Differences Between ELL & LEP Students

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

As a teacher of English as a Second Language, you probably have noticed that people use ELL and LEP interchangeably despite the differences between the two terms. This lesson analyzes the distinction between these terms.

Why Is It Important to Differentiate?

Diane is an elementary school principal and she often meets with her team of English as a Second Language teachers. Diane refers to all students who are enrolled in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program either as ELLs or LEPs. Very often, people in schools use the acronyms ELL and LEP interchangeably. However, there are differences between them. The most basic difference resides in what each term means. As you likely know, a student referred to as an ELL is an English Language Learner and one referred to as LEP is Limited English Proficient.

The reason people make the distinction is the general assumption that English Language Learners have a limited proficiency in the language because they come from homes where a language other than English is spoken. While the federal government in the US recognizes that both ELLs and LEPs are in the same group as students, it is important to differentiate because some states use the terms to define different instruction for different students.

Let's take a closer look at the differences between these terms.

ELLs Versus LEPs

Diane recently met Ahmed, a student who was born and raised in the Middle East until the age of eight. When Ahmed started school in the US, he took a test in English language to determine his ability to read, write, listen and speak in English. The test results indicated that Ahmed was going to struggle in the regular classes that are part of the curriculum because Ahmed's English was not very good at the time.

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