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Terms related to English language learners

By Erica Patino

At a Glance

  • When kids are learning English as a second language, the school is required to help them become literate in English.

  • If kids also have learning and thinking differences, they may be able to get extra support for those as well.

  • Language proficiency means a child has enough language skills to read, listen, write, and communicate well.

An English language learner (ELL) is anyone who doesn’t speak English fluently or who is still learning English. The school must help ELLs become literate in English. If you think your child may also have learning and thinking differences, you may be able to get extra support for those issues, too.

This printable mini-glossary can help explain some of the terms you may hear if you talk to the school.

Academic English is the English language ability needed to participate in school. This is also called cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP).

Accommodations are classroom techniques or materials that are used to help struggling students work around difficulties.

Basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS) refers to the ability to speak basic English. It’s sometimes called “survival English” or “playground English.”

Bilingual education is a program that provides instruction in both the and in English.

Biliteracy means being able to speak and understand written material in both English and another language.

Dual language program/dual immersion is designed to make all students in the class literate in two languages. This is also called two-way immersion or two-way bilingual education.

Early childhood English language learner (ECELL) refers to a child under age 5 who is learning English as a second language.

English language learner (ELL) refers to a student who is age 5 or older and who is learning English as a second language.

English as a second language (ESL) is an approach in which students who are not native English speakers are mainly taught in English. It focuses on language skills rather than content. It can be done in the classroom or as a pull-out service.

Exit criteria is a set of guidelines for determining when ELL students are literate enough in English to end special language services.

Language minority (LM) refers to a student from a home where a language other than English is spoken. It does not refer to how well the student speaks or understands English.

Language proficiency refers to whether the student has enough language skills to read, listen, write and communicate well.

Mother tongue is the first language a child learns that is spoken at home.

Newcomer programs help new immigrants learn English and get accustomed to the U.S. They’re usually for middle school and high school students who have had limited schooling.

Primary language is the language that students who speak two or more languages are most fluent in or prefer to use.

Pull-out ESL is a program in which students are pulled out of their classrooms for special instruction to learn English.

Push-in ESL is a program in which the ESL teacher comes into the classroom to provide English instruction.

Standard English refers to formal English writing and speaking. This is the most widely accepted and understood form of English in the U.S.

Transitional bilingual education uses two languages to provide instruction. The use of English is gradually increased until it’s the only language used.

Key Takeaways

  • Newcomer programs help new immigrants learn English and get accustomed to the U.S.

  • Pull-out ESL is a program in which students are pulled out of their classrooms for special instruction to learn English. Push-in ESL is when the teacher comes to the class.

  • Language proficiency refers to whether the student has enough language skills to read, listen, write, and communicate well.

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