Understanding The Difference Between BICS And CALP In English Language Acquisition
BICS and CALP are both acronyms that refer to the amount of time it requires new English language learners to develop the necessary conversational and academic skills in the English language.
BICS: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills
CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency
The acronyms also refer to the grade appropriate academic proficiency in the same language.
Each of the concepts mentioned above play a role in the language development process. The first one (BICS) focuses on social language acquisition skills, and the other one (CALP) refers to academic language acquisition.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these concepts to better understand them, since recognizing the difference is crucial for teachers who work with non-native students.
BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) are language skills that people need in social situations. This type of language is what we use on a day-to-day basis to interact with others.
For students, BICS is essential for children to interact with their peers while they are playing at recess, during team sports activities, at lunchtime or socializing outside of school .
This type of language skill is not profoundly cognitively demanding. BICS usually develop between six months and two years after families arrive in the U.S.
CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) refers to the student’s formal academic learning. The CALP concept deals with skills essential to academics such as listening, reading, speaking, and how to write about the relevant subject matter.
Landing this language skill is a crucial concept when it comes to a student’s academic success. It takes time and patience for students to become proficient in language skills necessary for academic learning. It could take between five and seven years for a student to acquire the appropriate level skills for their academics.
If a student has no prior experience in school or lacks parental support, this process could take up to ten years. Also, many young children end up teaching their parents English or their parents choose not to learn the language–and this can have serious consequences on both the social and academic sides.
What makes this concept even more complicated is that it also has to cover such topics as inferring, classifying, comparing, evaluating and synthesizing language for content matter. If a student is not placed in a bilingual class, processing the English language can be cognitively demanding because the student has to learn new ideas, concepts, and the English language all at one time.
Jim Cummins is the founder of this theory, and he has dedicated a great deal of time and effort on these strategies to improve the learning experience for ELL students.
By separating these language learning concepts, you can better understand the different ways to teach ESL and bilingual students.
A big takeaway to note is regarding the levels of attainment and recognizing when to move a student into the academic portion of the English language.
Also, teachers must remember that a student who is successful in BICS, doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready to move toward academic language learning (CALP).
CALP is a concept that requires a bit of patience for both teacher and students. When a student can achieve success in both of these areas, they can achieve great things here in the States.
BICS and CALP may not be the same thing, but they are both necessary for language development in ELL students.