BICS stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills 

CALP stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

BICS and CALP are acronymic to help us understand how long immigrant children take to develop conversational skills versus grade appropriate academic proficiency in a new language.

Consider, how long does it take an immigrant student to achieve bilingual competency? Well, there are two kinds of language proficiency: social and academic.

Kids quickly learn hw to communicate fluently with other kids on the playground.

How long does BICS take?

Within just a few months, a foreign student might be chatting confidently and fluently with their friends.

That I s because the language used in social interactions is full of context. Social conversations are meaningful, cognitively undemanding, and non-specialized.

But this does not mean the student is actually fluent!

It is important for educators to realize that conversational fluency does not mean the student won’t still struggle with test instructions or with specialized terminology.

How long does CALP take?

The acronyms BICS and CALP refer to the length of time required by immigrant children to develop conversational skills in the target language and grade appropriate academic proficiency in that language

According to Cummins’s and Collier’s evidence, it takes 5-7 years for K-12 students to acquire CALP in the second language. That’s a long time! And, that is only if the learner already has literacy in their native language.

If the student can’t read or write in their native language, a student might need 7–10 years to acquire CALP in the target language.

That means, an immigrant student who seems totally fluent in English in an American classroom, for example, might still struggle with certain academic terms years after a teacher might not think of them as an ELL (an English language learner).

James Cummins is an important ELL or ESL language theorist also known for Second Language Acquisition. He is known for another common ESL acronym: CULP or Common Underlying Language Proficiency.

James Cummins

Cummins advocated for the existence of a CUP. The term common underlying proficiency (CUP)has also been used to refer to the cognitive/academic proficiency that underlies academic performance in both languages.

Cummins believed in the linguistic and academic benefits of additive bilingualism for individual students provide an additional reason to support students in maintaining their First language (LI) while they are acquiring English. Maintaining their LI (first language) helps students remain connected to their community, culture and family. In addition, maintaining their LI, according to Cummins, helps them learn L2.

To learn more, visit this bilingual site for educators and families of English language learners.

Learn More