ESL: Terminology

From ESL Instructional Resources by Young-Kyung Min, PhD

A brief explanation is needed since a variety of terms are used to refer to students who do not use English as their native language. According to the Conference on College Composition & Communication (CCCC) Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers, which is part of the National Council of Teachers of English in the US, the term “ESL” (English as a Second Language) is used in the context of higher education to refer to students who do not speak English as their native language, even if they speak English as their third or fourth languages. The term “ELL” (English Language Learners) generally refers to students in K-12 contexts.

A more contemporary term “multilingual” is also widely used to highlight the positive sides of such students rather than the limits of “ESL” or “ELL”. However, when we say "multilingual students", it also includes native speakers who speak multiple languages. Thus, in order to avoid the confusion, the term “ESL” will be used on this website to refer to non-native English speaking students, which include both international and immigrant students.  For further information about the terminology and other information, please check out the CCCC Statement on Second Language Writing and Writers.



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Young-Kyung Min, PhD
Education Program