Our Students Are Emergent Bilinguals – Words Matter

Many terms are used to refer to students who are striving for English language proficiency.  These terms include English Language Learners (ELL), English Learners (EL), English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) student, English as a Second Language (ESL) student, and English as a New Language (ENL) student.  However, all of these are deficit-minded terms.  They focus on the fact that students have not yet learned English rather than focusing on the strengths they have in at least one other language. 

The term Emergent Bilingual highlights the fact that students are working towards having the asset of bilingualism rather than the simplicity of speaking only one language.  It highlights the fact that students will be able to connect to a larger group of people, will have greater job opportunities, will have a multitude of scientifically proven brain benefits, and will be better world citizens than their monolingual peers. 

Because the term Emergent Bilingual highlights a student’s assets, using the term helps us see our students properly, through a positive lens.  Thus, it counters the implicit biases against students whose first language is not English and helps us make better, more educationally-sound decisions for them. Finally, it helps us make students feel more welcome and loved, allowing us to better reach our emergent bilinguals. 


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