Encyclopedia of Language and Education

2008 Edition
| Editors: Nancy H. Hornberger

BICS and CALP: Empirical and Theoretical Status of the Distinction

  • Jim Cummins
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-30424-3_36


The distinction between basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) was introduced by Cummins ( 1979, 1981a) in order to draw educators' attention to the timelines and challenges that second language learners encounter as they attempt to catch up to their peers in academic aspects of the school language. BICS refers to conversational fluency in a language while CALP refers to students' ability to understand and express, in both oral and written modes, concepts and ideas that are relevant to success in school. The terms conversational fluency and academic language proficiency are used interchangeably with BICS and CALP in the remainder of this chapter.

Initially, I describe the origins, rationale, and evolution of the distinction together with its empirical foundations. I then discuss its relationship to similar theoretical constructs that have been proposed in different contexts and for different purposes. Finally, I...


Language Proficiency Vocabulary Knowledge Immigrant Student Academic Language Bilingual Student 
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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jim Cummins
    • 1
  1. 1.The University of TorontoTorontoCanada