Separate Underlying Proficiency (SUP) vs. Common Underlying Proficiency (CUP) (Jim Cummins)
Explanation of Main Features

Cummins theorized that beneath the surface of language one and language two there is a common underlying proficiency (CUP). This indicates that, “a child acquires a set of skills and implicit metalinguistic knowledge that can be drawn upon when working in another language” (Shoebottom, 1996). This means that students are learning concepts as they are learning their first language, and those concepts are transferable to the second language. Cummins, 1982, wrote, “The fact that there is little relationship between amount of instructional time through the majority language and academic achievement in that language strongly suggests that L1 and L2 academic skills are interdependent” (p. 14). This idea is often presented with the image of two mounds emerging above a surface with a common mass below the surface. This representation clearly shows that the two languages “are outwardly distinct but are supported by shared concepts and knowledge derived from learning and experience and the cognitive and linguistic abilities of the learner” (Franson, 2009).
Separate underlying proficiency (SUP) is the opposite of common underlying proficiency. This is the theory that the language one proficiency and language two proficiency are separate and not connected at all. This assumes that skills and content learned through the primary language do not transfer to the second language (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010, p. 55).


Cummins, J. (1982). Interdependence and Bicultural Ambivalence: Regarding the Pedagogical Rationale for Bilingual Education. Arlington: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.
Diaz-Rico, L. T., & Weed, K. Z. (2010). The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook, Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Franson, C. (2009, May 2). Bilingual Language Acquisition. Retrieved May 9, 2011, from National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum:
Shoebottom, P. (1996). Second Language Acquisition- Essential Information. Retrieved April 9, 2011, from Frankfurt International School:

Classroom Implications

Cummins idea of CUP “falls within the cognitive approach to language” and encourages teachers to focus on the strengths that students bring to the table and emphasizes that being bilingual is a cognitive advantage (Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010, p. 55). The CUP idea says that students do not need to completely relearn a new language and those students can translate already learned skills to their second language. Teachers should take this into consideration when working with ELLs. Students may be able to learn new concepts and make connections through their previous language. “The surface differences in the languages are less important than the deeper understandings about the function”(Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2010, p. 56).

Diaz-Rico, L. T., & Weed, K. Z. (2010). The Crosscultural, Language, and Academic Development Handbook, Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Pearson