ELLs, ELs, or Emergent Bilinguals

The terminology used to describe students learning English as a second language has evolved in recent years, indicative of a broader shift in perspectives toward these students.

Initially, the term “English Language Learners” (ELL) was widely used. This term, while accurate, could carry a deficit perspective, emphasizing the English proficiency these students lack rather than their potential. It inherently positioned English as the target language to be acquired.

To reflect the potential and capacity of these students, the term “English Learners” (EL) emerged. The transition to this term focused on the student as a learner, a subtle but crucial shift in emphasizing the individual’s educational journey rather than their current language proficiency level.

More recently, the term “Emergent Bilinguals” has come into use. This term recognizes and highlights that these students are actively developing skills in two languages, thus acknowledging their journey toward bilingualism, biliteracy, and bicultural competence. This shift towards an asset-based approach views students’ home languages and cultural backgrounds as resources for learning rather than obstacles to overcome.

In this course, the preparation exam, and our online resources, we utilize all three terms as they are all still prevalent in contemporary research and educational literature. By including “English Language Learners,” “English Learners,” and “Emergent Bilinguals,” we aim to provide you with a comprehensive, contextually accurate, and up-to-date learning experience that aligns with the evolving language and perspectives in the field of bilingual education.