The Office of Faculty Development

Linguistic Capital

Linguistic Capital is an idea originating in anthropology and attributed to Pierre Bordieu, later adapted as a sociological construct by Tara J. Yosso who wrote that linguistic capital “reflects the idea that students of color arrive at school with multiple strengths, including language and communication skills.”  As language is a complex and dynamic construct, linguistic capital refers to much more than the vocabulary and grammar knowledge possessed by students in a dominant language.  Linguistic capital also refers to student ability to work within different language registers and communication styles and to utilize various social skills within a variety of contexts.

By learning about students’ linguistic assets, learning experiences can be planned to highlight these assets.  By developing asset-based learning experiences, all students may benefit from the collection of diverse assets present in a learning environment.

While linguistic capital refers to assets related to what we often think of as “formal languages,” there is a very diverse variety of skill sets and language types that students develop and use in everyday life.  Students who are digital natives, those who were born well into the digital age, often have highly developed language skills for use in digital contexts.  The wide variety of contexts, or registers, in which students use language are associated with a diverse set of skills that intersect, but do not completely overlap.  These skills, from both formal and informal contexts, can be leveraged to improve the learning opportunities of students.

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    Examine selected research on linguistic capital.

    Yosso, T., Solórzano, D.  (2005).  Conceptualizing a critical race theory in sociology.  In M. Romero & E. Margoliz (Eds.), The Blackwell companion to social inequalities. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated.

    Rodríguez, G.  (2013).  Power and agency: Exploring pedagogical dimensions of funds of knowledgeReview of research in education.  37 87-120. 

    Huerta-Kelly, N.  (2017).  Funds of knowledge: A constructivist study to examine the assets of culturally and linguistically diverse families.  Colorado State University. in new window)

    Dworin, J. E.  (2011).  The family stories project: Using funds of knowledge for writingThe reading teacher.  59(6) 510-520. in new window)

    Olcón, K., Pantell, M., Sund, A. C. (2018). Recruitment and Retention of Latinos in Social Work Education: Building on Students’ Community Cultural WealthJournal of Social Work Education. 54(2) 349-363. in new window)

     Zevenbergen, R. (1998).  Classroom interaction and linguistic capital: A Bordieuian analysis of the construction of social differences in mathematics education.  University of Nottingham. 

    Ferlazzo, L.  (2017).  ELL students’ home language is an asset, not a barrier.  Education Week 


    Ready to apply strategies for leveraging linguistic capital to your teaching? Here are some ideas and strategies to get you started:

    List ideas or strategies for application and outline of implementation steps.

    1. Create a short “Getting to Know You” survey that includes questions about language: multilingualism, contexts (registers) in which they are comfortable communicating (e.g. social media, texting, informal conversation, academic presentation)
    2. Evaluate a lesson or activity to identify the registers of language that students will need to navigate in order to be successful.
      1. Then determine how you will support students to engage with the language demands of the activity.
    3. Ensure that your course provides opportunities for students to practice communication in the registers that are necessary for success in your class and in the field.
    4. Ensure that your course provides opportunities for students to communicate their understanding by utilizing different means of communication that reflect the strengths of the students whom you teach.