COMMON ELL TERMSAND DEFINITIONSSarah BardackEnglish Language Learner CenterAmerican Institutes for Research April 20101000 THOMAS JEFFERSON ST, NW WASHINGTON, DC 20007-3835 TEL 202 403 5000 FAX 202 403 5001 WEBSITE WWW.AIR.ORG
ACKNOWLEDGMENTSContributors to this glossary include Libia Gil, PhD; Jennifer O’Day, PhD; Anestine Hector‐Mason, PhD; and Carlos Rodriguez.
INTRODUCTIONThis glossary is a resource for professionals involved in English language learner (ELL) education,and represents a first step toward developing a comprehensive catalogue of terms and definitionsto 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 increaseddramatically in recent history. ELLs have different levels of language proficiency and differentsocioeconomic status, academic experiences, and immigration history. Thus, they do not fit a singleprofile. In addition, ELLs represent the fastest growing segment of the student population in theUnited States. An estimated 70% of ELLs are concentrated in 10% of U.S. schools, and nearly 45% ofthe adults enrolled nationwide in state‐administered adult education programs attend English as asecond 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 alsoidentifies the terms or definitions that are obsolete, including some that may perpetuate negativestereotypes. The glossary is divided into two major sections; the first section focuses onterminology that refers to ELLs, as well as to instructional and programmatic practices, and thesecond section focuses on ELL programmatic models. Overall, the variety of these expressions andtheir definitions illustrates the challenge of developing consistent and current language thataccurately applies to ELLs.Note: Many of the definitions in this document are based on a glossary prepared by the MichiganAssociation for Bilingual Education (n.d.).
COMMON ELL TERMS AND DEFINITIONSI. ELL Terminology1st (first) generationForeign‐born and often foreign‐educated ELLs.2nd (second) generationUnited States–born children of immigrants.Accommodation1Appropriate modifications or changes to tests and testing procedures so that ELL content knowledgeis more accurately measured. Appropriate accommodations (e.g., allowing extra time to take a test,providing dictionaries, and making changes to materials, protocols, or the testing conditions) areused to facilitate the valid participation of ELLs in assessments without undermining the testconstruct.Additive bilingualismA philosophy that is reflected in instructional approaches such as dual language and developmentalbilingual education. Such approaches promote the acquisition of a second language withoutimpeding the development of the first language.Alternative language programA term used by the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to refer to an instructional program that the officedeems appropriate for ELLs. OCR does not require or encourage a specific type of program orapproach to instruction for ELLs; it allows districts substantial freedom when choosing alternativelanguage programs (Office of Civil Rights, n.d.). Alternative language programs incorporate either abilingual education approach or an English‐only approach, depending on the philosophy of theimplementing school or agency.Ancestral languageHome or family language. In English‐speaking countries, for example, a language other than Englishthat is spoken at home or was spoken by an individual’s ancestors is considered an ancestrallanguage.Annual measurable achievement objective (AMAO)AMAOs are state requirements or indicators for measuring ELL progress in learning English, theattainment of English language proficiency, and ELL annual yearly progress (AYP) in meeting statestandards. Local education agencies that receive Title III funding (the English Language Acquisition,Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act) under the Elementary and Secondary1The term accommodation has historically been used to discuss strategies to accommodate testing or teachingprocedures for students who have special needs and has recently been used to refer to accommodations forEnglish language learners.
Education Act (ESEA) for ELL programming are held accountable for the achievement of ELLs;AMAOs help support state accountability efforts.Audio‐lingual approachAn instructional method stemming from a behaviorist theory that posits that making a sound orusing correct grammar is an automatic, unconscious act. Accordingly, instruction is sometimesteacher centered, and typically involves pattern drills and the use of a language laboratory. Inaddition, this approach uses dialogues to carefully introduce vocabulary and sentence structure in agiven sequence. Listening and speaking skills are introduced prior to reading and writing skills, andemphasis is placed on accuracy of pronunciation and grammar. The objective is for the listener todevelop an automatic, accurate control of basic sentence structure, sounds, and vocabulary.Authentic languageThe type of genuine, or natural, language used by native speakers in real‐life contexts, rather thanthe contrived language used solely to learn grammatical forms or vocabulary.Basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS)BICS are often referred to as “playground English” and are typically learned in 3 to 5 years. Theselanguage skills include basic, everyday speech that can be supported contextually by gestures. Thisconcept was introduced by Jim Cummins in 1979 to distinguish between fundamentalconversational speech and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP).BICS–CALP gapThe BICS and CALP gap is the discrepancy between ELLs’ conversational and academic Englishlanguage abilities. This discrepancy is due to the fact that ELLs often acquire conversational Englishthat seems to be fluent and more adequate for basic interpersonal communication (BICS). On theother hand, these students may continue to struggle with Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency(CALP) (academic language) and have difficulty in academic subject areas because they lack theconceptual understanding (which they have not learned in their first language) to support thelanguage that they hear, speak, or read. There is a tendency among some professionals to assume,wrongly, that ELLs have language‐learning disabilities due to the BICS‐CALP gap. (Seecognitive/academic language proficiency below for more information on CALP).BilingualismThe ability to communicate successfully in two languages, with the same relative degree ofproficiency. It is important to note that bilinguals are rarely perfectly balanced in their use of twolanguages; one language is usually dominant (Baker, 2000).BiliteracyThe ability to communicate and comprehend thoughts and ideas using grammatical systems andvocabulary from two languages, as well as to write both languages.Code switchingThe ability or tendency to switch among languages/dialects in the course of a conversation. Codeswitching tends to occur when people who are bilingual or bidialectal are in the presence of otherswho speak the same language. Code switching may involve alternating between two languages or
tonal registers, or could represent a dialectical shift within the same language, such as betweenStandard English and Black or African American English (Greene and Walker, 2004).Cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP)The level of proficiency required by an ELL to understand academically challenging subject matter ina classroom setting (Cummins, 1979). This refers to language that is often abstract, and is notaccompanied by any contextual supports such as gestures or visual signals. It may take an ELL about4 to 7 years to reach this level of fluency (Hakuta, 2000).Common underlying proficiencyA theory developed by Jim Cummins in 1983 which posits that two languages are integrated throughone underlying, central thinking system. Any skills that are not directly connected to a particularlanguage, such as math, computer skills, or reading, are part of a common proficiency and thus canbe transferred from one language to another. The opposing theory is “separate underlyingproficiency” (SUP), which suggests that the individual languages are learned separately in the brain.Community dialect (CD) speakersELLs who belong to a community that is influenced by multiple ethnic/regional dialects and thusdemonstrate dialect features in their use of English. Many generation 1.5 ELLs, for example, can beconsidered community dialect speakers because they have learned English as an oral, rather than aliterate, skill.Compound bilingualA form of additive bilingualism in which a bilingual learns two languages in the same context andconsequently processes concepts the same way in both languages. The compound bilinguallanguage user is likely to integrate both languages during communication, and communicate fully ineach language. Examples of compound bilinguals include children with bilingual parents who learnboth English and Spanish at home and who, for example, make an expression in Spanish but utilizean English grammatical structure as opposed to a Spanish one.Comprehensive adult student assessment system (CASAS)A competency‐based system used to place and assess the progress of individual adult students inbasic education and English language learning.Culturally and linguistically diverseAnother term that can apply to English language learners. These are expressions that are often usedto characterize ELLs and to highlight their distinct backgrounds.Dual languageDual language is a form of bilingual education in which students are taught literacy skills and contentin two languages. Dual‐language instruction usually begins in kindergarten or first grade; it extendsfor at least 5 years, and may continue into middle school and high school. The goal of this approachis to promote bilingualism, biliteracy, enhanced awareness of linguistic and cultural diversity, andhigh levels of academic achievement through instruction in two languages. In dual languageprograms, the second language may be taught for at least half of the instructional day in theelementary years.
ELL (English language learner)An individual who is in the process of actively acquiring English, and whose primary language is oneother than English. This student often benefits from language support programs to improveacademic performance in English due to challenges with reading, comprehension, speaking, and/orwriting skills in English. Other terms that are commonly used to refer to ELLs are language minoritystudents, English as a Second Language (ESL) students, culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD)students, and limited English proficient (LEP) students.EFL (English as a foreign language) studentsNon‐native‐English‐speaking students who are in the process of acquiring English proficiency in acountry where English is not the primary language.English as a second language (ESL)A term often used to designate students whose first language is not English; this term has becomeless common than the term ELL. Currently, ESL is more likely to refer to an educational approachdesigned to support ELLs.English language proficiency (ELP) assessmentA test that measures the English language (oral, reading, and writing) skills of students with limitedEnglish proficiency. Such a test is required by Title III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act(reauthorized as the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001) for all schools served by the state educationalagency in every state.English language proficiency (ELP) standardsPrinciples or criteria for identifying and describing the English‐language oral, reading, and writingskills that are necessary for ELLs to be able to communicate effectively and participate fully inschool.English‐onlyMainstream classes for native English speakers or ELLs who have been designated “fluent Englishproficient” (FEP) or “redesignated fluent English proficient” (RFEP). Depending on the state and themodel used, all instruction is provided in English, and there may be little or no accommodation orspecial assistance for LEP students. The term English‐only can also refer to a political movementadvocating that the English language be the only official language in the United States (Lu, 1999).English plusA movement motivated by the belief that all U.S. residents should be encouraged to and shouldhave the opportunity to become proficient in English plus one or more additional languages.First (1st) generationForeign‐born and often foreign‐educated ELLs.First language, primary language, or home languageThese terms have several possible meanings for ELLs: the first language learned, the strongerlanguage, the native language, and/or the language most frequently used.
Fluent English proficient (FEP)Applies to “primary or home language other than English” (PHLOTE) students who havedemonstrated full or fluent proficiency in English. They are able to speak, read, write, andunderstand English at levels that are on a par with those of their grade‐level classmates, andconsequently do not need any additional language accommodation in a mainstream Englishclassroom.Generation 1.5 studentsStudents who graduated from a U.S. high school while still acquiring English language skills. Thesestudents could include refugees, naturalized and native‐born U.S. citizens, and permanent residents,who typically demonstrate limited proficiency in their first language. These students may havestrong oral English skills but are less proficient in the academic language associated with schoolachievement (Harklau, 2003).Heritage languageThe language that an ELL considers to be his or her native, home, or ancestral language. This termcan be used