Language – Glossary, Definitions and Abbreviations

Active learners: students who take control of their own learning by monitoring their understanding and seeking out additional information and support if needed

Additive bilingualism:  the second language is learnt in addition to, and does not replace, the first language, and there are also cognitive and metalinguistic advantages.

Appropriate individualized learning environments: environments that support each individual student’s learning needs

Assessments: tools that measure the degree to which students have met learning outcomes

Audit: to take a course in which no grade is given. In order to receive credit, the course must be taken again and a passing grade must be earned

Authentic contexts: academic settings and practical situations in which language learning takes place

BICS: Basic interpersonal communication skills conversational fluency

Bilingual education: Use of two languages for literacy and instruction – Ideally, literacy and learning begin with the learner’s first language, and a second language is introduced gradually

Bilingual Individual: Ability to speak/understand (and sometimes read/ write) two languages

Bilingual Society: Presence of at least two language groups

CALL: Computer-assisted language learning

CALP: Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency – language needed to succeed academically. Academic language is often formal and abstract with technical vocabulary related to a discipline

CEFR: Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning – teaching subjects such as science, history and geography to students through a foreign language. 

Cognitive ability: ability to perceive meaning, think critically, and reason logically

Compensation strategies: ways students can make up for their own weaknesses

Complementary classes: Language classes outside of the school curriculum not managed or paid for by the school

Content support: support in understanding the content or subject area concepts

Conversational fluency: basic language level necessary to make a person’s needs and wants known and communicate in familiar face-to-face situations

Core courses: grade level courses that students are required to take in MS and HS

Critical thinking: thinking that is beyond simple comprehension level, involving questioning, analyzing

Cross-cultural studies: the knowledge of how values, history, literature, religion and languages influence the interaction among diverse peoples

Dialect: Manner of speaking a language that varies according to region or social group (see also variety)

Differentiated instruction: instruction based on identifying different needs of the students and utilizing different strategies and adjusting the level of support

Dominant language: Language spoken by the dominant social group, or language that is seen as the main language of a country May have official or national language status even if it is not spoken by a numerical majority of the national population

EAL: English additional language

ELL: English Language Learning

English language proficiency: the overall ability to use English
ESL: English Second Language

ESL and content teacher collaboration: developing curricula and planning instruction of content and language together

Fluency of speech: the ease and facility with which a speaker uses the English language

Foreign language: Language that is not spoken in the immediate environment of the learner

Grade level outcomes: knowledge, skills and understandings students are expected to acquire or demonstrate at each grade level

Heritage language: Language of a person’s ancestors or ethnolinguistic group

High needs students: Students who need extra support in the classroom because of limited language proficiency, identified learning disabilities and/or social/behavioural issues

Home language: Language spoken in the home (see also L1, mother tongue), some people have more than one home language

Identity texts: positive statements that students make about themselves in the context of language and/or culture – these products can be written, spoken, visual, musical, dramatic, or multimodal combinations.

In-class ESL support: varied practices used by the ESL teacher to support student language and content learning, as well as student performance, in the content classroom

Interactive, communicative approach (to language learning): a method which focuses on speaking and listening skills, exchanging or sharing feelings, thoughts, or information with others

Key words: words that are essential to understanding a piece of writing or speech

L1: First language, native language (see also mother tongue, home language, local language). Refers to language or languages learned from birth

L2: Second language, non-native language, language of wider communication, or foreign language.  Often refers to contexts where the language is spoken in the wider society outside the home; in bilingual education, refers to second (official, foreign) language introduced after the L1

Language functions: the different purposes for which people use language

Language implications: the language demands of a unit of study inclusive of language functions, text types, language features, topic-specific/-complementary vocabulary, and cultural understandings

Language mastery: a stage at which an individual has acquired the ability to read, write, speak and listen on level with a native English speaker

Language of instruction: Language used for teaching and learning the school curriculum, also called medium of instruction

Language skills: skills in listening, speaking, reading and writing

Language support: support in developing language skills

Learning styles: The ways and conditions that best promote individual student learning

Levels of language ability: stages of language proficiency

Lingua franca: Widely spoken language used for communication between ethnolinguistic groups – for example: Tok Pisin in PNG

Literacy skills: skills needed to read and write

Local language: Language spoken in the immediate community. (May refer to languages that are not yet fully developed in written form).d

Mainstream classes: classes other than ESL classes

Majority language: spoken by the majority of people in a region/country

Metalinguistic awareness: one’s thinking about how languages work

MI: Medium of Instruction

Minority language: spoken by a social and/or ethnic minority group (Sometimes used to refer to the language of a numerically large group that is not dominant)

Modified homework: homework that has been changed to suit a student’s language abilities and/or language learning needs

Mother tongue (MT): First language, native language (see also L1, home language, local language) Language that a person: (a) has learnt first; (b) identifies with or is identified as a native speaker of by others; (c) knows best; or (d) uses most

Multilingual Individual: Ability to speak/understand (and sometimes read/ write) more than two languages

National language: considered to be an important, widely-spoken language in a country; sometimes also an official language – Example: India recognizes two official and 22 national languages

Non-verbal cues: ways of communicating without language such as gestures, facial expressions and body language

Official language: Language adopted by a country for public administrative and institutional use, often including schools. Example: India has Hindi and English as official languages of the country and a number of different official state languages

Outcomes: the learning goals for a course

Pass: an alternative grade given in place of a letter grade to show a student has met course requirements

Peer competitiveness: the ability of ESL students to keep up and be successful in the mainstream classes without ESL services

Pull-out program: (for ESL learners):a program where ESL students study language intensive subjects in classrooms separate from non-ESL students

Relevant language: language appropriate to specific social and academic settings

Scaffolding: supporting student learning by assessing current levels of understanding and/or ability and determining effective actions to help each individual reach his/her academic and social potential

SIM: Sheltered immersion model

SLIC: Second Language Instructional Competence

SLL: Second Language Learners

Socio-cultural factors: aspects such as cultural values, practices, stereotypes, attitudes and the process of acculturation which can have a positive or negative affect on language learning

Stage of language development: place a child is at, in terms of language proficiency

Subtractive bilingualism: the second language and culture are acquired with pressure to replace or demote the first language, possibly relating to a less positive self-concept, loss of cultural identity, and maybe alienation and the danger of failure in education.

TESOL: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (also name of an official qualification)

Unwritten language: spoken language, but not yet used for reading/writing

Variety: Manner of speaking a language that varies according to region or social group (see also dialect)

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Ball, J. (2011). Enhancing learning of children from diverse language backgrounds: mother tongue-based bilingual or multilingual education in the early years. UNESCO Education Sector.
Cummins, J. (1998). Immersion education for the millennium: What have we learned from 30 years of research on second language immersion? In M. R. Childs & R. M. Bostwick (Eds.), Learning through two languages: Research and practice (pp. 34–47). Katoh Gakuen, Japan.
ISB. (2005). ESL Handbook. International School Bangkok. Retrieved from
UNESCO Bangkok. (2007). Advocacy kit for promoting multilingual education: including the excluded. Bangkok: UNESCO.

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