The mix of nationalities and backgrounds represented at SIS brings an exciting breadth of linguistic experiences and cultural perspectives to our school community. The student body comprises over 40 different nationalities and the language profiles of our learners are often rich and complex, necessitating a differentiated and personalised approach to the teaching and learning of language.

There is no ‘typical’ ELD student. Some of our English learners arrive as complete beginners, others seem orally ‘fluent’, but need to acquire academic literacy, while some students have a solid grounding in English as a second language, but no experience of using English as the language of instruction. They are a diverse group, each with a unique combination of languages, learning styles, strengths and challenges, but with a shared need to develop their English skills in order to reach their full academic potential.


Social Language

The first skills to develop, whether in a first or a second language, are those that figure in face-to-face interpersonal communication, characterized as “basic, interpersonal communication skills,” or BICS. These communicative skills depend as much on context for interpretation and understanding as they do on the precise words and structures used, and they are therefore relatively easy to acquire. Social English is the language of everyday communication in oral and written forms. Examples include:

  • when students talk to their friends in the playground or on the bus.
  • when students are having an informal face-to-face conversation.
  • when students communicate through social media.

Students’ social English may start developing within a few months. However, it is likely to take a couple of years before language learners fully develop social English skills in listening, speaking, reading, and writing.


Where students have a lower level of English and struggle to communicate or access the curriculum, the need to acquire English is clear. Less obvious, however, is the point at which support is no longer necessary.

An ELL student with social English proficiency may not necessarily have the academic English proficiency needed to achieve success across the curriculum. Many students give every sign of being “ fluent” in English, yet they have difficulty mastering the kinds of academic language needed to succeed in school, especially if they have never been explicitly taught how to use it. This includes students who have been learning in English for a number of years.

It is important to make a distinction between the linguistic forms that are crucial to literacy and learning and those that suffice for everyday conversation. Jim Cummins (1979) argued that the reason so many English language learners fail to thrive educationally after they have been judged to be proficient in English is that true language proficiency is more complex than is commonly assumed and comprises at least two distinct types of linguistic skills: social and academic.

Academic language

Students studying in schools with English language of instruction have to acquire a second, more demanding kind of language proficiency. This second kind of linguistic knowledge Cummins characterized as “cognitive, academic language proficiency,” or CALP. CALP is not supported by vivid motivating social contexts, but by knowledge of the language itself, words, and the structures of sentences and texts. This academic proficiency is fundamental to success in an educational context.

Academic English is the language necessary for success in school. It is related to the whole-school curriculum, including the content areas of math, science, humanities, technology and arts. It is used in textbooks, essays, assignments, class presentations, and assessments. Academic language is used at all grade levels, although its frequency increases as students get older. It is also the language of the workplace; for example, the language used to write a business letter as opposed to a casual email to a coworker.

English language learners come to school not only to learn how to communicate socially, but to become academically proficient in English. Learning social English is just the tip of the iceberg. Just because they can speak in the playground, talk to peers, and use everyday English does not mean that they are competent in academic English. On the contrary, these learners are often not yet proficient enough to handle the IB curriculum. They lack the academic vocabulary and structures needed to develop the content knowledge in English that they will need to succeed in future schooling. By recognizing these two types of proficiencies, we can help expedite our ELD students’ academic English.

Of course, students whose first language is English are not standing still waiting for ELD students to catch up; every year, they make gains in reading, writing, and vocabulary, so ELD students have to run faster to bridge the gap. Research shows that students take, on average, five to seven years to achieve full academic fluency in English. Whilst we must recognise that all learners are unique and individual progress will vary, we know that the ELD programme expedites this progress and exceeds the globally accepted expectations for student success.


The cost is dependent on the type of support needed, and reflects the number of hours and staffing required. All costs are due in advance and will be invoiced termly.

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