Recent research has shown that students benefit from bilingual instructional strategies (Cummins, 2008) because they are able to transfer the resources already built up in their heritage language to the understanding of their second language and because the students are operating out of a central operating system (Cummins, 2000) which allows for an interdependence of proficiency across languages.

  • Vygotsky and Brunner’s sociocultural models show that existing schemas drive what you do so new knowledge will not simply replace existing knowledge and transfer does take place between heritage language and the second language (Cummins, 2001).
  • Explanation of Cummins' Iceberg Model: Cummins (2000) and others have found that students can draw on the set of skills and metalinguistic understanding they have gained from their heritage language when working in another language because both languages are working out from a central operating system (Fig. 1) known as the Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP). This means that the development of either language will have a beneficial effect on the other because of the transfer that takes place.



  • Many studies have found that cognitive and academic development in the first language has a positive effect on both academic achievement and second language schooling (Collier, 1995). The proficiencies acquired by the student in their first language in terms of academic skills, literacy development, concept formation, subject knowledge, and learning strategies will all transfer to the second language.
  • Thomas and Collier (2004) found that the strongest predictor of student achievement in their second language was the amount of formal First Language schooling they experienced.
  • Research has shown that students are able to transfer the understanding they have of ideas in their first language to understanding them in their second language, especially when they are literate in their first language (Baker, 2006)

  • The development of either language will have a beneficial effect on the other.
  • This highlights the need to value the first language and where possible to make place for the development of that language especially as literacy in the first language has a corresponding positive effect on the development of literacy in the second language (Collier, 1995).
  • The students' languages and varieties make up their identities. (McCaffery, 2010).
  • This emphasises the importance of allowing students to speak in their first language at school as well as at home: " cognitive development can occur at home even with non-formally-schooled parents through, for example, asking questions, solving problems together, building or fixing something, cooking together, and experiences "(Collier, 1995, p5)
  • This means 'translation' is acceptable and students can be encouraged to use electronic dictionaries
  • Google translator/google docs and voice thread are useful eLearning tools that could augment second language acquisition (See an example of second language learners using voicethread below).

as well as providing scaffolding that will augment metacognition and academic achievement which will all in turn empower the learner.

Baker, C. (2006). Cognitive theories of bilingualism and the curriculum. In Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism. (4th ed.,pp. 166-186) Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Collier, V.P. (1995). Acquiring a second language for school. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.

Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.

Cummins, J. (2001). Negotiating identities: education for empowerment in a diverse society (Second Edition). Los Angeles, CA: California Association for Bilingual Education.

Cummins, J. (2008). Teaching for transfer: Challenging the two solitudes assumption in Bilingual Education. In J. Cummins and N. H. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education,( 2nd ed)., Vol. 5: Bilingual Education. Boston, MA: Springer Science.

McCaffery, J.J: McFall-Mc Caffery, J.A.T. (2010). ' O tatou o aga'i fea?/ 'Oku tau o ki fe?/ Where are we heading? : Pasifika languages in Aotearoa/New Zealand', AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Scholarship, 6 (2), Special Supplement Issue Ngaahi Lea 'a e Kakai Pasifiki: Endangered Pacific Languages and Cultures), 86-121,

Thomas, W. P. & Collier, V. P. (2004). The astounding effectiveness of dual language education for all. NABE Journal of Research and Practice 2 (1), 1-20.