Common ELL Terms and Definitions

Sarah Bardack

This glossary is a resource for professionals involved in English language learner (ELL) education and represents a first step toward developing a comprehensive catalog of terms and definitions to aid educators in their work with the increasing population of ELLs across the country.

The complexity and heterogeneity of the ELL population in the United States has increased dramatically in recent history. ELLs have different levels of language proficiency and different socioeconomic status, academic experiences and immigration history. Thus, they do not fit a single profile. ELLs represent the fastest growing segment of the student population in the United States. An estimated 70% of ELLs are concentrated in 10% of U.S. schools and nearly 45% of the adults enrolled nationwide in state-administered adult education programs attend English as a second language (ESL) or English literacy classes (Clewell & Consetino de Cohen, 2007; U.S. Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education, 2006).

This glossary includes the most current vocabulary regarding ELLs and ELL education. It also identifies the terms or definitions that are obsolete, including some that may perpetuate negative stereotypes. The glossary is divided into two major sections; the first section focuses on terminology that refers to ELLs, as well as to instructional and programmatic practices, and the second section focuses on ELL programmatic models. Overall, the variety of these expressions and their definitions illustrates the challenge of developing consistent and current language that accurately applies to ELLs.