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Who are English Language Learners?

English language learners (ELLs) are a diverse population of students who are learning English in school. They come from numerous cultural and economic backgrounds, and they live in all 50 states. They may be:

  • Immigrants from countries all over the world seeking educational or economic opportunity
  • Refugees from war-torn countries
  • Native Americans or other native born Americans
  • Children with well developed literacy skills in a first language
  • Teenagers with little prior formal schooling
  • Migrants
  • Children of university students

ELLs come from a variety of linguistic backgrounds. After English, the most common languages in the United States are Spanish, Chinese, French, German, Tagolog, Vietnamese, Italian, Korean, Russian, Polish, and Arabic, followed by numerous other languages. 

Resource Guide for Working with ESL Students
Who are English Language Learners? What does legislation say about educating and assessing ELLs? The Politics of Language What patterns does English language development typically follow? What are common program models for ESL education? What does the ESL specialist need from me? How can I support ELLs in my classroom? Conclusion Resources Appendix 1: Declaration of Rights for Parents of English Language Learners under No Child Left Behind Appendix 2: Legislation of the 108th Congress concerning Foreign Languages and International Education Appendix 3: Six Levels of Minority Language Policy