An English Language Learner, often referred to by its more popular abbreviated form ELL, is a term used in English-speaking countries like Canada and the US to describe a person who is learning the English language but whose mother tongue is not English. Some educational advocates, especially in the US, classify such students as emergent bilinguals or non-native English speakers.

Some other terms that are also used to refer to students not that proficient in English are:

  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • English as an Additional Language (EAL)
  • Limited English proficiency (LEP)
  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD), 
  • Non-native English speaker
  • Bilingual students
  • Heritage language
  • Emergent bilingual
  • Language-minority students

The legal term that is used in federal legislation is ‘Limited English Proficient’. The instruction and assessment of students, the attitudes of classroom teachers towards ELLs, and their cultural background have all been found to be factors in the overall achievement of these students. Several methods have been suggested for effectively teaching ELLs, including integrating their cultures into the classroom, which involves them in language-appropriate content area instruction early on, and literature being integrated into their learning programs.

As a means of maintaining an environment beneficial to both the teacher as well as the student, literature, culture and other disciplines should be systematically integrated into the instruction. Postponing content-area instruction until they gain academic language skills helps bridge the linguistic achievement gap between the native-English speaking speakers and the ELL.
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