Language Acquisition

How Long Does It Take English Language Learners to Master Different Aspects of Second Language 

Your ELL student will acquire everyday conversational English first.  This is called BICS or Basic 
Interpersonal Conversation Skills, which can take up to two years to acquire. Students can understand 
and speak English and even have a sizable vocabulary, but they have not developed the cognitive skills 
necessary to succeed in the classroom and to understand academic terms.  Keep in mind that because 
the student “knows” English and can communicate but that does not mean he/she is proficient in the 

The ability to speak English is different from the ability to learn in English. In order for ELL students to 
be successful in the classroom setting they need to acquire CALP or Cognitive Academic Language 
Proficiency.  This involves the manipulation of language in a decontextualized academic situation.  ELL 
students need five to ten years of English immersion and some direct teaching to acquire this level of 
proficiency so they can perform academically on a level with their peers.  This level involves literacy 
skills, problem solving, analysis, synthesis, and evaluating 

If ELL students have acquired BICS but not CALP, they may get lost trying to follow academic classroom 
language and may sometimes seem to “tune out” because the context is too difficult for them.

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