March 11, 2021

ESL Program Vocabulary and English Language Learner Terminology

Must know ESL terms and terminology when working with English Language Learners ELLs


Hello everyone,

Have you ever been confused after having a conversation with a colleague or administrator about one of your English Language Learners (ELLs)?  Did some of the English as a Second Language (ESL) acronyms or phrases confuse you when teaching, discussing, and/or sharing information about English Learners?  

You are not alone.  

There are so many terms in education and they are constantly shifting. 
I have compiled a list of terms to help wade through the confusion.  This is just a beginning ELL glossary, so to start with, here is some must-know ESL terminology.

Terminology when referring to students:

English Language Learner (ELL) ~

refers to students who are learning English as a second language.  It includes anyone who doesn’t speak English fluently or who is still acquiring English.

Limited English Proficient (LEP) ~

refers to a student’s language level.  LEP was employed for years to label children as English Learners. Now replaced by terms like ELL.

Early Childhood English Language Learner (ECELL) ~

refers to a student below age 5 who is acquiring English as a second language.

Language minority (LM) ~

refers to a student from a family where a language other than English is spoken. It does not signify how well the student speaks or understands English.


Terminology when referring to programs:

Content-based E.S.L. ~

refers to a model of language education using content curriculum, activities, study skills, and strategies of second language learning to teach English. 

English as a Second Language (ESL) ~

refers to English language programs (push in and pull out) that focus on instruction in English to English Learners. 

English to Speakers of Other Languages(ESOL) ~ 

refers to language courses at the elementary and secondary levels.  It can be also used with Adult ESL classes. 

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) ~

refers to instruction in or the learning of English for a certain segment of business or a particular career.  

Immersion Method ~ 

refers to a  program model where children are submerged in English.  The English learner is put in English classes without a model, program, or any structure in place to learn English.  The English learner is to learn English by being surrounded by or immersed in the language.

Technology Enhanced Language Learning (TELL) ~ 

refers to a method of teaching and learning English using a variety of technology and electronic media.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) ~ 

refers to a teacher training program for teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)  ~ 

refers to teacher education programs to teach English as a Second Language.

Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) ~ 

refers to specific education for teachers who teach English language learners.  This can also refer to the professional tests to certify a teacher in ESL. 

I hope this list will help you out in your next conversation about English Language Learners or ESL programs!

Happy Teaching,

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