Defining ESL vs. ELL

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  • 0:03 Alphabet Soup
  • 0:32 Distinctions Between ESL & ELL
  • 1:24 The Caveats of ESL & ELL
  • 2:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joanne Abramson

Joanne has taught middle school and high school science for more than ten years and has a master's degree in education.

Are all of the acronyms found in English language instruction confusing you? This lesson helps to clarify the differences between ESL and ELL, as well as other similar acronyms in PK-12 education.

Alphabet Soup

With all of the acronyms and alphabet soup thrown around in education, it's no wonder that there is sometimes confusion. This is especially true in the realm of English language education. ESL, ELL, LEP, TESOL… and the list goes on. Fortunately, in mainstream PK-12 education, the two you will most likely come across are ESL and ELL. Unfortunately, the difference between the two isn't always clear.

Distinctions Between ESL & ELL

In the simplest sense, ESL stands for English as a second language, and ELL stands for English language learners. In both cases, the students in question do not speak English as their first language, and they require assistance learning English. The most generally accepted distinction is that ESL is a federally-funded program with specially licensed teachers. These teachers hold a TESOL, or a teacher of English to speakers of other languages, certification or diploma. The students are pulled out of their general education classes for specialized, intensive English language instruction. ELL refers to students who have been mainstreamed into only general education classes. They are not pulled out for specialized instruction, but it is expected that teachers will accommodate their learning needs and adjust their curriculum so that it is accessible to English language learners.

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