Academic and Social Language: Implications for Language in Education

Author – Raphael Gamaroff.


The functions of language

Language, cognition and cognitive functioning

The information and social function of language


Cummins’ framework of second language proficiency

Language learning and problem-solving

Intelligence, CALP and the mother tongue




Academic administrators and policy makers at tertiary institutions are generally abysmally ignorant on language matters. The most they know is the inane fact that language matters. They don’t make a distinction between “literature” and “language”. Thus, if one has passed a first course in English (which could consist largely of literature or interpersonal English skills), they assume that the student would have the ability to write scientific/academic discourse, i.e. to write a history or an economics essay. They also assume that if a student can gabble in English, such a student is good at English for academic purposes. These assumptions are, as I shall argue, disturbingly wrong. A key distinction in understanding the problem is that between two different kinds of language skills/proficiency.

Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984) divides language proficiency into the two categories of Basic Interpersonal and Communicative Skills (BICS) and Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency (CALP). This distinction is very important in any discussion of language proficiency in education. All healthy humans beings automatically acquire BICS in their mother tongue, but not all human beings are capable of achieving the level of CALP that is required for academic study. To understand what is involved in academic performance, it is also important to understand the role of intelligence in CALP. This article considers some of the issues.

The functions of language

The three paramount concerns of language are the creation, expression and communication of meaning, which Kinneavy (1983:131) describes as the “aims of discourse” and which could be summarised as “learning how to mean” (Halliday, 1975). The creation, expression and communication of meaning are the ways language functions. The “functions” of language is “one of the major dimensions of language study ” (Kinneavy, 1983:131) because . the functions of language tell us why we use it. The why is connected to the what (content), the where (context) and the how or how well (accuracy) of language use.

The functional criteria in language emerges from a child’s interaction with objects and people (Atkinson, Kilby & Roca, 1982:302). A child gradually learns language as a “system of meanings in functional contexts” (Halliday, 1975:9): contexts such as ordering people about, getting them to do things for him or her, and making contact with others.

Owing to the (false?) economy of linguistic terminology in the English-speaking world, there are many linguistic terms that remain nebulous. The term function is one of them. There is the grammatical (or linguistic) function, which refers to the way linguistic elements behave in a sentence. Widdowson (1979) refers to this grammatical function as the rules of “usage”, also called the “semantic function” (Leech, 1981) and “linguistic-sense” (Parker, 1986:32).

There is also the discourse function, which refers to the way in which sentences are put together in the “use” of language (Widdowson, 1979), which is also referred to as “pragmatic meaning” (Leech, 1981, 1983). A nice way of putting the distinction is  1. the (semantic) meaning of words and 2. what we mean by our words (pragmatic meaning) (Leech, 1983).

Halliday (1975:5) proposes two meanings of the term function: “functions in structure” and “functions of language”. “Functions in structure” is concerned with the relationship between different words of a sentence. For example, the word “load” by itself can be either a verb or a noun; it needs the context of a sentence to determine its function. “Functions of language”, on the other hand, goes beyond individual linguistic elements or words (Saussure’s “signs”) to discourse, which besides the knowledge of the rules of discourse (sometimes referred to as communicative competence) also requires one or more of the following kinds of “Other Knowledge” (Bialystok, 1978:73):

– knowledge of the world (factual knowledge and culture)

– situational knowledge

– information gained from earlier utterances

The three kinds of knowledge above are content knowledge. The term content is problematic because it can subsume knowledge, skills and understanding  applied to language use ( Popham, 1981:100). For Nunan (1988:26) “knowledge” and “skills” are “products”, which he distinguishes from the “process” of learning. If content is a problematic term, so is knowledge, because it is difficult to separate factual knowledge from skills knowledge. The following section explains some of the difficulty.

Language, cognition and cognitive functioning

There is a wide and a narrow definition of cognition. The wide notion subsumes attention, action and control, categorisation, processes of recognition, processes of recall, reconstruction of episodes, incidental learning, mnemonics and memory skill, problem solving, creativity, and language acquisition and language use.

Carroll’s (1993) definition of “cognitive task” emphasises mental processes:

I define a cognitive task, therefore, as any task in which correct or appropriate processing of mental information is critical to successful performance. A cognitive ability is any ability that concerns some class of cognitive tasks, so defined.

(Carroll, 1993:10; original italics)

Cognition is also used in a narrower way:

No one has yet located a language organ or a grammar gene, but the search is on. There are several kinds of neurological and genetic impairments that compromise language while sparing cognition and vice versa. [One of these mentioned by the author is Broca’s aphasia].

(Pinker, 1995:46)

On the latter view, “[t]here is a language-specific ability or faculty. distinct from other cognitive abilities” (Spolsky, 1989:100).

What we find being discussed under Callis’ (1994:53) heading “The role of language in cognition” is vocabulary – the content words of a language; and rightly so, because cognition is much concerned with the “process whereby words are learned [which] is very complex (Callis, 1994:54).The term process in Callis is very important. It is difficult to separate, as Nunan (1988:26) does, the “product” of “knowledge” from the “product” of “skills”, and these products from the “process” of learning. All three – the products of “knowledge” and “skills” and the processes of learning – are aspects of cognition.

In the discussion that follows I shall elaborate on the role of these products and processes in (second) language learning, specifically academic language learning.

What do I mean by academic?

English for Academic Purposes is one of two branches of English for Special Purposes (ESP); the other branch of ESP is English for Occupational Purposes (Hutchinson & Waters, 1987). EAP originates in English language teaching and has little to do with the humanistic studies of literature.

The term academic English refers to either scientific discourse alone, that is, English for Academic Purposes (EAP), or to a more general concept of academic discourse, which consists of EAP as well as literary discourse. Literary discourse may refer to a literary creation such as a novel or to the (academic) analysis of a literary creation.

The term scientific has two meanings; firstly, the general sense of “academic”, and secondly, the particular sense of science (in contradistinction to the humanities). I am referring to the general meaning of the term.

The information and social function of language

In classifications of language functions a distinction is made between the social/interactional use of language on the one hand, and the informational/ transactional/referential function on the other (Halliday, 1975:18-21; Leech, 1981:40). A major bone of contention in arguments about the nature of authentic language testing (Stevenson, 1985; Spolsky, 1985) is the relative importance of the interactional function and the transactional function of language. An important question is whether the language used in face-to-face communication is more authentic than the language used in the testing situation.

Researchers differ on the relative importance of these two distinct uses. Van Lier (1988:228) and Hymes (Cazden, John and Hymes, 1985) advocate moving away from the transactional (referential) use of language. Van Lier (1988:228) maintains that “much of our day-to-day communication is not aimed at transacting information or discussing content-matter problems, but rather at developing and maintaining social relationships and at self-expression.”

Hymes (Cazden, John and Hymes, 1985:XIX) maintains that the main emphasis in the classroom has been on the “neutral, affectless uses of language for information and report…what may be broadly called the `referential’ function…the “social” functions have remained marginal.” Lantolf and Frawley (1988:189) maintain that the “scholastic environment” is too dominant. For Van Lier, Hymes and Lantolf and Crawley, the emphasis is on face-to-face communication – on talk – whereas in the scholastic environment the emphasis progressively moves away from talk towards transacting information through reading and writing.

The opinions mentioned above have special relevance to learners of a second language. Although all first language learners, except severely mentally handicapped and autistic children, attain basic communicative competence, the same is not true for second language learners. This is a crucial issue because it has to do with the question of whether basic communicative skills in a second language are a prerequisite to academic proficiency in a second language.

In contrast to the strong emphasis of the social function of language in authors such as Lantolf and Frawley, Hymes and Van Lier mentioned earlier, others (e.g. Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984, 1991; Saville-Troike, 1984; Oller & Perkins, 1978) examine the relation between language proficiency and academic achievement. Prabhu’s task-based teaching is concerned with language in a problem-solving context. “`Communicative’ competence, in the sense of an ability to achieve social situational appropriacy, is not seen [by Prabhu] as a relevant objective ” (Yeld, 1986:17) in the school situation. Saville-Troike (1984:199) maintains that “communicative competence in social interaction does not guarantee communicative competence in academic situations.” For Saville-troike (1984:214),

[a] reasonable hypothesis is that reading achievement in English is more dependent on native language reading ability than on proficiency in oral English…There appears to be some specific transfer of reading skills involved, such as the strategies use for inferring the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Saville-Troike (1984:210) found that “top academic achievers appeared to make minimal use of their developing English for social purposes.” Also, “there was a very low correlation between school achievement and time spent using English” in interactions with either peers, teachers, or the text (Saville-Troike, 1984:213).


The terms BICS (Basic and Interpersonal and Communcative Skills) and CALP (Cognitive and Academic Language Proficiency) originate in Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984).

Some theorists do not make the distinction between BICS and CALP, and may even want to know why the theory should change. The reason why the theory has changed (“should” shouldn’t come into it) is simply because it has changed – for some, if not all or most, theorists. I shall argue that the distinction is a useful one. I begin with Krashen and Terrell.

Krashen and Terrell (1983:67) maintain in their “Natural Approach” to second language learning that it appears reasonable to assume that a “good basis” in basic personal communication skills will lead to greater success in academic learning skills. Larsen-Freeman (1987:7) challenges this view:”…just because students can speak and hear does not mean that they know how to communicate orally or listen effectively.” “Effectively” refers to academic skills. Larsen-Freeman is suggesting that the specific social and pragmatic skills of oral communication that relate to academic skills require a deeper level of language proficiency than basic interpersonal communication.

This view is also shared by Cummins (1980, 1983, 1984:2), who, as pointed out above, divides language into BICS and CALP. Cummins social and pragmatic skills (which is the same as Larsen-Freeman’s “effective communication”) encompasses more than BICS (Cummins, 1984:4), therefore advanced social and pragmatic skills belong to CALP; not to BICS.

In Cummins and Larsen-Freeman above there is no disagreement with Krashen and Terrell’s (1983) view that BICS is necessary for CALP. One might argue that the difference between Cummins, and Krashen and Terrell is that Cummins claims that BICS is not sufficient for CALP, while Krashen and Terrell claim that it is sufficient for CALP. However, such an argument may not stand up to deeper scrutiny, because Krashen and Terrell’s (1983:57) “good basis” in “basic personal communication skills” might be equivalent to Cummins’ advanced social and pragmatic communication skills, which belongs to CALP.

It is therefore possible that Krashen and Terrell as well as Cummins believe that BICS is necessary but not sufficient for CALP. Cummins (1979, 1980) emphasises the point that if academic skills, e.g. reading skills, are not developed in the mother tongue, a learner may find it difficult to achieve academically in the second language. In other words, mother tongue strategies are transferable to the second language (see Cummins’ [1979] “interdependence hypothesis”).

Although it seems a reasonable assumption that academic language proficiency requires the foundation of basic interpersonal skills as Krashen and Terrell (1983) maintain, Saville-Troike (1984:209-210) has found no evidence to support this assumption. What is more, she argues (1984:216) that [s]poken practice in English may not be necessary for the development of English proficiency and may retard it in some instances. Emphasis on interpersonal communication may even inhibit academic achievement.” Saville-Troike is referring to second language proficiency and not to mother tongue proficiency. (No one would doubt that both first language CALP and second language CALP are rooted in first language BICS). If it is true, as Saville-Troike (1984) maintains, that interpersonal skills are not necessary for the development of second language proficiency, this would have an important impact on syllabus design.

Saville-Troike, whose “spoken practice” and “interpersonal skills” are synonymous with BICS, is not saying that speaking is unimportant in education. Rather, she is making a distinction between academic abilities (what she calls “proficiency”) , and informalspeech (which she calls “interpersonal communication”). Wald (1984:57) makes a similar distinction between “language proficiency” as “test language” (spoken and written) and “spontaneous language” /”face-to-face” communication.

With regard to tests, it is important to keep in mind that, in terms of the arguments presented above, there is no such thing as a BICS test. If Wald (1984:52) is correct in stating that (only) CALP is “test language” a question such as “What would a BICS test look like?” would not be a valid question. But this does not mean that one cannot “gather” what someone’s BICS is like in a non-test situation. All language (BICS and CALP) is communicative. However, tests are CALP tasks, not BICS tasks. Test skills are CALP skills, which can involve all four language modes – listening, speaking, reading and writing. For example, an oral cloze test is a CALP task (Wald, 1984:52).

Bruner (1975) and Canale (1983) make a distinction between basic language (linguistic competence), analytic competence, and other kinds of competences. In terms of these distinctions, it would be possible to have tests of basic language (grammar tests) and of analytic language. But a “basic” language test is not the same concept as BICS. Basic language tests (grammar tests) and analytic language tests both involve CALP – because they are tests. I am using the term “test” to refer to formal assessment (formal language – reading, writing, as well as listening and speaking).

Cummins’ framework of second language proficiency:

Cummin’s Framework

Two other important notions in Cummins are “contextual support” (1984:12)” and “cognitive involvement” (1984:13). Consider Cummins’ theoretical framework of language proficiency. The framework consists of two orthogonal continua. The horizontal continuum indicates the variation in contextual support. The vertical continuum indicates the variation in cognitive effort. The horizontal continuum moves from the one extreme of context-embedded communication, i.e. actively negotiated face-to-face feedback, which relies on interpersonal involvement (paralinguistic cues) and a shared reality, to the other extreme of context-reduced communication, which relies completely on linguistic cues (Cummins, 1984:12-13). The activities along the horizontal continuum from left to right may be of the following kind; 1.chatting with a friend 2. writing an informal letter 3. writing or reading an academic article (Cummins, 1984:13).

The vertical continuum is concerned with the level of active “cognitive involvement”, which Cummins conceives in terms of the “amount of information that must be processed simultaneously or in close succession” (Cummins, 1984:13). This means that the level of cognitive involvement is determined by the amount of cognitive effort needed to organise specific information into a coherent piece of discourse. For example, making a list of loosely related ideas would be less cognitively demanding than combining propositions in a logical or chronological sequence. Combinatorial skills are in turn dependent on the context of Other knowledge (culture, subject knowledge and linguistic knowledge).

An important feature of the framework is that activities are graded in terms of a continuum. For example, reading for information in content subjects could involve retrieving a number of loosely related facts, which is relatively a cognitively undemanding task, compared to processing facts that have a logical and cohesive sequence. Therefore, in explaining the natural transitions within the framework, it should be made clear that an activity such as reading for information is not restricted to the cognitively demanding context-reduced quadrant.

The framework also explains how these notions are related to BICS and CALP. The framework was an improvement on the BICS/CALP distinction in the following three ways (Cummins, 1983:119):

It incorporated a developmental perspective which showed the difference between species-specific competences (BICS) i.e. which all healthy human beings learn automatically, independently of IQ.

It showed the differences between the academic language demands of the classroom (CALP) and the language demands of interpersonal contexts outside the classroom (BICS). (This is not to say that BICS doesn’t play an important communicative role in the school, outside the academic use of language in the classroom).

It also described the developmental relationships between L1 and L2.

Cummins (1984:4) states that it would be incorrect to equate CALP with “cognitive” and BICS with “communicative”. Both BICS and CALP are “cognitive” as well as “communicative”. The difference between BICS and CALP lies in the level of cognitive involvement. BICS refers to salient basic features such as fluency (speed of delivery) and accent (lower left quadrant of the framework), and not to advanced social and pragmatic communicative skills, which is a cognitively demanding task; for example, the skill of persuading (in face-to-face communication, (upper left quadrant of the framework), which requires relatively much more cognitive involvement than a BICS task, is a cognitively demanding CALP task. In other words, it would be incorrect to equate BICS with formal and informal speaking, because formal speaking, such as the function of persuading, belongs to advanced communicative skills, and must consequently be part of CALP.

Although both BICS and CALP are communicative as well as cognitive, only CALP, as mentioned above, involves “test language” (Wald, 1984:57). Another common feature of BICS and CALP is that they both involve language to think about language. However, CALP does this in a far more cognitively demanding way, which makes a CALP task more like an academic task.

Although context-reduced communication is impersonal, it does not occur in a social vacuum. For example, when pupils go through the proper channels at a school, they have to know the specific social norms for expressing a request or a complaint. Cummins (1984:40) emphasises that CALP (as in BICS) is rooted in social interaction.

Saville-Troike’s (1984:47) criticism is that Cummins does not take into account socio-economic factors. Saville-Troike argues that knowledge of the world, which is important in reading ability, depends on socio-economic factors; for instance, poor children do not have much opportunity to learn about the outside world.

Cummins’ ideas are presently applied in several educational institutions, for example, academic support programmes at several universities in South Africa and elsewhere are trying to make language courses more meaningful to students by embedding them in course content (Starfield, 1990; Starfield and Kotechka, 1991; Murray, 1993, 1997; Smoke 1988). The problem is trying to distinguish between language proficiency, academic skills and content mastery in academic performance. On the one hand, it is recommended (Hughes, 1989:82) that we test language ability and nothing else: “In language testing we’re not normally interested in knowing whether students are creative, imaginative, or even intelligent, have wide general knowledge, or have good reasons for the opinions they happen to hold.” On the other hand, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to separate language-specific cognitive structures from general problem-solving abilities (Vollmer, 1983:22) or from world knowledge (Taylor, 1989:81ff); and it is the combinatory mechanisms of these three aspects which is of major interest in the theory of CALP, owing to its impact on academic achievement.

Language learning and problem-solving

CALP is closely related to O’Malley’s (1988) “Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA), which is very similar to Cummins’ CALP. CALLA is concerned with “learning strategy instruction” O’Malley (1988:54). The CALLA model is based on the following four principles (O’Malley, 1988:54-55):

Mentally active learners, i.e. who consciously relate new information to previous knowledge, have more “cognitive linkages to assist comprehension and recall than do students who approach each new learning task as something to be memorised by rote learning.”

“Strategies can be taught.”

“Learning strategies transfer to new tasks.”

“Academic language learning is more effective with learning strategies. Academic language learning among students of English as a second language is governed by the same principles that govern reading and problem solving among native English speakers.”

Consider the relationship between the first three principles: Mentally active learners have more “cognitive linkages”. According to O’Malley, these “cognitive linkages” are “learning strategies [that] transfer to new tasks” that “can be taught”. According to Chomsky (1988:198) , “[e]xperience does seem to support the belief that people do vary in their intellectual capacities and their specialisation”, i.e. in their ability to transfer skills and knowledge, and in their ability to learn from what is taught. The variability in “intellectual capacities” has key implications for academic achievement.

It is O’Malley’s fourth principle that I want to focus on. He maintains that the learning strategies of native language speakers and of second language learners are governed by the same principles. This view “is based in part on our own observation that strategies for language learning are similar to strategies for learning content” and “in part on our positive experience in training learning strategies on integrative tasks among ESL students” (O’Malley, 1988:55). The “critical period” during which languages are acquired is generally between the ages of early childhood and about 12 years of age, which is the beginning of the “adult” stage. Several (“second”) languages besides the mother tongue can be acquired during this period. In O’Malley’s description above, it is the strategies for advanced first language learning and second language learning (at all stages) – where both usually occur in a tutored (i.e. artificial) situation – that are probably governed by the same principles as the strategies for learning content, and not the strategies for language development in general. I equate O’Malley’s “strategies for learning content” with Bley-Vroman’s (1990:4) “general adult problem-solving”, which Bley-Vroman (1990:4) maintains resembles “adult foreign language learning” but “not child language development” (Bley-Vroman, 1990:4).

There is an important distinction between the “universal grammar” (Chomsky) and knowledge of a specific language, whether of the mother tongue or of other languages. In terms of this distinction, Bley-Vroman (1990:17-21) argues that it is not the universal grammar (UG) that is involved in the “learning” of a second language but the (specific)knowledge of the first language. White, however, maintains that although there are many ” differences” (White, 1990:61) between L1 and L2 acquisition, these differences are not “necessarily due to the absence of UG”.

White (1990:60) states that it “is important to remember that [Bley-Vroman’s] fundamental difference hypothesis is a claim about child/adult differences, rather than about L1/L2 acquisition differences per se.” However, I would think that L1/L2 acquisition differences has also much to do with child/adult differences in language learning. To illustrate, consider the Contrastive Analysis versus L1=L2 debate of the 60s and 70s. For Krashen (1981) the processes of both L1/L2 development and child/adult development are not different. According to Brown (1974:139): “Traditionally we have believed that the second language was learned by a different process from the first language; recently that belief is being questioned.” And (Brown, 1974:140): “It seems unlikely that the nature of second language learning strategies changes with age where L1 learners resemble younger learners more than older ones.”

For Krashen, whose views are similar to Brown’s, both (1) L1 and L2 development and (2) child and adult development can only occur through “acquisition”. It is “learning” (rules) that occurs through the “monitor”. But, for Krashen, the monitor does not make any direct contribution to language”acquisition”. Krashen’s (1981:1) “monitor theory” hypothesises that “adults have two independent systems for developing ability in second languages; subconscious language acquisition and conscious language learning.” Krashen believes that the best way to develop grammatical accuracy is to “acquire” it unconsciously through a focus on meaning. When the focus falls on the learning (monitoring) of grammatical accuracy, acquisition ceases to operate.

According to Hammerly (1991), with whom I tend to agree, the “second-language- acquisition- through-classroom-communication/interaction (SLACC/I)” view (of whom Krashen is a well known example) wrongly maintains that the processes involved in L1 (“native”) and L2 (“nonnative”) language acquisition are virtually identical, and that L1 “acquisition” (Krashen) is unconscious, and L2 “learning” is conscious.

Having considered some of the arguments, it seems quite possible that L2 learning processes are similar to problem-solving processes, whereas mother tongue/L1 learning is spontaneous (for healthy individuals) and does not involve problem-solving, i.e. intellectual effort. In Cummins’ (1983) terms, L1 is far less “cognitively demanding” than L2 learning. But not all of L1 learning is less cognitively demanding, because the mental processes of L2 learning – in a tutored situation – and of advanced L1 learning – are very similar to academic learning. Recall that CALP is “test language” (Wald, 1984:57), which is the language used in problem solving, specifically in academic study.

Intelligence, CALP and the mother tongue

The everyday meaning of intelligent is clever, inventive, methodical, quick-witted. In more academic terms, an intelligent person is one who is able to perceive new order and new structure, and thus is able to combine things together in fresh ways, creating new abstract patterns and relationships such as identity and difference, cause and effect. (These new patterns do not have to be new to the world, but new to the person’s mind).

Consider intelligence in terms of BICS and CALP . All healthy humans beings automatically acquire BICS in their mother tongue, but not all human beings are capable of achieving the level of CALP that is required for academic study. In order to understand what is involved in academic performance, it is important to understand the role of intelligence in CALP and the consequent role of CALP in academic performance. To elaborate:

The crucial question is whether there is a causal connection between limited intelligence and limited CALP in the second language (namely, English). The immediate response by many would be: “Of course not!” Some would even maintain that there is no direct link between first language/mother tongue proficiency and intelligence either. In the following paragraphs, I try and explain the distinction between BICS and CALP in terms of the symbiotic relationship between first language development and intelligence.

BICS does not require intelligence, specifically academic intelligence, but CALP certainly does. With regard to CALP, various authors (e.g. Lemma & Squelch, 1993; Collier, 1987; Cummins, 1979, 1980) maintain that if CALP has not been developed in early childhood and/or the early years of schooling through the mother tongue (or at least through the language the child knows best), many disadvantaged children will not succeed in an academic environment, where the medium of instruction is a second language like English, which for many is an alien language (and culture).

One of the main problems in the English-as-a-medium-of-instruction situation is perceived to be that low proficiency in English language blocks the flow of information and the development of skills. However the problem is deeper than a low level of English language proficiency. Many learners who enter higher primary and lower secondary school, where a second language is the medium of academic instruction, is that they have gained neither the necessary content knowledge nor developed the necessary problem-solving skills in their mother tongue to learn anything academic – whether it be (CALP in) a second language or some other subject (see Callis, 1994:55-56).

A crucial point is that second language CALP cannot be separated from first language CALP, nor can either of these be separated from proficiency in the “content” subjects. In order to attain CALP in a first language, e.g. Polish, one must first know BICS in Polish. However, if a Polish speaker wants to develop CALP in a second language, e.g. English (ESL), it is not a necessary prerequisite to develop BICS in ESL, because the attainment of a reasonable standard of BICS in ESL often only occurs after the attainment of a reasonable standard of CALP in ESL. In these circumstances, CALP in a second language is developed mostly through the modes of reading and writing.


I have focused mainly on L2 students. However, there are also many L1 students who have underdeveloped CALP. With regard to L1 speakers at tertiary institutions, many of them have not developed an adequate level of CALP. Recall Larsen-Freeman’s (1987:7) view mentioned earlier, namely that “just because students can speak and hear does not mean that they know how to communicate orally or listen effectively”, that is, they don’t know how to communicate orally or listen effectively in an academic context.

There exists today a growing body of opinion (mostly of political inspiration) that would like to see the end of the L1/L2 and the BICS/CALP dichotomies. Level the playing fields they say. By all means, but don’t flatten the players – the good ones – in the (democratic) process. Our energies should not be spent on trying to bolster the fatuous notion that all people have the same potential for higher intellectual processing but rather finding out the cognitive constraints involved, where substantial individual differences, as in every other human trait (psychological or physiological,) are to be expected.


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