.

Now, let’s delve deeper into these two actions.

As we continue, the distinctions between the two will become more specific and intriguing, mainly when applied to other language acquisition and learning goals.

Learning distinctions

Learning involves more thinking. It includes various aspects of our mind and being. It encompasses our thoughts, senses, emotions, and will.

All types of learning, including learning a foreign language, happens when we acquire fresh ideas and skills and put them to use.

We then evaluate and assess our new language skills to gauge our actual learning and progress. This continuous learning cycle enables us to expand our abilities and knowledge over time.

Learning happens when we actively engage with the concepts we find interesting, drawing from their understanding of their target language and applying it to meaningful contexts. It’s the process of pulling knowledge and making it our own.

Studying distinctions

Studying is the pathway to understanding, and it often marks the starting point for many of us embarking on our language learning journey.

It involves comprehending grammar rules, memorizing conjugations, grasping word placement in sentences, and knowing when to use different verb tenses.

Studying provides knowledge to language learners, presenting information for them to absorb.

Language acquisition vs language learning

In an interesting article we recently read, the differences between language acquisition and language learning are effectively explained as follows:

  1. Language acquisition is the unconscious process of learning a language while being exposed to it regularly. For example, from spending time around native speakers of the language they’re learning. It happens naturally and relatively quickly when we learn a new language. First, we learn the sounds and words and then grasp sentence structures.
  2. Language learning involves using a formal education method to study a language. It’s a conscious process where we are taught the theoretical aspects through education. This method is slower and focuses more on theory rather than conversational language.

In a nutshell, language acquisition is about learning through exposure, while language learning involves a structured educational approach.

Why do we choose to learn a new language?

In our recent blog post: What Are The Right Language Learning Goals For You, we discuss the various reasons people choose to learn another language. Approaches like grammar-translation, the academic approach, and learning for translation fall perfectly under the language learning banner.

As the blog states, these approaches are faster than language acquisition, primarily focusing on speaking skills.

This previous blog also highlights that language learning approaches generally result in better memory retention of the acquired language.

When we interview prospective students at our school, we generally ask what they wish to accomplish. Much of the time, they tell us that they want to speak the language and be able to communicate with any native speaker.

If the prospective student did take a language class in school, they usually tell us they did little speaking. Also, they say they don’t remember anything (or very little) from their time in the classroom.

But why is this? Well, there are a couple of reasons: one physical and one social.

Physical factor

Looking at the brain and the language center, we notice that the language center is very complex and complete.

The easiest and most effective way for anyone to produce language is by targeting that specific part of the brain. It involves connecting pictures with words, then moving on to sentence fragments and full sentences.

Once this method is learned, it stays with you. However, this approach is not commonly used in formal language learning programs because it requires patience and time. It is also harder to measure success when the goal is to create meaningful sentences.

Social factor

In a school environment, it can be challenging to prioritize the language learning process due to competing demands. Language learning often takes a back seat to activities like sports, special education, and social engagements.

Additionally, the concern of grades impacting college admissions can discourage students from focusing on language learning.

This raises an important question: What message are we sending students about the value of developing communication skills in another language when the factors outlined overshadow this essential skill?

Can we all acquire a second or third language?

We firmly believe that we all have the potential to acquire a second or third language and that some level of competence in another language is very important.

However, it requires effort, time, and patience. That’s why it’s important to consider your own personal factors:

  • How much time can you dedicate to learning a new language?
  • What are your specific goals regarding language acquisition?
  • What is your learning style?
  • What level of fluency do you hope to achieve?

The language learning method we have developed aligns perfectly with language acquisition.

While it may be a complex process, it is incredibly rewarding as we do our best to make language learning fun. We encourage you to explore our programs in French and Spanish, and feel free to reach out to determine the best language learning program for you.

Remember, every great journey begins with a single step, and even if you decide to change direction along the way, we offer a range of options.

Our offerings include a comprehensive self-study program and private and group virtual lessons.

For a complimentary consultation, please contact us today at 518-346-7096. We look forward to guiding you on your language learning path.



“Studying vs Learning (Facts and Ideas),” Edugage https://edugage.com/difference-between-studying-and-learning-facts-ideas (n.d).

Nestor, “What is the difference between ‘learn’ and ‘study’?,” Native Speaker, https://www.nativespeakeronline.com/confusing-words/learn-and-study (May, 2013).

Gerandielle, “What is the Difference Between Learning and Studying,” Native Speaker, https://pediaa.com/what-is-the-difference-between-learning-and-studying  (September, 2022).

Anuradha, What is the Difference Between Learning and Acquisition, Native Speaker, https://pediaa.com/what-is-the-difference-between-learning-and-acquisition/ (March, 2022).

Sethmini, What is the Difference Between Language Acquisition and Language Learning, Difference Between, https://www.differencebetween.com/what-is-the-difference-between-language-acquisition-and-language-learning/

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