George Washington University


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   Theoretical Perspectives
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6/28 E: Development of L2 Communicative Competence Rebecca, Carter, Courtney, Jonathan

Class Evaluations

Theory: Cummins

Cummins’ iceberg theory: BICS/CALP

The acronym "BICS" stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. It is the kind  of language we use when we are talking face to face or when we are talking  on the phone. It is informal language and really just a form of basic communication.  It is the language of social interaction. It is "surface" fluency  of a language. It is a mistake to think that because a person has this  basic communication fluency, they are totally fluent in the language. They  may or may not have fluency in academic language. Competency in the language  includes both communication skills (BICS) and academic language.
The acronym "CALP" was coined by Dr. Cummins  and stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. It's the academic  language proficiency that one needs to think in abstract ways and to carry  on cognitively demanding tasks that are part of the school curriculum. Some call it "school language" or academic language.
Cited from Azuza'a CLAD vocabulary glossary
Check out their cool vocabulary quiz on SLA terms

Cummins' (1979) theory of language interdependence proposed that there are common mental processes underlying both first and second language learning. Cummins has provided a visual representation for this theory referred to as the "Iceberg" model.
DUal Iceberg

Cummin's hypothesis on interdependence of languages (1979, 1981)- "Iceberg Theory" 

The iceberg analogy refers to the assumption that on the surface the first and second languages appear to be functioning in isolation but under the surface there are academic and intellectual processes that are common to both languages.  In Cummins' hypothesis, the theory is that first language learning "proficiencies" can be transferred to the second language learning context.    The unique aspect of the use of Cummins theory is that this hypothesis could also work in reverse. That is to say that at the same time learners are learning a second language, they are also developing capacities which could be used in the first language learning setting (Netten & Germain, 2002).

        Cummins' Quadrant

       Cummins'  Language, Power and Pedagogy: Chapter 1

Krashen's Monitor Model and Input Hypothesis: An Innatist Model

Krashen's model of SLA: Five interrelated hypotheses.

  1. Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis: Postulates 2 different processes for L2 learning: subconscious (acquisition) and conscious (learning). Acquisition occurs in spontaneous language contexts, is subconscious, and leads to conversational fluency. Learning is equated with conscious knowledge of rules of grammar from formal classroom instruction.  Fluency is due to acquisition process; learning cannot become acquisition.  Therefore, classroom should provide an “acquisition-rich” environment and teaching should focus on meaningful activities that encourage acquisition rather than learning
  2. Monitor Hypothesis: Monitoring is sole function of learning; too much can interfere with communicative fluency.  Therefore, monitoring should be done by the learner only after fluency has been established.
  3. Natural Order Hypothesis: All learners of a particular second language will follow the same sequence of acquisition in a predictable or “natural” order. Based on morpheme studies of the 70’s by Roger Brown
  4. Input Hypothesis: Language acquisition occurs when the input is understandable but just a little beyond the learner's current level of language proficiency: i + 1.  Therefore, students should be exposed to a lot of i + 1 or comprehensible input, and after a Silent Period, speech will naturally "emerge." Compare to Vygotsky’s ZPD.
  5. Affective Filter Hypothesis: Anxiety needs to be low (“low affective filter”) for maximum acquisition to take place.

Criticisms of Krashen's Theories

McLaughlin points out that psychologists have not been able to clearly separate consciousness and subconsciousness. More useful to think of a continuum between the two. Beware of dichotomies!

Krashen’s claim that learning cannot lead to acquisition is widely disputed by researchers (for example those investigating focus on form) who have found that conscious learning frequently assists students in their communicative use of vocabulary and language structures.

The problem with Krashen’s Input Hypothesis (besides being virtually impossible to implement in the classroom) is that is it quite behavioristic in its focus on manipulation of stimuli – without considering the learner’s active mental or affective involvement in the learning process. Also, the Input Hypothesis has no place for the role of learners’ output or their interaction with others. Merrill & Lapkin argue that the learner’s output is at least as important (maybe more so) in the acquisition of a second language than just the input they receive.]

Krashen’s Contributions

Krashen’s theoretical claims have led to a great deal of speculation and additional research on SLA processes. His vast influence on teachers has made them more aware of the importance of focusing on meaning and context, rather than isolated vocabulary or grammar patterns. His identification of the three stages of SLA (pre-production, early production (speech emergence), extended (intermediate) production has been influential in helping to determine students’ level of proficiency in many school districts, and has also influenced textbook writing.
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