English Language Learner (ELL)

English language learner is a term widely applied to people in the process of learning English, and ELL is its abbreviated or shorthand form. The term is often used by teachers and administrators in K-12 and university classrooms as a way of classifying students who require additional assistance in English language skill areas (“What Is an ESL Teacher?”).

The term is not without controversy as composition specialist Christina Ortmeier-Hooper has pointed out:

“The terms ‘ESL’ and ‘ELL’ and even ‘Generation 1.5’ are fraught with all kinds of complications for resident students…For many U.S. resident second language writers, the question of when to or when not to be identified as ESL is a fluid one. And the complicated nature of what it means to be an ESL student is particularly difficult in the confines of the first-year composition classroom, where issues with writing and expectations may still be a challenge for these students” (390).

While the term English language learner or the abbreviation ELL will no doubt continue to remain in use, it is wise for educators–or anyone, for that matter–to question the language and systems of classifications they use and their potential effect. Teachers should not allow the convenience of terminology to marginalize either individual students or entire student populations.


“What Is an ESL Teacher?” ESLteacherEDU.org, 2019, https://www.eslteacheredu.org/what-is-an-esl-teacher/.

Ortmeier-Hooper, Christina. “‘English May Be My Second Language, but I’m Not ‘ESL'”.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 59, no. 3, 2008, pp. 389–419. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/20457011.