Linguistic Vocabulary Unleashed

       Okay I may have oversold with the title.  Tonight I’m just going to explain 2 simple Linguistic terms.  These terms however can explain a lot of confusion many people have about what it means to “learn a language.”

Language learning can be looked at as having 2 stages, especially for those who are still in the world of academia.  These two stages are often referred to as BICS and CALP.

BICS- Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

These are your basic social and functional language skills.  Introducing yourself, making a purchase at a local store, even basic dating talk all fall in this category.  These skills tend to be picked up relatively quickly.  They are full of scripted phrases with easily predictable responses.  Most students in an immersion environment master these skills in 1-3 years.

Unfortunately for many ESL students, this leads teachers and peers to the erroneous believe that they “speak English” and therefore should be able to do the same level of work as everyone else.  What they fail to take into account is that while these students have indeed mastered daily life language skills, they have not yet mastered the second stage of language learning which is crucial in the academic arena

CALP- Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

THIS is key.  This is learning all the academic vocabulary necessary for your scholastic endeavors.  This includes both contentvocabulary (specific words by subject area such as allusion in a Literature class or photosynthesis in Biology) as well as structural vocabulary (words like paraphrase, summarize, and compare) which are necessary to complete academic tasks.

Many native speakers struggle with this type of vocabulary.  We often see students who come from homes with less print-rich environments (i.e. less reading and books available) struggle with picking up these new vocabulary terms.  One could argue that they have to learn a new sociolect (think dialect but associated with socioeconomic status).  This type of language is much more difficult for ESL students to pick up, as well as language learners of all tongues.  On average it takes students 5-7years to pick up CALP in their new language.

This why a student may very well be able to shoot the shit about their favorite movies with their peers but not be able to write an effective compare and contrast essay about a book and a film from class.  They may have their BICS but not have fully developed their CALP.

So I think I’ve made it clear why it’s important to understand the difference between these two from a teaching perspective.  But what about as a learner?  Do they matter?

      I think so.  For one thing, understanding the amount of time it takes to pick up each helps one develop a realistic time frame about how long it will take them to do so.  If you want to be able to read scholastic articles in your new language, you are looking at a longer time frame than someone who just wants to order coffee.

For another, I feel like these two can really help someone set their goals in the first place.  Is your goal to be sufficiently sociable in your new language, or do you want to enjoy its literature, history, and other academic contributions?  EITHER IS PERFECTLY OKAY, just one requires a bigger time commitment.  A friend of mine asked me to teach her Spanish.  I asked her what her goals were and she said “I just want to get my BICS.”  Perfect- now I know how to focus your instruction.

In a future post, I’ll talk about the best ways to develop each.  For now, I hope it’s enough to understand the difference and to use this knowledge to help set your goals, pacing, and time frames in realistic ways- enough to challenge, but not so much as to frustrate.

For now, I bid all of you fair followers adieu.  I’m only 1 away from 50- how crazy is that?  Thank you for your support and general linguintastic awesomeness.  Feel free to hit up that message box with your ideas, comments, and tips to share.  Ta Ta For Now!

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 05/20/14.

Language Dream List

Welcome new followers once again!  I hope you continue to find this blog useful and entertaining!

So tonight’s post is going to be a bit self-indulgent, but hopefully my fellow polyglots can relate.

On most people’s bucket list is a series of trips to take and activities to try.  Mine has its fair share of those, but probably the lengthiest section is “languages I want to learn.” I swear this list never shrinks and can be a bit daunting.  At the same time, looking at it in print makes me happy because reminds me just how many different ways there are to connect in the world and how much I want to be a part of those.  So, for your reading pleasure, here is my list- with a few notes on why I picked each language.

Native Language: English

I was born in the States and grew up learning English.  There is no way around the fact that this is a blessing given English’s dominance in print materials.  Don’t get me wrong- all languages are equally valid and valuable, but I imagine it’s much more difficult to find language learning materials that offer Czech or Swahili translations than it is to find English.  Note: This is one of the many reasons I love the Internet, though.  It connects people of multiple languages and anyone can publish material.  People of languages with very few materials in traditional print now have access to hundreds of web pages of material.  Awesomeness.

Languages I’m Fluent In: Spanish  (AKA- Languages I’m married to, going with the metaphor I used earlier.)

I learned Spanish for the same reasons a lot of people in my area do- it was available.  There were classes in high school, there was a high level of Latin American immigrants to practice with, and there was a Spanish language TV channel in our cable line up.  I didn’t plan on making it part of my career initially, but I fell in love with the culture and the verb conjugations, plus it has greatly enhanced my teaching profession.  Guess I’ve always been a bit of a Latina at heart.

Languages I’m currently Studying:  ASL & Japanese  (These would be long-term relationships but not quite ready to put a ring on it yet.)

TECHNICALLY, American Sign Language was the first language I actively studied.  While I played around with a lot of other languages, I was determined to learn ASL after having read biographies on Helen Keller.  I studied many signs, but never got the hang of the grammar from books alone.  In high school, my focus shifted to Spanish due to its availability, but I didn’t forget about ASL completely.  I took a couple courses in college and have found a quality program online now in order to cement my learning.   (For those interested, I’m following Bill Vicars program and highly recommend it.  Here is the link.)

Japanese is the language I loved from afar for many years until I finally decided to introduce myself.  I love the culture, the architecture, the legends of Samurais and spirits- it connected with me on a deep level.  That said, it has been a tumultuous relationship.  We get really close for a while but then one of us gets busy (okay I get busy) and neglectful and we drift apart.  Fortunately, Japanese always takes me back when I show up with index cards and anime in tow.

Languages I Definitely Want to Learn:  German, French, Italian, Mandarin, Arabic, and Swahili. (I feel like I’m dating these languages now but we’re more occasional hookups than coupling at this point.)

German and French made the list because they are heritage languages for me.  The bulk of my Dad’s family is German and the rest is French.  My grandfather’s brother actually spoke no English until he first went to school.  I have played around with German (particularly on an old Rosetta Stone CD, back when those puppies came free with the computers- ah those were the days).  I call my dog a “hund” and check out language resources for these two when I’m in the store, but for now that’s where it ends.  Someday though, my friends, someday we’ll be together and it will be lovely.

Italian made the list purely by sound.  When I took singing lessons, my favorite pieces were Italian Arias.   I LOVE the sound of Italian- the way it flows off the tongue, the rolling “r’s”, the trills, the rhythm- it may be the most beautiful language to my ears.  (Don’t be offended, my other loves- you each have your own internal beauty.)

Mandarin and Arabic made the list for practical reasons.  Both languages are very widely spoken and are becoming powerhouses in the worlds of business and networking.  I have been doubly blessed by making many friends from China, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia, which means I’ll have lots of mentors and speaking partners when I decide to get serious with them.

Swahili has probably the most unique reason for being on my list.  After looking at the rest of my list, I realized that if I learned the rest of my list, I would speak a primary language on each continent, except Africa.  Therefore, I added Swahili to round out the list.

Languages I’m Creating: JAGIS  (Don’t judge me- synthetic languages are just as loveable! J )

A friend of mine is writing a science fiction book.  After years of listening to me complain about how so few science fiction programs address the obvious language issues, she decided to make it a cornerstone of a series she’s working on.  A girl transported across time and space is forced to learn the new language of her surroundings- of course, to do this, she needed a brand new language.  THUS, yours truly is working on creating one.  It is one of the most fascinating challenges I’ve ever undertaken and also one of the most difficult.

Languages I’m Seriously Considering: Tagalog  (It bought me a drink, gave me its number, I just haven’t made the call.)

Tagalog is a primary language of the Philippines.  Immigration has brought a wave of people speaking this language to my area and a few administrators at different schools have noted how valuable it would be to have someone on staff who spoke it.  I hate when family members of my students feel uncomfortable attending school events due to language difficulties, and so this language is on my definite “to check out” list.  At my current place of employment, it is not a pressing need so it ranks fairly low right now, but populations shift regularly so it may move back up the list at some point.

Languages I’ve Got my Eye On: Quichiwa and Arapaho  (I keep checking them out but neither of us have made a move.)

These are Native American languages.  Quichiwa is from Ecuador and Arapaho is from the Southwest.  Both appeal to me on many levels.  I love Native American culture and feel it has been minimized far too often.  Both are endangered languages with only  hundreds of speakers left and therefore are in need of more users to keep them alive.  I’d like to be part of that.

So there is my list and my reasons.  Lord knows it’s long and I know it’ll probably only get longer.  But that’s okay.  Even if I don’t become fluent in every one of these, just dabbling in them makes me happy.  Feel free to share what languages are on YOUR list- I’m curious why you picked the languages you did.  Plus, perhaps our little Tumblr community can help each other find resources and practice partners, particularly for those tongues with less resources.

ROCK & ROLL ALL NIGHT, & POLYGLOT EVERY DAY!

 

Original Article Posting can be found here.  Originally posted 04/22/14.