New Jersey Department of Education

DOE A to Z: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z #

English Language Learners (ELL) in the Mainstream

Part One: The Students
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A Definition - Who Are the English Language Learners?

"I clearly remember the first year of school. I spoke almost no English. I could not understand what everyone was talking about. Even the classmate's small chatter made me so nervous. I felt totally left out in the classroom. I was not a part of them. I was only a guest. A guest who was not welcomed. What made me different was a class of ESL. I was so glad that this country had such educational programs for people like me. In ESL I learned English and many skills to learn in the class with other kids. ESL was not only an English-learning class, but it was like a haven in the battlefield for those people who were struggling to fit themselves into a new world. Every time I went to ESL, I felt as if I were in my own house. It was where I was until I could find my place in a regular class." Marina, 17

An English Language Learner is a student for whom English is not his native or first language. English Language Learner, or ELL, is only one term to describe this type of student. Other terms include:

  • CLD, Communicative and Linguistically Diverse learner
  • ELD, English Language Development, which describes both the student and the program; not generally used in New Jersey
  • ESL or English as a Second Language, which describes both the student and the program
  • ESOL, English to Speakers of Other Languages
  • LCD, Linguistically and Culturally Diverse
  • LEP, Limited English Proficient
  • NEP, Non-English Proficient
  • NES, Non-English Speaker
  • PEP, Potentially English Proficient, a term used to more positively describe an ELL
  • SAE, Student Acquiring English
  • SLL, Second Language Learner

Audio Segments

There are nearly 62,000 PreK-12 English language learners enrolled in New Jersey's schools. The students can be newly-arrived immigrants or students whose parents have come to New Jersey to work for 3-5 years in one of many international corporations, or U.S. born children from one of many cultural backgrounds, where English is not the language spoken at home.

The ELLs enter New Jersey's schools with a variety of different ability levels. They may have:

  • never been exposed to English, but have strong first language skills
  • some command of social/oral English language
  • a small amount of English literacy, having just begun studying English in their native country
  • weak first language skills due to interrupted or limited schooling in their native land.

ELLs in New Jersey may come from various types of families:

  • nuclear two-parent families
  • extended families, including grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins
  • single-parent families

They may live in:

  • single family homes or apartments, where there is enough space for each family member, or
  • crowded homes or apartments, with many extended family members sharing space.

Although there are a variety of reasons for immigrating to New Jersey, all ELLs have significant academic needs. They need to first become fluent speakers or communicators in English. Then, it becomes essential for ELLs to develop academic proficiency in reading and writing and critical thinking skills across the content curriculum.