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A Conceptual Framework for Understanding the Use and Acquisition of Language by English Language Learners ELL

Lara-Brady, Laura G.; Wendler, Cathy
Publication Year:
Report Number:
ETS Research Memorandum
Document Type:
Page Count:
Subject/Key Words:
English Language Learners (ELL), ELL Research, Language Acquisition, ELL Terminology


English language learners (ELLs) are the fastest growing subpopulation of K-12 students. Understanding their needs and the barriers they face regarding academic success is an important first step in eliminating educational disparities. A review of state-level policies for incorporating ELLs in assessment and educational systems revealed numerous inconsistencies in terminology and definitions. This review served as impetus for the construction of a conceptual framework for ELL research. The conceptual framework separates social language from that of academic language and reflects the modes by which students acquire both types of languages, with an emphasis on academic language. This framework provides a foundation for classification and uniformity with regard to states’ use of the term ELL and informs future research questions and policy.

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