Rethinking “CALP”

A few years ago, second language teachers I knew began borrowing terms and concepts from the English Learner (EL) world. I teamed up with John Bracey, John Piazza, and David Maust to present some of these ideas to Latin teachers at ACL’s 100th Annual Meeting in New York. The biggest impact the four of us found was looking at how to explore Roman topics as a class in Latin (vs. English), and we did this using a CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency) framework. It turns out that CALP is an older term that could use some updating.

CALP was originally conceived by Cummings in 1980/81 to describe the kind of language that students encounter in an academic setting as opposed to BICS (basic interpersonal communication skills) used for socializing. Within that framework, Cummings wrote that there’s social language and academic language, and that the latter is more complex and advanced than the former. However, critics such as Scarcella (2003), MacSwan & Rolstad (2003), and Bailey (2007) pointed out the deficit mindset in characterizing social language as inferior to academic language. Therefore, lest we continue to build walls, it’s time to update the term, and we’ve got options…

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Common Ground (Henshaw & Hawkins, 2022): First 30 Pages All Language Teachers Should Read

This post includes practical ideas I got from Florencia Henshaw’s and Maris Hawkins’ theory-to-practice SLA (second language acquisition) book. The preface and first chapter contain what’s probably among the best 30 pages a language teacher could read, especially one having little familiarity with SLA, and/or those who missed the Tea with BVP train, and While We’re On The Topic.

My context is teaching first year Latin in a small public high school in a large city. Latin is required. It’s the only language offered. So there. I teach beginning students who have no choice (i.e., this often means no interest or any prior knowledge), and many of them didn’t have a second language experience in primary or middle school. Since “novice learners have a long way to go when it comes to developing a linguistic system” (p. 138), my focus is hardly on any output. Output “helps with the skill of accessing that system” (p. 138), which the beginner is still building, so it’s not a priority. This doesn’t mean no one speaks Latin (students do!). This doesn’t mean there isn’t any interaction. What this does mean is that I’m not thrown off by all the “Get students speaking the TL in just five easy steps!” messages that lead so many language teachers astray. Neither are the authors, although they’ve included stuff in the book for those who might be dealing with an IPA-heavy department (Integrated Performance Tasks), or who might be coming from a more traditional program and isn’t quite ready to give input its due attention. Input is key. I’d actually feel the same if I taught second year Latin as well, and maybe even year three. This would also hold true for any language. That is to say I think all Spanish I & II, or maybe even Korean III teachers would benefit from the same approach: a massive focus on input.

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