The concept of common underlying proficiency in teaching a language
К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010
Автор: Васютина К.В.
The educational market all over the world
and especially in Europe grows, and so does the importance of second language
proficiency. Universities interested in attracting international students need
to have an assurance that those students are proficient in the main language of
instruction. This article is a survey of the scientific thought on the concept
of common proficiency underlying two and more languages knowledge.
The word proficiency means a good standard
of ability and skill. (Longman Dictionary, 2003) Language proficiency or linguistic
proficiency is the ability of an individual to speak or perform in an acquired
language. (Longman Dictionary, 2003) There are two basic proficiency theories
developed by different scholars. They are Common underlying proficiency (CUP)
and Separate underlying proficiency (SUP). Canadian linguist James Cummins
advanced the theory in the 1980s that persons who are learning a second
language are not faced with a totally unmapped territory. They possess a common
framework of language structures and functions that can be described as a
common underlying proficiency drawn from the person’s knowledge of one language
to help him or her learn the second or additional language. The theory holds
that there is an interdependence factor between languages. In short, that to
the extent that instruction in the first or native language (L1) is effective
in promoting proficiency in L1, transfer of this proficiency to another
language (L2) will occur provided there is adequate exposure and motivation to
learn L2. Bilingual or multilingual individuals who have meaningful exposure
and experience with two languages in school or another environment, develop
common underlying proficiency (CUP) skills which enable the development of
cognitive and academic skills in both languages. With enough time and good
instruction, the individuals’ two languages are interdependent and come to
exist within one central processing system. The development of CUP skills
assists with transferring of cognitive, academic and linguistic competencies
from the L1 to another language. Based on the CUP, the student would transfer
the concept to the second language and only be required to learn the “label” in
the second language for that concept.
In the same way as children learn their
first language, sequential bilingual learners must also learn how to use their
newly acquired language accurately and appropriately. Although the process of
language learning may be similar, there are also differences. For example,
bilingual learners address the process of learning another language already possessing
knowledge of a linguistic system, its structures and rules. In addition,
sequential bilingual learners start learning their second language at different
ages, rather than from birth, and will be able to use different learning
Second language development would appear to
proceed in an orderly fashion. Researchers have discovered that there is a
fairly common sequence of acquisition for second language learners across a
range of languages and contexts. What is not known is exactly what aspects of
the second language are learned in what sequence. However it is known that some
aspects are learned when there is a perceived need by the learner and some
items can be learned in no particular sequence. Other research has suggested
that there is a developmental sequence which precludes the early learning of
certain items. Second language learners will demonstrate some of the stages of
first language development. For example, they may go through a period when a
rule is generalised to all instances. However, the rate of acquisition and the
level of proficiency achieved in second language learning will depend upon the
The popular belief that younger children
have an advantage over adults in developing bilingually is not necessarily
true. Early acquisition of the speech sound system of a language may result in
a native-like pronunciation and the impression of fluency, but older learners
may have an advantage in terms of increased metalinguistic awareness that enables
them to learn the new language more quickly. For the young child, bilingual
development is taking place alongside conceptual development and learning about
the world. For older learners who have greater knowledge and understanding, it
is the learning of new labels for objects, ideas and concepts already known.
As they learn the new language, second
language learners incorporate the new linguistic input into their existing
model of the language. There are many aspects of language that are common. For
example all languages have ways of denoting time, of indicating actions and
actors. Languages do this with different vocabularies and often with different
grammars, but all languages are rule-governed. Part of the process of language
acquisition involves the discovery and application of these rules.
'Interlanguage' is the term used to describe the language that learners produce
as they learn the second language. It is also used to describe the evolving
development of the learner's knowledge and use of the second language as they
become increasingly proficient. It will change as the learner learns more and
incorporates new linguistic knowledge into existing knowledge. Error analysis
appears to suggest that the majority of interlingual errors are developmental
and a sign of progress.
Learners and their learning strategies will
change over time. A five year old will have a different language learning
profile and language learning strategies than a fifteen year old. For bilingual
learners, their first language knowledge will be helpful in the acquisition of
the second language. The extent of this help will be dependent upon their
proficiency in their first language, their age and other factors.
Cummins (1984 and 2000) also argues for a
common underlying proficiency or interdependence hypothesis, in which
cross-lingual proficiencies can promote the development of cognitive, academic
skills. Common underlying proficiency refers to the interdependence of
concepts, skills and linguistic knowledge found in a central processing system.
Cummins states that cognitive and literacy skills established in the mother
tongue or L1 will transfer across languages. This is often presented visually
as two icebergs representing the two languages which overlap and share,
underneath the water line, a common underlying proficiency or operating system.
Both languages are outwardly distinct but are supported by shared concepts and
knowledge derived from learning and experience and the cognitive and linguistic
abilities of the learner.
This representation also demonstrates one
view of how linguistic knowledge is stored in the brain. One way of thinking of
this is to consider bilingual speakers as having separately stored
proficiencies in each language, and this may include pronunciation, vocabulary
and grammar in the working memory, which in turn, have access to long-term
memory storage that is not language specific. In other words, the use of the
first or second language is informed by the working memory, but the concepts
are stored as underlying proficiency.
Cummins also describes language proficiency
in terms of surface and deeper levels of thinking skills. He argues that the deeper
levels of cognitive processing such as analysis, synthesis and evaluation are
necessary to academic progress. He distinguishes these aspects of proficiency
from what he describes as more explicit or superficial realisations of
linguistic and cognitive processing. Cummins proposes a minimum threshold of
first language cognitive/academic development necessary for success in second
language learning. Cummins also suggests that if the threshold of cognitive
proficiency is not achieved, the learner may have difficulties achieving
This representation of bilingual proficiency
would also suggest that continued conceptual and linguistic development in the
first language would help second language learners in their learning of the
second language. So the continued support of the first language whilst learning
the second language would be beneficial for cognitive development as well as
for other socio-cultural reasons. In his later work, Cummins (2000) presents
the work of many other researchers which support this hypothesis and the claim
that bilingualism and continued development in the first language enhances
metalinguistic skills and development in proficiency in the second language.
The separate underlying proficiency (SUP)
premise suggests that no such relationship exists between the first and other
languages and that languages work independently in the central processing
system. Bilingual individuals would require two separate components for
language processing. The SUP theory has for the most part not been supported
within bilingual education or bilingualism research. A bilingual individual
does not need to wait until a certain level of L1 proficiency is achieved to
begin acquiring skills in the second language, due to the central processing
system. An important implication for bilingual education is that students with
conceptual knowledge in their first language do not have to re-learn the same
concepts in a second language.
Within the bilingual proficiency framework,
Cummins indicated a distinction between basic interpersonal communication
skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). Language
proficiency used in everyday communication or informal settings is defined as
BICS. CALP was conceptualized as language proficiency needed for
decontextualized academic situations, or the language skills needed in the
classroom. The iceberg metaphor has been used to describe BICS (surface level)
and CALP (deeper levels) in terms of language proficiency. Cummins expanded
the framework by explaining the range of contextual support and the degree of
cognitive involvement required within a communication task along both of these
continuums. Academic critiques notwithstanding, the connection between language
proficiency of the CALP variety and academic achievement has been widely
accepted by school personnel who work with culturally and linguistically
diverse students in many different capacities (Cummins, J., 1980).
The threshold hypothesis assumes that a
child needs to achieve a certain level of proficiency or competence in the
first or second language to take advantage of the benefits of bilingualism. A
minimum threshold needs to be achieved if there are to be any benefits from
bilingualism, and this hypothesis posits that if there is a low level of
competence in both languages there may be negative consequences. Sometimes this
has been referred to as semi-lingualism, but this term and description is not
often used nowadays. It would seem that there needs to be a minimum level of linguistic
and conceptual knowledge in the first language to successfully add a second and
develop bilingually. At the upper threshold, 'additive bilingualism' occurs
when 'balanced bilinguals' have age appropriate competence in both languages.
This conceptualization of bilingualism is often depicted as a steps in a ladder
or floors in a house. This threshold hypothesis cannot be defined in absolute
terms, rather it is a theoretical description, but it can help in explaining
the development of bilingual learners. It also supports the arguments for the
benefits of additive bilingualism and bilingual education.
There are several implications and benefits
of additive bilingualism for teaching and learning. For example, bilingual
education may provide the greatest support for bilingual learners in the
development of their second or additional language. It is important that new
input is connected to the learner's previous knowledge, including linguistic,
conceptual and learned knowledge. It would seem that additive bilingualism has
positive consequences for learners' metalinguistic development, learning of
additional languages and more generally, for learners' verbal cognitive
operations. The threshold hypothesis also suggests that both languages must be
given an opportunity to develop if there is to be a long-term positive impact.
Additive bilingualism brings with it many positive attributes that can enable
learners' linguistic and academic development.
Individuals acquiring a second language are
said to develop BICS within two to three years in which they may be able to
produce single word or short phrase responses in social situations or informal
settings (e.g. playground, grocery store, and cafeteria). CALP on the other
hand has been determined to require five to seven years of educational exposure
for development. Individuals with CALP skills are able to analyze information,
provide conclusions and make inferences about academically challenging
(decontextualized) material and tasks. School personnel are cautioned not to
make instructional decisions based on a student’s demonstrated conversational
or surface level language skills (BICS) (Cummins, J., 1980).
Different universities assess the level of
English proficiency according to the proficiency frameworks developed by the
educational ministries of their countries. The challenges of developing these
complex frameworks are not merely technical or logistical: they concern how to
design tests and interpretations which enable valid and useful comparison
across such widely differing languages and learner groups, and above all how to
do this in a way which impacts positively on learning. Among other potential
uses of English proficiency standards are creation of an integrated and aligned
system of curriculum, instruction, and assessment crafted specifically for
English language learners; stimulation of collaboration among teachers and
coordination of effort in educating English language learners; providing a
universal, comprehensive description of the second language acquisition process
as the pathway to the attainment of English proficiency standards and school success.
In conclusion we would like to say that the
theory of CUP looks more solid than that of SUP. Therefore we would recommend
having learners study a language consciously and transfer their abilities in
the L1 like reasoning, analyzing, reading strategies, etc. to L2. We believe
that conscious learning is especially important for the students of Translation
Skills major as the deep knowledge of their native tongue transferred to
foreign language will realize in quality, adequate translation or interpreting.
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К содержанию номера журнала: Вестник КАСУ №2 - 2010