U.S. Department of Education
April 29, 1998


Limited English proficient is the legal term for students who were not born in the U.S. or whose native language is not English and who cannot participate effectively in the regular curriculum because they have difficulty speaking, understanding, reading, and writing English.

English as a second language (ESL) or English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is a technique that uses English to teach non-English speakers. English as a second language is always a component of bilingual education.

Bilingual education is the use of two languages for instruction, English and native language.

Numbers (nationwide)

There are 3.2 million limited English proficient students nationwide.

There are 1.3 million students in state and local bilingual programs.

Over 75% of all limited English proficient students attend high poverty schools.

Approximately 640,000 identified limited English proficient students are not served through any special program.

The number of limited English proficient students has nearly doubled in less than a decade.

Title VII (the Bilingual Education Act) serves over 900,000 limited English proficient students. The five most common language groups for limited English proficient students are Spanish (72.9%), Vietnamese (3.9%), Hmong (1.8%), Cantonese (1.7%), and Cambodian(1.6%).

Numbers (California)

In 1997, there are 1,381,393 million limited English proficient students in California.

Less than 30 percent of all limited English proficient students in California receive any native-language instruction.

Nearly 80 percent of the California limited English proficient population is Hispanic.

Between 1993 and 1997 the number of California limited English proficient students increased by 20%.

Quality programs

Students are taught by well trained teachers.

Specially designed English instruction and the native language are used to support language and content learning.

Students have access to a quality curriculum that is linked to state and national standards.

Student language and content learning is periodically assessed, and results are used to modify instruction.

The program is evaluated on an ongoing basis to determine effectiveness, and modifications are made as needed.