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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