Tools and Resources for Bilingual and ELL Students

Learn how to navigate the college environment as a bilingual or ELL student. Use our guide to help develop skills and find resources to succeed.

portrait of Bethanny Parker
by Bethanny Parker

Updated March 17, 2022

Reviewed by Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

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Tools and Resources for Bilingual and ELL Students

Common Barriers | Tools | Resources | Advantages for Bilingual Students

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The number of English language learners (ELLs) in U.S. public schools has increased in recent years. In 2017, 10.1% of K-12 public school students were ELLs. Among these 5 million ELLs, 3.7 million spoke Spanish at home. Other popular home languages included Arabic, Chinese, and Vietnamese.

Giving ELLs the tools and resources needed to become proficient with the English language is important, as is honoring students who speak multiple languages.

Read on to learn about the challenges facing bilingual students, as well as some tools and resources that can help ELLs succeed in college.

Common Barriers for English Language Learners

Learning English as a non-native speaker can create challenges for students in educational settings. For example, there may be times when they don't understand what is required for an assignment. They also may struggle to understand their classmates.

Here are five common barriers that may create challenges for ELL students.

5 Tools for Bilingual Students and English Language Learners

Bilingual students and ELLs can benefit from using a variety of tools to help build their English speaking and writing skills. The five tools listed in this section can help students increase their vocabulary, improve their spelling, and more.

Open Culture

Open Culture is a database consisting of over 1,700 free online language courses, most of which are massive open online courses. Courses include English for business and entrepreneurship, English for academic study, English for healthcare, and English pronunciation in a global world.


This language learning program allows you to select your native language along with the language you want to learn. The program uses pictures and flashcards to help you learn words in a new language. It reinforces what you learned with quizzes. This program is great for vocabulary but doesn't teach sentence structure or grammar.

Speak & Translate

This voice and text translator by Apalon Apps is available in Apple's app store. In addition to speech and text translation, you can use your phone's camera to take a picture of a street sign or other text; these can be translated, as well. The app translates more than 100 languages.

ESL Lounge

A variety of reading comprehension lessons are sorted by difficulty — from elementary to advanced. The site also features a first words section, grammar exercises, listening exercises, vocabulary exercises, and test prep.

Write & Improve

Write & Improve allows you to practice writing in English and get immediate feedback on how well you did. Exercises include writing a story about trees, writing a paragraph about your favorite musician, and writing a note to your neighbor. One caveat: Write & Improve uses British English.

5 Resources Educators Can Use to Help ELLs Overcome Language Barriers

Many resources are available to educators who work with ELLs. These include worksheets, flash cards, lesson plans, and board games. Teachers and educators can integrate these resources into their classes to help students learn more easily.

Here are five resources that teachers and institutions can use to help students overcome language barriers and succeed in college.

Busy Teacher

This site has over 17,000 worksheets, all of which are free to download and print for your students. Example English as a second language (ESL) worksheets include "English for Work — How to Ask for a Raise" and "10 Fresh Roleplay Ideas for General English."

ESL Galaxy

ESL Galaxy offers free lesson plans, activities, and worksheets for ESL classrooms. The site offers more than 2,300 printable worksheets, including grammar worksheets, vocabulary worksheets, and word puzzles.

ESL Games World

ESL Games World offers fun games for ESL teachers to use in their classrooms. Popular games include Hangman, Snake and Ladders, and picture quizzes.

ESL Video

ESL Video offers free video lessons, quizzes, and online conversation classes for bilingual students. The site has quizzes on popular songs and movies, as well as TED Talks on popular subjects.

ESL Gold

ESL Gold offers free resources to help students learn English online. The site offers conversation topics, grammar resources, vocabulary study aids, listening resources, and short reading exercises.

Advantages of Being a Bilingual Student

Reviewed by:

Portrait of Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

Susana Muñoz, Ph.D.

Dr. Susana M. Muñoz is Associate Professor of higher education, Program Coordinator of the Higher Education Leadership (HEL) Program, and Co-Director of CSU initiatives for the Race and Intersectional Studies for Educational Equity (RISE) Center in the School of Education at Colorado State University (CSU).

Her scholarly interests center on the experiences of minoritized populations in higher education. Specifically, Dr. Muñoz focuses her research on issues of equity, identity, and campus climate for undocumented Latinx students, while employing perspectives such as legal violence, racist nativism, and Chicana feminist epistemology to identify and dismantle power, oppression, and inequities as experienced by these populations. She utilizes multiple research methods as mechanisms to examine these matters with the ultimate goal of informing immigration policy and higher education practices.

Dr. Muñoz has been honored by the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanics for her teaching and research. She was also recognized as a Salzburg Global Fellow and named one of the "top 25 most influential women in higher education" by Diverse Issues in Higher Education magazine. She also brings 13 years of student affairs experience in multicultural affairs, Greek life, diversity and leadership training, TRiO programs, and residence life.

Feature image: Kanawa_Studio / E+ / Getty Images