Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it ESL, ESOL, TESOL, or what? 

    There are many acronyms relating to English language learners. As time passes, some fade away,
    while others become more popular.

    Here is a list of some of the most common acronyms:

    ESL English as a Second Language

    ESOL English for Speakers of Other Languages

    TESOL Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

    ELL English Language Learner

    LEP Limited English Proficiency

    BICS Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

    CALP Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

    LAS Links The previous yearly English proficiency test given to all ESL students in grades K through Grade 12

    MAC II The former yearly English proficiency test given to all ESL students in grades K through Grade 12

    WIDA World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. Missouri joined the WIDA Consortium two years ago. The Consortium provides resources and uniform assessments for 33 states and United States territories.

    W-APT WIDA-ACCESS Placement Test This is the newest screening tool for identifying ESL students. It is provided by the WIDA Consortium.

    ACCESS Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners. This is the newest yearly English proficiency test given to all ESL students in K through Grade 12. This assessment is provided through the WIDA Consortium.

    If I see an ELL talking to friends in the hall, doesn't that mean they speak fluent English?

    Not necessarily. The student may be increasing English proficiency in some social situations, but the level of English used in the classroom is much more complex and vocabulary specific. The student is developing BICS, Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills. This is social English.

    CALP, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, is much more difficult. There is a great deal of content vocabulary involved. The sentence structures are usually much more complex and much longer in length. Much of the input in a classroom situation is lecture or oral directions. English language learners are trying to process the vocabulary used and understand the sentence form. This is a very difficult task to successfully accomplish in our fast-paced classrooms.


    What are the stages of language acquisition?

    Stages of Language Acquisition

    Speech emerges in natural stages during the acquisition process. This varies in length from student to student. The following are characteristics of language acquisition stages. Students at each stage may exhibit all or some of these characteristics.

    Beginning Fluency Levels

    Pre-Production
    Speaks little or no English
    May use memorized phrases for specific purposes
    Communicates with gestures and actions
    Uses primary language to express needs
    Begins to acquire receptive language
    Demonstrates comprehension through action rather than speech

    Early Production
    Speaks using one or two words or short phrases
    Continues to use primary language to satisfy needs
    May use memorized key phrases/words in English to meet needs
    Continues to expand receptive vocabulary
    Continues to demonstrate comprehension through actions rather than speech
    Uses greetings in English

    Speech Emergence
    Speaks using short sentences with basic patterns evident
    Vocabulary is limited
    Grammatical word order errors are prevalent, making conversation difficult
    Rephrases statements to make self clear
    Requires face to face interaction

    Intermediate Fluency Level
    Speaks with some fluency but lacks specific vocabulary in some areas
    Nuances of language are not always understood
    Frequent errors in usage and vocabulary
    May have difficulty following unpredictable shifts in thought and conversation
    May require visual and auditory cues to aid comprehension

    Advanced Fluency Level
    Social usage approximates that of a native speaker of that age
    Vocabulary is varied and used appropriately
    Participates fully in daily conversation
    Is successful in classroom activities without loss of comprehension


    How long does it take to become fluent in English?

    The length of time can vary greatly due to a number of factors. A person's prior educational background is important. Literacy in the first language is big help in acquiring a second language. The learner's comfort level is important. If a person is under a lot of stress or duress, the learning process will be greatly impeded. It is important that a learner feel safe in order to process input and experiment and practice new skills.

    Generally, SOCIAL English may be mastered in two or three years, depending on each individual learner's situation. Academic English, or English used in class settings, take anywhere from a minimum of FIVE to SEVEN years, and sometimes much longer.

    A lot depends on the learner. No one learns the same way or at the same pace, so there are no set time parameters.


    Is English a difficult language to learn?

    YES! English is a very difficult language to learn. English borrows from many other languages. English can take an entire word from another language or maybe just part of one word and combine it with part of another word to make a new word. Many languages follow rules. There may even be exceptions to those rules, but generally the language will be consistent with the general rules. There are rules in English, but there are so many exceptions and special situations, that the
    rules are not necessarily much help. English is a collection of contradictions and irregularities.

    For an example of the complexities of the English language, read the following passage:

    The English Lesson

    We must polish the Polish furniture.
    He could lead if he would get the lead out.
    The farm was used to produce produce.
    The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
    The soldier decided to desert in the desert.
    This was a good time to present the present.
    A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
    When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.
    I did not object to the object.
    The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
    The bandage was wound around the wound.
    There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
    They were too close to the door to close it.
    The buck does funny things when the does are present.
    They sent a sewer down to stitch the tear in the sewer line.
    To help with the planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
    The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
    After a number of injections my jaw got number.
    Upon seeing the tear in my clothes I shed a tear.
    I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
    How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?
    She could not live with a live mouse in the house.
    It was just a minute prick and over in a minute.
    His mistake was putting his left foot forward while putting.
    We would probably read more Shakespeare if we understood what we read
    There was a bow tied in the ropes on the bow of the ship.
    You should spring that on us next spring!

    I do not know the author, but I love that passage!


    Is the ESL teacher fluent in all of the languages the students speak?

    NO! The ESL teacher is required to be fluent in English. An ESL teacher is usually not required to have a background with another language. Many districts have students from many different language backgrounds. It is not possible for an ESL teacher to be fluent in all of them.