esl vs eld

ESL vs ELD

The Case for “English Language Development” over “ESL” Classes

Our terminology plays a vital role in shaping perceptions and fostering inclusivity in the ever-changing educational language landscape. Educators often find themselves using ESL vs ELD. These acronyms refer to the same thing, but one may stigmatize a student’s educational journey more than the other.

The traditional usage of English as a Second Language (ESL) has been used for many years to identify school English language classes. However, the term’s limitations cause misinterpretation among language learners in the USA. Advocates for inclusive education contend that the term “English Language Development” (ELD) classes offer a more precise and nuanced interpretation.

Recognizing Language Acquisition

Unlike the linear connotations of ESL, the term ELD better captures the essence of these educational programs. It recognizes language acquisition as a dynamic and continuous developmental process, emphasizing growth, proficiency, and the evolving nature of linguistic skills. As an advocate, I firmly believe that ELD transcends the notion of English as a secondary language, acknowledging the diverse linguistic journeys of students. This shift aligns with contemporary pedagogical philosophies, where language learning is perceived as an ongoing, multifaceted journey rather than a static state.

ELD highlights a student’s acquisition of not only one language but occasionally three or four languages. Choosing “English Language Development” over ESL is more than a semantic shift; it is a conscious decision to embrace diversity and culture. It acknowledges that every learner contributes to the rich tapestry of linguistic diversity within the classroom regardless of starting point. By adopting ELD, we communicate the purpose of these classes more accurately and foster an environment where language development is celebrated as a collective and continuous endeavor.

Transitioning from ESL to ELD

Educators can support English learners by embracing a more appropriate term, such as English language development. Using ELD can foster a more welcoming environment where students feel respected and celebrated. To embrace ELD, teachers must try to eliminate ESL from their current vocabulary.

One way to do this is by referring to the class as ELD or English language development instead of ESL. Involve the students in making this shift so that they see your willingness to celebrate their language assets. Play a game with students where they might earn points or rewards as they hear you saying “ESL” instead of “ELD” multiple times.

Refer to the class as ELD class instead of ESL class in writing. These may include when writing emails to families or any welcome to ELD class sign. Change your lessons to reflect ELD and any other items. This action will help students understand the difference between ESL and ELD, making them feel more respected.

Integrating ELD into School Policies and Curriculum

Administrators play an essential role in embracing all students in schools. Shifting from the term “ESL” to “English Language Development (ELD)” involves a collective effort from administrators and schools. Administrators can set the tone for inclusive language policies within the educational community. This transition requires awareness and understanding of the evolving landscape of language education.

To transition from the use of the term ESL to ELD, administrators can begin by changing the name of the ESL class to ELD class. The new term and class name can be addressed during professional learning sessions, emphasizing ELD as a more encompassing term. By promoting the term ELD, administrators and schools signal their commitment to recognizing the multifaceted nature of language development, fostering a more inclusive and accurate representation of the educational experiences of English learners.


Let’s embrace the power of multilingualism by celebrating language learning. I firmly believe that transitioning from the term “ESL” to “English Language Development (ELD)” is a crucial step towards fostering inclusivity in our educational discourse. The shift recognizes the diverse linguistic journeys of English learners, embracing a more accurate and comprehensive perspective on language development.

As educators, administrators, and advocates, let us consider this change with urgency, acknowledging the significance of language in shaping the educational experiences of our students. By adopting ELD, we reflect a commitment to inclusivity and pave the way for a more precise understanding of the language development process. It’s time to make this positive change and ensure that our educational terminology aligns with the values of diversity and respect for all learners.

🤔 Share your thoughts. What do you think about shifting from ESL to ELD?

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