Many people wonder about the distinction between language acquisition and language learning. Here’s a simplified explanation:
When you pick-up new words in a language, you are experiencing language acquisition. This is the subconscious process by which one gains skills and competence in a language. Babies acquire their first language; they do not learn the language. Fortunately, this ability is not limited to babies. In fact you can acquire a language at any age given proper exposure and an ability to relax and enjoy the process.
When you study grammar rules and vocabulary you are learning a language. The learning process can be used to supplement language acquisition. Personally, I prefer mixing the acquisition process with learning. I loved the ability to unlock entire realms of conversation by studying the past tenses in Spanish. I simply didn’t enjoy enough exposure to the language to naturally acquire the past tenses at the speed I wished to master the skills. However, I was perfectly capable of studying a textbook and then practicing and listening carefully to examples from native speakers. There are many advantages to being an adult when it comes to language learning!