51. Explain BICS / CALP

Let’s define the acronym BICS: "Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills"

Let’s define the acronym CALP: "Cognitive-Academic Language or Linguistic Proficiency."


The Canadian Professor James Cummins introduced the terms BICS and CALP to refer to two different types of language, two different kinds of expression, two dimensions of language use which, in the case of English Language Learners, sometimes –often—get confused or interpreted one for the other.

"Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills" refer to the kind of language that is used in communication among friends, or with strangers, or in real communication about any and all aspects of life. "Good morning!" is BICS. "Where is the bathroom?" is BICS. "If you were so very kind, would you hand me the third book on the right-hand-side shelf, please." is BICS. BICS refer to a simple greeting, or to a most sophisticated, polite and eloquent request.

"Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency" refers to the language that is used in the content areas, the language for high-level critical thinking, for hypothesizing, for talking Math, Chemistry, Music, Health, History, Civics, etc. When we discuss a topic of interest in Social Studies, we use CALP. When we try to explain the reasons for World War I, we use CALP. CALP requires knowledge of content area concepts and terminology.

Sometimes, when a good testing device is not available, teachers assess the English Language Proficiency of students by asking them questions in English. If the questions have to do with our daily living, then the test only covers BICS development. English Language Learners, however, must master CALP as a result of their participation in high quality content area classes. It is CALP development that students must be provided in school, in addition to BICS.

Both BICS and CALP are IMPORTANT. There is no value in CALP language development if students do not know the language for social interaction, BICS. However, a student is not proficient in English until (s)he masters CALP. CALP must be the language development focus of ALL instructional programs for ALL students.

To develop BICS, students must be provided with many opportunities for role playing language situations and sophisticated social interactions. BICS include idiomatic expressions and proverbs, sayings, and colloquial expressions. To develop CALP students must be provided with many opportunities to observe, listen to, and speak about content area concepts in real life situations. In addition, students need to master reading and writing using CALP.

Knowledge of BICS does not insure academic success. Knowledge of BICS is very important to feel comfortable, and to use socially appropriate language, in real-life communication situations. Knowledge of CALP insures academic success. Knowledge of CALP is essential for academic success and higher education, and for critical thinking.  BICS and CALP need to be developed throughout the entire K-12 curriculum in all content areas.




For more in-depth information, classroom demonstrations, and "coaching" of new and/or experienced teachers, Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK offers:

1. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
2. Cross Cultural Diversity - Multicultural Strategies
3. Effective Instruction for English Learners (L.E.P. students) Parts 1, 2, 3, 4
4. Promoting Academic Success in Language Minority Students
5. Cognitive - Academic Language and Vocabulary Development
6. Oral Language / Literacy Skills / Higher Order Thinking Skills
7. 50/50 Dual Language Programs: design, planning and implementation
8. The Structure of English / The Structure of Spanish
9. Transition: Introduction to English Reading

Web Site Programs for Teachers: Numbers 1, 5, 7, 8, and 9.
Web Site Programs for
Paraprofessionals: Number 3.
Web Site Programs for
New Teachers:
Enhanced Cultural Sensitivity - The Challenge of Students Diversity
Identifying / Responding to Students' Language Needs
Phonemic Awareness: Teaching English phonics to L.E.P. students
Relationship Between Reading, Writing and Spelling
Improving Reading Performance -- Building Oral Language Skills)

Write and e-mail any additional questions you may have, and Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will establish with you, your school or district a Technical Assistance Service Contract. Dr. CARMEN SANCHEZ SADEK will answer all your questions promptly and to your satisfaction.


For information and credentials please click on the link below or contact directly:


Educational Consultant, Program Evaluator

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3113 Malcolm Avenue, Los Angeles, California 90034-3406

Phone and Fax: (310) 474-5605

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