Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Critical Thinking Word Problems

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:03 Challenges for Students
  • 0:52 CALP
  • 2:56 Improving CALP
  • 3:36 Example of CALP
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

In this lesson, you'll learn about cognitive academic language proficiency, how it affects student learning, and what can be done to improve student outcomes. An example is provided and a short quiz follows.

Challenges for Students

School can be challenging for many students, but imagine the difficulties faced by students for whom English is not their first language. These learners, commonly referred to by the acronym ESL for English as a Second Language or ELL for English Language Learners, face an extra barrier in attempting to learn material that may be challenging even without the added language barrier. Many teachers see students who are able to converse fluently with their friends in English but face difficulties learning in class or understanding the instructions for their homework. Unfortunately, many of these students fall behind or are misdiagnosed with learning disabilities. The answer may not be dyslexia or ADD but rather a lack of understanding by their teachers of their students' cognitive academic language proficiency.


Cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) is the term used to discuss the formal language used in academia, which is often decontextualized. This language often involves large and uncommon words used with little face-to-face reinforcement and non-verbal communication. Lessons written in academic language require a deep understanding of the writer's native language, which an ESL student lacks. Examples of this include the usage of metaphors and similes, scientific terminology, and colloquial expressions. Research has shown that ESL learners can take up to seven years to be considered fluent in academic language.

CALP is best understood when compared to its opposite - basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS). BICS is the development ESL students have in conversational fluency, which is usually rich in context. A face-to-face conversation, the prime example of BICS, provides the speakers with non-verbal clues, instant feedback, and cues that support the language interplay. Fluency in the social and interpersonal use of language is achieved on average in only two years for most ESL learners.

Both CALP and BICS rely greatly on the idea of context and both can be context embedded or context reduced. Context embedded communication is when there is a great degree of feedback and non-verbal communication. Prime examples of this are a face-to-face conversation or one-on-one tutoring with a learner. The ESL learner is able to read the face of the other person, noticing the little cues we all take for granted when talking to someone, and receive instant feedback on her use of language.

Context reduced communication is what's found often in the academic world, such as reading a textbook, watching a PowerPoint presentation, or even talking on the telephone. This communication relies far more on a deep understanding of the language to be meaningful, something ESL learners struggle to achieve as early as context embedded language.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account