English Language Learners: Key Terms and Definitions
The terms used to describe ELLs blur, overlap, and change with time, as well as with shifting socio-political dynamics.
ELL (English Language Learner): an active learner of the English language who may benefit from various types of language support programs. This term is used mainly in the
U.S. to describe K–12 students.
ESL (English as a Second Language): formerly used to designate ELL students; this term increasingly refers to a program of instruction designed to support the ELL. It is still
used to refer to multilingual students in higher education.
LEP (Limited English Proficiency): employed by the U.S. Department of Education to refer to ELLs who lack sufficient mastery of English to meet state standards and excel in an English-language classroom. Increasingly, English Language Learner (ELL) is used to describe this population, because it highlights learning, rather than suggesting that non-native-English-speaking students are deficient.
EFL (English as a Foreign Language) Students: nonnative- English-speaking students who are learning English in a country where English is not the primary language.
1.5 Generation Students: graduates of U.S. high schools who enter college while still learning English; may include refugees and permanent residents as well as naturalized and native-born citizens of the U.S. 1
Codeswitching entails alternating between two languages or linguistic codes within a single sentence or conversation and is a common practice of ELLs which teachers can
use to increase students’ awareness of their linguistic practices.
Cognates are words in two languages that have a common etymology.
Metalinguistic Awareness means understanding what language does rather than just how to use it.
First Language is the native language or mother tongue, often abbreviated as L1.
Second Language is learned in addition to the first language, often abbreviated as L2.
1 Matsuda, P.K., & Matsuda, A. (in press). The erasure of resident ESL writers. In M. Roberge, M. Siegal, & L. Harklau (Eds). Generation 1.5 in college composition: Teaching academic writing to U.S.-educated learners of ESL. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.