CATESOL Position Statement on the Differences Between English as a Second Language and Basic Skills Instruction at Post-Secondary Levels
(Approved by the CATESOL Board of Directors, June 11, 1994)
The needs of ESL students are not well served by treating ESL as
a variety of "remedial" or basic skills education. A distinction
at post-secondary levels of education must be made between
students who are still at a developmental stage of acquiring
English (ESL students) and students whose dominant language is
English but who lack academic literacy/basic skills (basic skills
students). These two types of students are best served by
instruction which recognizes their different backgrounds and
needs. Neither should be labeled remedial, a term which suggests
that they need to make up for deficiencies; both types of
students are involved in the cognitively demanding process of
acquiring academic English.
Basic Skills Students
- have received all or most of their education in English, their
dominant language, but still need to develop academic literacy in English.
- have oral fluency and an intuitive knowledge of the grammar
of spoken English but need to develop literacy (i.e., reading and
- are familiar with American culture and customs.
Needs of ESL students
- are learning a language that is not their home or dominant
language, and are using this language to acquire intellectual
- may have academic skills which they have already
developed in their first language.
- are often unfamiliar with American culture, customs, and
Foreign language instruction is not considered remedial. English
as a Second Language is as cognitively demanding and academically
rigorous as foreign language study. In fact, given that ESL
students have to study their content areas in English, the
demands on them are even greater than those on native speakers of
English learning a foreign language.
- to learn English as part of an integrated curriculum,
including listening, speaking, reading, writing-as part of an
- to receive instruction that recognizes that language learning
is a developmental process. The oral or written ESL features
which their language displays are a natural part of this language
- to learn the syntactic structures and organizational patterns
of both written and spoken English.
- to receive instruction that recognizes their need to learn
about American culture and, at the same time, validates their
- to be identified, not by national origin or length of
residence in the U.S., but by the language they produce. All
assessment measures should be designed for appropriate ESL
populations. Tests designed to assess native speakers of English
are inappropriate for ESL students.
For a statement of the relationship between this document and the
issue of community college credit for ESL, see the CATESOL
Position Statement on Degree-Applicable Credit Courses in