Pile of letters

In June, I explained some of the common acronyms in the TESOL field. There are so many, and not knowing what they mean can make you feel left out of the conversation. In this article, I’ll explain a few more acronyms that you may encounter as you work with English learners.

ELD – English Language Development

This is a term used in the United States to refer to services provided for English learners in K-12 schools, sometimes to specific classes or curricula. You might be an ELD teacher, teach an ELD class, or follow ELD curriculum. Depending upon your district or the region of the country where you work, this term may be used interchangeably with ESL. 

TLTarget Language

The key to understanding this acronym is “target”. What’s the primary goal of English language instruction? The students’ development of their English language skills, right? In this case, the goal, or target, of your instruction is English. If you were learning French, then the TL would be French. In a Chinese class – Chinese is the TL.

FEPFluent English Proficient
LEPLimited English Proficient
NEPNon-English Proficient

You might find these acronyms in official government documents about English learners. They are used to categorize students based upon their assessed level of English proficiency. FEP is the student who is considered as, or almost as, proficient as a native speaker of English. LEP is any student in the process of learning or acquiring English, and NEP is a student in the beginning stages of learning English.

You’ll typically only find these used in reporting assessment results to government agencies. The last two, in particular, give a negative connotation to the student and do not provide any acknowledgement of the students’ native language skills. As a result, they are not used to refer to teachers or classes. 

BICS – Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

BICS, or playground language, is the type of language students acquire during daily interactions with others. It is language that they do not even realize they are picking up when they’re playing soccer at recess or telling a friend about their weekend. Research has shown that most English learners acquire a useful level of BICS language within 6 months to 2 years.

CALP – Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency

CALP, or academic/school language, is typically learned or acquired in an academic setting. It is needed to function effectively in classes where they are asked to defend their position, to critique a literature piece, or to explain their calculations using academic terms. This language is more complex than BICS language and can take 5-7 years to master, depending upon many factors both internal, and external, to the student. Even though BICS is regularly thought of as occurring outside of the classroom and CALP as inside the classroom, it really is more complex than that. Students talk about their home life and their favorite activities within the classroom, and they discuss academic subjects and describe their critical thinking at home with family members.

The most important thing to remember about these two terms is that a high level of BICS language should not be mistaken for full competency in English. If this happens, teachers may think English learners are just being lazy when they cannot perform as expected in class.

Read more about BICS and CALP in the earlier article, Are My English Learners Lazy?


WIDA is an organization you should know about if you teach English learners. They have developed standards, assessments, and professional development directed at improving academic outcomes for English learners. Many states are members of the WIDA consortium, which means their districts and schools have access to their materials, including assessments for determining students’ English language proficiency levels. Additional helpful resources include their Can-Do Descriptors, which guide educators to know what can be expected of students along the continuum of English learning.

Did you know?
WIDA originally stood for the founding states in the consortium – Wisconsin, Illinois, Delaware, and Arkansas. Later, it came to stand for World-Class Instructional Design and Assessment. Now, WIDA is just WIDA! Check them out at https://wida.wisc.edu.

Those are some of the most common acronyms you’ll find while teaching English learners. There are certainly more, but this is a good start. If you run across other acronyms that you think your TESOL colleagues should know about, or you’d like more explanation, just send me an email at dr.mooney@deardrmooney.com.

A Quick Reference to TESOL Terminology

ELD – English Language Development

TL – Target Language

FEP – Fluent English Proficient

LEP – Limited English Proficient

NEP – Non-English Proficient

BICS – Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills

CALP – Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency


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