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Jim Cummins

Dr. Jim Cummins is a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto where he works on language development and literacy development of learners of English as an additional language. In 1979 Cummins coined the acronyms BICS and CALP to refer to processes that help a teacher to qualify a student's language ability.


(Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills) BICS refers to the basic communicative fluency achieved by all normal native speakers of a language. It is cognitively undemanding and contentextual and is better understood as the language used by students in informal settings, say, on a playground or cafe.


(Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency) CALP refers to the ability to manipulate language using abstractions in a sophisticated manner. CALP is used while performing in an academic setting.

Bilingual educational environments, Cummins tells us, should be mindful of a student's apparent ability to interact at a high cognitive level on the 'street' does not necessarily match their cognitive or communications ability in the 'class'.

It is tempting for teachers and administrators to move students with a high BICS level into a 'mainstream' class because they 'sound' like the other kids on the playground.

Cummins insists that a more thorough assessment of the students' academic language abilities be performed before moving the student out of a 'sheltered' language development environment.