What is ESL ?
The acronym ESL stands for English as a second language. In the United States, ESL refers to the teaching of those students for whom English is not a first language. Some people don’t like the term ESL, pointing out that in many cases English may be the third or fourth language of the students. In addition, in some countries, like India, Singapore, or Kenya, ESL has a slightly different meaning. In those places, it refers to the fact that English is a second official language that is learned in school and often used in government and business but may not be the first language of the majority of people.
In fact, a number of other terms are used to describe ESL. You may see the term ESOL (English for students of other languages). The acronym TESOL refers to “teaching English to students of other languages.” TESOL is also the name of the professional international organization of teachers of ESOL. You may also see other terms such as ELL (English language learning) and ELD (English language development) used to describe students and programs that serve students who are learning English as a second language. You may also see the term LEP (limited English proficiency) to describe ESL students. However, most ESL practitioners dislike this term because they do not feel that ESL students are limited.
You may also see the term EFL, which stands for English as foreign language. Generally, EFL is used to describe English teaching that occurs in places where English is not the native language, and ESL is used to describe English teaching that occurs in places like the United States, Canada, England, and Australia where the first language of most people is English.
Who Are ESL Students?
In the United States, many different people are ESL students. Many are K-12 students, often immigrants who have recently arrived with their families. In other cases, they and their families may have been in the United States for a longer period of time. Many immigrant children, especially from refugee families, may have resided in a number of countries before arriving in the United States. Some of them may have limited schooling. Some of them may not know how to read and write in their native language. But other ESL students may have had very good schooling and may already be able to read and write in more than one language. Other students who may need ESL services are children adopted from overseas by American parents.
There are also native-born non-English students who may receive ESL services under the umbrella of bilingual education. These may include Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and many Hispanics. Another group that sometimes receives language services under the umbrella of ESL are dialect-different students. These are students who speak a dialect of English different from the standard English used in a school or job setting in the United States. Many of these students may come from the Caribbean or countries such as Hong Kong and Malaysia where English is spoken but the dialect may be different enough to cause communication problems in the United States.
Many ESL students are adults. In some cases, they are international students who have come to the United States to study in higher education but need to improve their English skills before enrolling at a college or university. In other cases, they are already enrolled but need English support to help them improve their English. In other cases, adults immigrate to the United States. Like children, they have a wide range of education and language levels. Some adults may not be literate in their own language. In other cases, adults may have advanced degrees from their own countries and already know a number of other languages. Other adults come to the United States as visiting professionals in business or government. While here they may want to improve their English. Thus, the needs of ESL students can vary widely.