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Ashley Kunkle

Language and Language Development


Assignment 2B- BICS and CALP

During my SEI training last year, I was first introduced to the idea of BICS and
CALP. To me, this makes perfect sense. Every person uses BICS and CALP no matter if
it is in their first language or in their second. I constantly see myself using these two
categories of language depending on the context of my conversation. When Im with my
friends using BICS language, I use slang, emojis, abbreviations, and a more relaxed
tone. Then, when I am in an academic role as a teacher or student, if I am writing
anything, although my voice may still show through, I sound much more formal than
when you talk to me in person. I perfect example of this is when my friend Jodi moved to
Bahrain during my first year. Her mother found my blog about living in Bahrain and told
Jodi to contact me. As Jodi read through my blog she thought I was going to be stuck up
and not fun until she met me. To this day she is still surprised with the difference
between my social language and the language I use to write with. Another example of
BICS vs. CALP use is my Human Relations teacher in college. He was a City Council
member and a professor for half the day and then a family man and rapper for the other
half of the day. He would talk about how his friends would deem it out of the ordinary
for him to speak the way he does as a teacher in their social setting at church. One day he
even came to class dressed as a rapper and talked in his BICS syntax the entire class, it
was a very weird and out of the ordinary experience. You would have never known that
he was the actual teacher.

As for language development, it only makes sense that students will acquire BICS
first and fastest. When a student first comes in contact with a language, it is probably
with family and friends. This is a social setting that does not need the formality of CALP.
Even in school, students interact with friends using BICS level language. As teachers, we
try and take the students BICS English and help them mold it into CALP English. This
takes a lot longer than BICS language acquisition because students may not use CALP on
a day-to-day basis except during school hours. Also, as stated in Brown, BICS is the
communicative capacity that all children acquire in order to be able to function in daily
interpersonal exchanges (219). In other words, BICS is necessary for survival but CALP
is not.
When it comes to language acquisition, I agree with the four stages of
communicative competence. Now that my stepson is in school, it is interesting to see his
development of language, which I can relate to learning a second language or a language
for the first time. First comes the grammatical context. You learnt he words of the
language and then learn how they should be put together in to a sentence. Although this is
the first competence, I feel it is continually developing as students learn more words and
meanings of those words. It also continues to develop as a student transitions into the
CALP stages.
Next is the discourse competence where the student goes from one sentence to
multiple sentences, paragraphs and pages of words and ideas put together. Without this
level of competence being understood students cannot go further in the language
development. This competence is what puts all of our ideas together and helps them make
sense. This level of competence reminds me of a younger child going from topic to topic

and not understanding why no one gets what they are talking about because they dont
realize none of it is related! This competence is vital to language and communication
development.
Third is the sociolinguistic competence which requires an understanding of the
social context in which language is used: the roles of the participants, the information
they share, and the function of the interaction (Brown, 220). This competence takes us
out of the realm of just the language and includes the people and situations we are
conversing in. This is where students would need to recognize when BICS is appropriate
and when CALP is appropriate. Sometimes transitioning between different contexts and
having to use different levels of language can be the most difficult.
Finally is the strategic competence. This competence, to me, is the most important
for second language learners. This competence helps the speaker move past any
difficulties in the conversation to keep it flowing and non-stop. I think this can be the
most frustrating because if a person is not able to articulate what they are going to say,
without this competence, they will be defeated in that moment. If a speaker has strategic
competence they will try again or find another way to communicate their needs. This
competence is the most difficult to develop but it could also be the most useful. I had to
use this competence in France when I wasnt sure how to navigate a menu at the
restaurant. I tried speaking in French unsuccessfully so then I use body language to talk
to the server or I asked other people around me so I could communicate. On the other
hand, my friend who knew zero French did not have this competence. She would try to
say what she wanted or point but when the server/cashier did not understand, she would

just give up and storm out of the store. It can sometimes be a frustrating process but
strategic competence is vital!
When it comes to language, the acquisition and development is fluid and different
for every individual. In time, as long as the learning continues and the speaker keeps
trying to develop their language and practice, they will be successful not only in one
setting, but all settings.

Works Cited
Brown. Communicative Competence. Pgs . 218-222. Print.