Which is more important: to communicate in a second language or to test well? Often in language education, skirmishes break out among parents, teachers — and even the students themselves — over this thorny question. Of course, being able to do both is the ideal, but how can we as learners and teachers ensure we keep a healthy balance between social and academic language acquisition?
Linguist Jim Cummins believes that these two types of learning and the skills they involve are separable: On one side of the fence are social language skills, which are needed to communicate within society; on the other are academic language skills — those needed to succeed in a classroom or on an exam. Social language skills do not require any specialized vocabulary, Cummins argues, and often comprehension is aided by the context of the social situation. For example, a child in a playground or a university exchange student at a party would rely on various nonverbal social clues when seeking to understand and respond appropriately to a specific situation.
Read more about teaching and testing for communication here.