Proficiency Levels Defined


Beginning Level

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS)

When children first enter a second language environment they are most concerned with socialization with peers. They seek social acceptance and interaction. By socializing, they get input, that is, they get opportunities to hear the language spoken and to figure out what it means from context. Cognitively, they try to hear recognizable recurring words and phrases, which they then learn to produce as formulaic utterances or memorized units. They use these phrases in a variety of contexts and, as the phrases become more and more familiar, they begin to break them down into recurring parts. These then become the basis for developing a language system. So, the teacher can expect children in the early stages of acquisition to spend a lot of time listening and trying to adjust to the new social environment. Learners should be encouraged in their early productions by teachers who respond primarily to the meanings that the learners are trying to express and not so much on correcting student errors.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

In the earliest stages of CALP development learners focus on comprehension of materials being presented by the teacher. They must establish conceptual categories to represent the new ideas being presented and they must link these concepts to their previous experience and interests. Manipulation of these concepts in hands-on learning activities enables learners to acquire associated vocabulary both receptively and productively. They also begin to familiarize themselves with academic discourse structure and how it differs from conversational language. In the area of literacy, learners ideally become involved in a community of readers and writers in which literacy skills acquisition is purposeful and fulfilling. They develop a myriad of notions about reading and writing including 1) written language is an important form of communication, 2) scanning occurs from left to right, 3) what can be said can be written and what is written can be read, 4) language has recurring sounds and these sounds can be represented by letters, 5) words in written form can be learned as units and can be analyzed into constituent parts and letters, 6) unfamiliar sequences of letters can be decoded into meaningful words.

Intermediate Level

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS)

Intermediate learners are those who have gotten past the stage of formulaic speech and are engaged in breaking the language system down into its component parts. As language skills increase through listening and interaction, learners naturally increase their attention to the details of the language system. Their ability to recognize the distinctive sounds of the language and their abilities to produce those sounds gradually improve until they sound more and more like those of the native speaker model. They begin to develop the basic word formation strategies (e.g., putting the [s] sound on the end of words to form plurals) and function word usages (e.g., using common prepositions such as ‘in’ and ‘on’) of their peers. They progress through stages of correctness in the formation of complex syntactic patterns such as negation and question formation, and they begin to become aware of speech act patterns such as how to apologize, how to make requests with varying degrees of politeness, etc. Meanwhile, their vocabulary development burgeons to include the receptive and productive use of hundreds of high-frequency vocabulary items used in social discourse.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

At the intermediate level, learners continue to increase their comprehension and production of general and technical vocabulary used in content classes, however, they are still far behind their native English-speaking peers in this regard. They are becoming more familiar with forms of academic discourse such as persuasion, description, comparison, etc., but primarily at the receptive level. They are developing fluency in simple reading (e.g., simplified texts) and writing (e.g., journal writing) tasks, but they still experience cognitive overload when faced with grade-level tasks in reading and writing. They continue to develop phonemic awareness and decoding skills in the second language system.

Advanced Level

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS)

An advanced L2 learner is one whose basic communicative language skills are in place and whose pronunciation and grammar are moving toward those of a native speaker. As English language learners progress through stages of L2 development their concerns turn more and more toward the establishment of social identity with their peer group. That is, they work toward conforming their language patterns and usage to that of their peers. This entails refining their pronunciation to the point that they sound like a member of that group. It requires that they develop the idiomatic expressions, vocabulary, and other discourse patterns characteristic of the reference group. If the reference group happens to use a non-standard dialect of English, the English language learners will often develop the speech patterns characteristic of that group, rather than those of the standard dialect.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)

At the advanced level of CALP, the child is engaged in learning different registers of language from informal to formal varieties, including highly abstract forms of academic discourse. This requires the learning of thousands of vocabulary items and the integration of these items into semantic networks that facilitate the manipulation of complex ideas and the utilization of higher-order thinking skills. It requires the development of high levels of literacy. In reading, this involves the ability to comprehend narrative and expository texts on many different levels, from main ideas to details, to inferences, to the application of the material to novel situations. In writing, it involves an understanding of the writing process and the ability to apply it in the development of many different genres of discourse including argumentative, descriptive, comparative, cause and effect, forms. It also entails developing the ability to choose the appropriate form for the appropriate task.

Adapted with permission from:                                                                                             

Teemant, A. & Pinnegar, S. (2007). Understanding Langauge Acquisition Instructional Guide. Brigham Young University-Public School Partnership.

Annela Teemant

Indiana University/Purdue University, Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Annela Teemant is Professor of Second Language Education (Ph.D., Ohio State University, 1997) at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Her scholarship focuses on developing, implementing, and researching applications of critical sociocultural theory and practices to the preparation of K-12 teachers of English Language Learners. Specifically, she has collaboratively developed and researched the Six Standards Instructional Coaching Model and pedagogy. She has been awarded five U.S. Department of Education grants focused on ESL teacher quality. She has authored more than 30 multimedia teacher education curricula and video ethnographies of practice and published in Teaching and Teacher Education, Urban Education, Teachers College Record, and Language Teaching Research. Her work describes how to use pedagogical coaching to radically improve the conditions of learning needed for multilingual learners. She has also taught adult intensive English in the United States, Finland, and Hungary.
Stefinee E. Pinnegar

Brigham Young University

A St. George native, Dr. Pinnegar graduated from Dixie College (now DSU) and Southern Utah State (now SUU). She taught on the Navajo Reservation then completed an M.A. in English at BYU. She taught for 5 years in Crawfordsville, Indiana. She then completed a PhD in Educational Psychology at the University of Arizona (1989). She was faculty at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, before coming to BYU. She helped develop and now directs the TELL program. She is Acting Dean of Invisible College for Research on Teaching, a research organization that meets yearly in conjunction with AERA. She is a specialty editor of Frontiers in Education's Teacher Education strand with Ramona Cutri. She is editor of the series Advancements in Research on Teaching published by Emerald Insight. She has received the Benjamin Cluff Jr. award for research and the Sponsored Research Award from ORCA at BYU. She is a founder of the Self-Study of Teacher Education Practices research methdology. She has published in the Journal of Teacher Education, Ed Researcher, Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice and has contributed to the handbook of narrative inquiry, two international handbooks of teacher education and two Self-Study of Teaching and Teacher Education Practices handbooks. She reviews for numerous journals and presents regularly at the American Educational Research Association, ISATT, and the Castle Conference sponsored by S-STTEP.

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/language_acquisition/proficiency_levels_defined.