English Language Learner Typologies (Profiles)

As with any student, there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when recommending a program to meet a specific student’s needs. This is particularly true of English language learners, who are a heterogeneous population possessing various profiles depending on the type of schooling students received prior to entering the US school system, proficiency of their first language, socioeconomic status of the families, and the individual learner’s ability to acquire language and literacy skills. Below are some of the different types of English language learner profiles:


These students are from places made inhospitable by severe violence and war. Refugee parents can apply for U.S. permanent resident status after one year from legal entry and then may request U.S. citizenship after five years. When refugees arrive, they are placed near private resettlement agencies that assist them with housing and job placement.

2. Non-Refugee Newcomers (nrn)

These are students from, for example, Mexico, India, China, and Cuba, as well as well as students displaced by natural disasters (who are ineligible for refugee status). They may not possess the U.S. residency permits necessary for them to receive governmental aid.

3. Highly Schooled newcomers (hsn)

Highly Schooled Newcomers (HSN). These students are children of government officials, professionals, and other highly schooled immigrants from all over the world, with the highest numbers from India. These students may speak great English but may need cultural and pronunciation assistance. Even those from countries where English is a national language—Liberia, South Africa, Singapore—might have gaps in dialect, reading comprehension skills that meet state standards, and cultural adaptation.

4. STUDENTS with limited or interrupted formal education (SLIFE)

These students arrive in 2nd to 12th grades with little or no education experiences in their previous countries (see Figure 1.2 for more details). Their language, literacy, and content knowledge may also be limited in their primary languages. Hence, they may need basic decoding skills and emergent writing skills, along with abundant vocabulary.

5. dually identified newcomers (din)

These students also need to be considered for special education services. They must be assessed 30 days after arriving, per the Every Student Succeeds Act guidelines, and receive both English as a Second Language/English Language Development (ESL/ELD) and special education services.


These are students who are most likely born here and thus could fit in several categories of ELs or non-ELs. Migrant students travel with their parents from state to state following the crops or other temporary job opportunities. State Migrant Education offices typically have records of their schooling from the various places in which they have resided.

7. Long-Term English Learners (LTELs)

These are students who are most likely U.S. citizens, perhaps second- or third generation, and have had U.S. EL status for at least six or more years. They, unfortunately, did not receive quality instruction. The U.S. Department of Education publications state that 70 percent or more of all students categorized as ELs are LTELs.


Fluent in social/conversational English

Stalled in one proficiency level for multiple years without improvement

Family speaks another language at home

Typically middle to high school students

8. dreamers

These are undocumented students who were brought here by their parents. They constantly fear deportation. They often work and study relentlessly and are on track to attend college.

9. STANdard english learners (sels)

California uses this term for students who were never classified as ELs but who speak nonstandard forms of English (e.g., Chicano English or African American vernacular English) and have academic linguistic needs. The dialects and language that they bring to school should be built upon and not viewed as a deficit (Soto-Hinman & Hertzel, 2009).

Figure 1.2. 2nd to 12th Grade Newcomers: Language and Literacy in First Languages Continuum