What does it mean to have "proficiency in a social language," and what are the various views that have been proposed by scholars?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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One of the most respected researchers in the field of linguistics is J. Cummins, who has devoted extensive time to the analysis of language usage in L1 and L2 learners. Cummins (1984) proposed the language proficiency models of BICS and CALP. BICS refers to the basic interpersonal communication skills of an individual, while CALP refers to cognitive and academic language proficiency. This being said, we are "proficient in a social language" when our BICS reflect a high level of confidence in language usage when interacting orally with members of the target language's community who are the native speakers of the L2. Social language is therefore defined as the casual and non-monitored interactive communication in the target language.

According to Haynes (2007), from the ACSD, it takes around three years for the average English language learner to completely acquire and master the social language. The process begins with low-level questions, non-verbal communication, and survival vocabulary. It then transcends into the ability to communicate feelings or ask/answer simple questions, and to being able to recognize words and messages in short texts. The final stage of social proficiency is not only the appropriate usage of language, but also the other denominators that are unique to the target culture. Someone who is social language-proficient knows how to use body language, tone of voice, gestures, and personal space in a way that coincides with that of the target culture. Hence, being socially proficient is not only speaking the language of the culture, but also blending comfortably in it in our manner of speaking and behaving.  


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