Blog: The Educated Reporter


Do we really need another acronym to describe children who are not native English speakers?

While I am all about precision of language, I am also known for being particularly resistant to renaming things. I like to call things what people call them in real life. In Not Much Just Chillin’ I called a home ec teacher a “home ec teacher” and got angry letters from teachers mad I didn’t say “family and consumer science teacher.” Ditto when I called a media specialist in Tested the “librarian.” It takes nothing away from their professionalism to say that while the job description expands, the name can remain the same.

When I started out as an education writer, we had ESOL students: English for speakers of other languages. Or ESL students: English as a second language. Then came ELL: English language learners. I am fine with any of those, though I know they are not perfect. (English might be their third language!) In government use you see most often LEP, limited English proficient.

The other day I was corresponding with a teacher friend who mentioned FLNEs. This sounded like a Latin American terrorist group, but no, it stands for “first language not English.” Which is just a nitpicky way of saying “English as a second language,” isn’t it? She also handed me SLAH: “second language at home.”

Of course we need all these words because you could be FLNE but not ELL, because you have demonstrated mastery of English, though maybe in that case you are still ELL (because who ever stops learning?) but not LEP anymore, and let’s just put out there that if your family does not speak English you are a SLAH but if you were adopted from another country while your family here speaks English you are not SLAH but rather FLNE and aaaaaargh.

I really do not see the point.