The following glossary terms are reprinted from the online course ECUR 415: Current Issues in EAL (University of Saskatchewan, 2017). The definitions may be helpful to your understanding of information and perspectives within this essay collection.


Academic language: describes language that is specific to schooling, including classroom terminology, subject specific vocabulary, and language used in course materials, texts, assignments, and exams.

Adaptive dimension: refers to adjustments in instructional materials, methods, and/or the learning environment, so that outcomes can be achieved by diverse learners.

Alternative assessment: approaches to monitoring student learning that consider a learner’s specific circumstances, vulnerabilities, or language learning needs.

Assessment: the process of gathering information on an ongoing basis in order to understand a student’s progress with learning.

Authentic language: language used in real world situations and for real purposes by native speakers, intended for native speakers.

BICS: stands for Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, a term that describes conversational language, or the language used to carry out everyday tasks and routines.

Bilingualism: the ability to communicate fluently in two languages using spoken and/or written language. In Canada, the term bilingualism often refers to the ability to communicate in both official languages, English and French.

CALP: stands for Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, a term that encompasses academic language, or the language specific to schooling and subject-area learning.

Citizenship: being a legal member of a particular country or sovereign state and accepting its policies, regulations and criteria for citizenship.

Code switching: a term used to describe the ability to alternate between two or more languages in the context of oral communication.

Cognates: words in two languages that sound somewhat similar and share the same meaning (e.g., bluza – blouse, comprender – comprehend).

Common underlying proficiency (CUP): a theory developed by Jim Cummins that illustrates how cognitive and literacy skills established in a first language (or mother tongue) are transferred to new languages. This theory is also called the Iceberg Model. The invisible part of an iceberg under water is the common operating system in the brain that stores concepts, while the visible peaks represent two or more languages that share the same conceptual base.

Comprehensible input: a strategy for language learning that involves the use of language that is slightly above the level of language that is understood by learners. Krashen described this small margin between the known and the new as i +1.

Community (heritage) languages: languages other than Canada’s official languages that are being studied or used for communication, and represent the heritage of Canadian residents.

Content objectives: statements that define what a student is expected to know, understand, and be able to do at the end of each grade, unit, or specific course of study. (In Saskatchewan, content objectives are called learning outcomes).

Contextual support: additional layers of support for language learning and comprehension that involve the use of available contexts. Examples are: activating prior knowledge, using visuals, props, gestures, hands-on activities, key words, specific instructions, pre-teaching strategies, comprehension checks, or incorporating first languages.

Cultural values: commonly held standards or norms for what is considered acceptable or unacceptable, important or unimportant, right or wrong, in a community or society.

Culturally responsive teaching: promotes a proactive approach to cultural diversity by incorporating a student’s background knowledge and prior home/community experiences into the curriculum as part of daily instruction.

Culture shock: feelings of distress, loneliness, anger and frustration in a new and unfamiliar environment.

Developmental continuum: a sequence of skills that identify stages of learning in a particular domain. In the context of this module, the domain is L2 language development.

Differentiated instruction: adjusting instruction to meet individual needs through adaptation of content, process, products, or the learning environment.

Dual language program: based in USA, these programs use two languages for instruction throughout the day. The aim of dual (or two-way) language programs is to close the achievement gap by facilitating the use of a home language and English for instruction.

EAL: an acronym for English as an Additional Language, which is a term used in Saskatchewan and in other parts of the world to describe school students who speak other languages and are adding English to their language repertoire.

Economic immigrants: people selected for their skills and ability to contribute to Canada’s economy, such as skilled workers, business immigrants, provincial and territorial nominees and live-in caregivers.

Evaluation: interpreting evidence of student performance over time as a culminating act (e.g., the end of a course or a grade) to determine results of learning.

Formative assessment: information that is gathered during and after learning to inform planning, adjust instructional approaches, and support student achievement.

Functional literacy: the ability to read, write, and perform basic mathematical calculations.

Immersion program: designed to teach language through subject area content by immersing students in the target language beginning in Kindergarten and moving through the grades. Students gain greater levels of proficiency as they achieve curriculum outcomes in the target language.

Inclusion: an attitude or belief system supporting an unconditional commitment to help every child and young person succeed in school, at home and in the community. In the Saskatchewan context, inclusive education promotes the integration of learners into age and grade appropriate classrooms together with peers.

Indigenous language: a language that is native to a particular region and the people who have lived there for many generations. In Canada, the term is used to describe the languages and dialects of aboriginal (indigenous) peoples.

Initial Assessment: involves a series of assessments administered in the days and weeks following arrival to help determine a child’s English language proficiency, math skills, and school readiness.

Intake: a term used to describe the combination of registration and orientation procedures for newcomers in a new school location.

Integration: involves processes that allow newcomer families and those from diverse backgrounds to become active, connected, and productive citizens without fear of discrimination, prejudice, or bias.

Interpretation: involves the transmission of a spoken message from one language to the other.

L1, L2, L2L: acronyms that represent first language, second (additional) language, and second language learners.

Language competence: describes a language learner’s abilities, skills, and knowledge in the target language as demonstrated along an accepted performance scale.

Language continuum: illustrates the stages of language progression as evidenced by research using various languages and various ages of language learners.

Language objectives: present the academic language required to achieve content objectives. Language objectives reinforce the knowledge and skills identified in content objectives.

Language reference scale: a chart that describes language ability at each stage of language learning from the beginner level (no mastery) to the highest levels of language proficiency.

Language proficiency: the combination of language fluency and accuracy, resulting in the ability to use language competently for various purposes and in different circumstances.

Large-scale assessments: widely distributed educational tools designed to determine the effectiveness of the education system on a district, provincial, national, or international level.

Linguistic repertoire: a fluid network of communication that encompasses all of the accepted ways of formulating messages in different languages, including regional varieties of language.

Marginalized status: describes students who are victims of systemic discrimination, prejudice, or identity devaluation due to existing societal power structures. There are negative effects on student identity, self-worth, self-confidence, and academic success.

Multiculturalism: a Canadian policy adopted in 1971 that affirms the value and dignity of all Canadian citizens regardless of their racial or ethnic origins, their language, or their religious affiliation

Outcomes: statements that define what a student is expected to know, understand, and be able to do at the end of each grade, unit, or specific course of study.

Permanent resident: someone who has immigrated and received permission to live in Canada indefinitely through permanent resident status, but is still a citizen of another country.

Protocol: a set of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations. In the context of this module, school registration follows protocols established by the provincial ministry of education.

Reception: refers to the way a newcomer family enters a school division for the first time. Reception may be conducted at a newcomer welcome centre (centralized reception), or families may be directed to the local school.

Refugee: someone who is forced to leave his or her country/location due to persecution, war, trauma or violence brought on by political, social, racial or religious tensions.

Response to Intervention (RTI): a three-tiered approach that recommends universal screening, early intervention, continuous monitoring, and learning adaptations to prevent academic and behavioral failure for children who continue to have difficulty.

Scaffolding: describes the process of providing initial support to assist students with learning and gradually removing this support when students demonstrate the skills or knowledge to proceed independently (also called gradual release of responsibility).

SWIS: a school-based outreach program of the Canadian government designed to help newcomer students and families with settlement needs, community integration, and school transitions.

Tiered vocabulary: describes a language learning model that divides vocabulary acquisition into three tiers, with Tier 1 as conversational language, Tier 2 as recurring or procedural academic language, and Tier 3 as highly specific, subject-related academic language.

Translation: involves the transfer of written messages from one language to another language.

Vicarious trauma: second-hand trauma that affects people in the helping professions due to sustained care and empathy for the circumstances of the victims.

Vulnerable learners: students with an increased risk for academic or social disadvantage due to specific conditions, characteristics, or demographic factors that have a negative impact on learning at school.


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Sharing Our Knowledge: Best Practices for Supporting English Language Learners in Schools Copyright © by Nadia Prokopchuk, Collection Editor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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