It is very often said that our mother tongue is acquired rather than learned. I shall use the term ‘acquisition’ for mother tongue learning to distinguish it from learning to be literate and learning a second language, which require greater degrees of attention, memorising and instruction. Early language learning apparently takes place without much conscious effort or the need for extrinsic motivation; instead children have a powerful instinct to communicate. While there is a biological basis to language acquisition, it is not itself a biological process, but a social one. The view that language acquisition occurs without the need for any conscious effort or extrinsic motivation is much exaggerated; in fact, both children and caregivers have to apply themselves, even though they are aided by strong instinctual motivation.