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Bilingualism & Language Acquisition

Resources related to bilingualism and language acquisition.

Recommended Readings

Seminal Authors

Stephen  D. Krashen is known for several theories related to second-language acquisition including

  • The Acquisition-learning Hypothesis
  • The Input Hypothesis,
  • The Monitor Hypothesis,
  • The Affective Filter,
  • The Natural Order Hypothesis

He is a strong advocate for

  • Free voluntary reading
  • Bilingual education
  • The Whole Language Approach

Jim Cummins is a leading authority on bilingual education and second language acquisition. His research focuses on:

  1. Language Proficiency
  2. Metalinguistic knowledge
  3. Task Difficulty
  4. Bilingualism
Cummins' Language Acquisition Theories

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) vs. Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP)
Cummins makes the distinction between two differing kinds of language proficiency. Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and Cognitive Language Proficiency (CALP).  BICS are the "surface" skills of listening and speaking which are typically acquired quickly by many students. CALP is the basis for a child’s ability to cope with the academic demands placed upon him/her in the various subjects. Cummins states that while many children develop native speaker fluency (i.e. BICS) within two years of immersion in the target language, it takes between 5-7 years for a child to be working on a level with native speakers as far as academic language is concerned.

Common Underlying Proficiency
Briefly stated, Cummins believes that in the course of learning one language a child acquires a set of skills and implicit metalinguistic knowledge that can be drawn upon when working in another language. This common underlying proficiency (CUP)  provides the base for the development of both the first language (L1) and the second language (L2). It follows that any expansion of CUP that takes place in one language will have a beneficial effect on the other language(s). This theory also serves to explain why it becomes easier and easier to learn additional languages.

Task Difficulty
Cummins has devised a model whereby the different tasks we expect our students to engage in can be categorized. Tasks range in difficulty along two continuums from cognitively undemanding to cognitively demanding; and along the other continuum from context-embedded to context-reduced. A context-embedded task is one in which the student has access to a range of additional visual and oral cues; for example he/she can look at illustrations of what is being talked about or ask questions to confirm understanding. A context-reduced task is one such as listening to a lecture or reading dense text, where there are no other sources of help than the language itself. A quadrant task, which is both cognitively demanding and context- reduced, is likely to be the most difficult for students, particularly for non-native speakers in their first years of learning English. However, it is essential that ESL students develop the ability to accomplish such tasks, since academic success is impossible without it

Additive/Subtractive Bilingualism
Cummins draws the distinction between additive bilingualism in which the first language continues to be developed and the first culture to be valued while the second language is added; and subtractive bilingualism in which the second language is added at the expense of the first language and culture, which diminish as a consequence.

Lily Wong Fillmore has focused on issues related to the education of language minority students in American schools inlcuding:

  • second language learning and teaching,
  • the education of language minority students,
  • the socialization of children for learning across cultures.
  • heritage language

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