Wednesday, 12 August 2020, 10:29 AM
Site: NILE
Course: NILE ELT Glossary (NILE-ELT Glossary)
Glossary: ELT terms - defined and referenced!


See Pronoun


See Role play

Lexical field

See Semantic field

Subordinate clause

See Clause

Short-/long-term memory

Our memory system is able to store memories for shorter or longer periods. Our short-term memory (also called working memory) is limited in capacity and only retains information for a short period of time, while our long-term memory is much larger and retains information for longer.


"I have a wonderful short-term memory for things like the prices of items I bought yesterday, what my family were wearing yesterday and how long it took me to do things, but my long-term memory is poor – I have few recollections of my childhood."

Further reading

Bilborough, N. (2011).  Memory Activities for Language Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stevick, E. (1976). Memory, Meaning and Method. New York, NY: Newbury House Publishers.




See Skills


See Skills


A task is a classroom activity that has a ‘real-world’ outcome e.g. a problem is solved, genuinely wanted information is exchanged. Tasks provide a purpose for the learning and use of language other than simply learning language items for their own sake (Rubdy 1998). Generally, a task is completed by using language freely to communicate in speech or writing. Some believe that tasks should not focus on practising any one specific piece of language, but rather be open-ended.

In the ELT literature the term task is sometimes used to refer to activity, sometimes to tasks with a specific language aim. There is considerable debate over what a task is, as there is over Task-Based Learning, in which tasks are the main drivers for learning.


"He always liked to give his students tasks to do as he thought they appreciated the sense of achievement tasks produce and their relevance to getting things done outside the classroom."

Further reading

B. Kumaravadivelu (1991). Language-learning tasks: teacher intention and learner interpretation. ELT J 45 (2): 98-107.

Nunan, D. (1989) Designing Tasks for the Communicative Classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010) Longman dictionary of language and applied linguistics. Harlow: Pearson.

Rubdy, R. (1998). Key concepts in ELT.  ELTJ 52/3

Willis, D. and Willis, J.( 2007). Doing Task-based Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Task-Based Learning

A way of learning and a method of syllabus or course design which is based on learners completing tasks. There is much debate over what constitutes Task-Based Learning, and particularly over what role a focus on language should play, if any. Some e.g. N.S. Prabhu, maintain that there should be no focus on language in Task-Based Learning i.e. that language should be learnt purely through exposure, acquisition and use. Others prefer to see some language input or focus on form, either at the pre-task stage or post-task or both.


"Our classes were task-based – we did one task followed by another e.g. comparing, problem-solving, classifying, sorting, surveying. I enjoyed them as we always used language to do something real."

Further reading

Foster, P. (1999). Key concepts in ELT.  ELTJ 53/1

Hawkes, M.L. (2012). Using task repetition to direct learner attention and focus on form. ELT J  66 (3): 327-336.

Littlewood, W. (2004). The task-based approach: some questions and suggestions. ELTJ 58/4.Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Samuda. V. and Bygate, M. (2008) Tasks in Second Language Learning, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Skehan, P. (1996). A framework for the implementation of task-based instruction. Applied Linguistics, 17/1, 38-62.

Willis, J. (1996) A framework for task-based learning. Harlow: Longman.




See Transitive / Intransitive

Use / Usage

These terms are used in linguistics in contrast to one another to describe ways in which a person knows language. In usage a person knows about language or items in language abstractly as a component in a language system. In use, a person knows how to use language for communication. This distinction which focuses on the difference between knowing about language (usage) and knowing how to use language (use) was critical in the development of language teaching, away from grammar translation and towards a communicative approach. Henry Widdowson introduced and developed this distinction in 1978.


Some people used to criticize grammar translation, saying that it was too usage-oriented. Nowadays some people criticise communicative language teaching saying it is too use- oriented.

Further reading

Carter, R. and Nunan, D. (2001). Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. (1978). Teaching Language as Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Howatt, A. P. R. and Widdowson, H.G. (2004). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




See Washback


This is a term (in the US more commonly referred to as Backwash) used in testing and assessment to describe the effect on the classroom of tests that the learners will take. Washback may affect e.g. the syllabus, methodology, interaction patterns, attitudes to learning etc., and can be positive or negative.


In some countries education authorities deliberately introduce new elements into tests so that they will be used in the classroom. In other words they are relying on the washback effect of a test to bring about change in the classroom. Examples of this might be the introduction of speaking tests or the use of tasks in speaking tests. Washback is sometimes known as ‘Backwash’ and is contrasted with ‘Impact’.

Further Reading

Bachman, L and Palmer, A (1996) Language Testing in Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hamp-Lyons, L (1997) Washback, impact and validity: ethical concerns, Language Testing,14/3.

Hughes, A. (1989) Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Messick, S. (1996). Validity and washback in language testing. Language Testing 13/4.

Taylor, L. (2005) Key Concepts in ELT: Washback and Impact. ELT Journal 59/2.



Vocal tract

This is how The Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics defines vocal tract: ‘the air passages which are above the VOCAL CHORDS and which are involved in the production of speech sounds. The vocal tract can be divided into the nasal cavity…. and the oral cavity’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.629).


In this diagram we can see the vocal tract:                                                 

                                                        Vocal chords



Further reading

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. ( 2010). Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Pearson.

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary:




This is an English vowel sound, represented in the phonemic script as /ə/. It is the most common vowel in spoken English as many other vowels are shortened to schwa in connected speech (See Connected Speech). Schwa plays an important role in maintaining regular rhythm in spoken English.


Do you think there would be 5, 6 or 7 schwa sounds in this sentence if it was spoken?

What do you reckon happened when they arrived at the station?

I think the answer could be 5, 6 or 7 depending on how quickly the speaker spoke. This is where the schwas could occur:

/wɒt du ju rekən hæpənd wen θeɪjəraɪvdæt θə steɪʃən/

/wɒdʒə rekən hæpənd wen θeɪjəraɪvdæt θə steɪʃən/

/wɒt du ju rekən hæpənd wen θeɪjəraɪvdət θə steɪʃən/

/wɒdʒə rekən hæpənd wen θeɪjəraɪvdət θə steɪʃən/

Further reading

Dalton, C. and Seidlhofer, B. (2004). Pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kelly, G. (2000). How To Teach Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Underhill, A. (2005). Sound Foundations. Oxford: Macmillan.



Strong/Stressed and Weak/Unstressed Syllables

A syllable is a unit of speech which in English consists of a vowel sound or of a vowel sound and one or more consonants. A syllable can be divided into three parts: onset, nucleus and coda/final. Word stress operates on the different syllables in a word. In terms of pronunciation, syllables can be stressed, weakly stressed or unstressed. A stressed syllable carries the main or secondary stress in a word and is pronounced with greater loudness and length and higher pitch. A weakly stressed syllable has little sound prominence and an unstressed syllable receives no prominence. The amount of stress given to a word and the syllables within it depends on how important it is in conveying essential information.


Here are some words showing typical English syllable patterns:

a (indefinite article) – a syllable consisting just of a vowel sound

am – a syllable consisting of a vowel + a consonant sound

jam – a syllable consisting of consonant + vowel + consonant sounds

tram – a syllable consisting of consonant + consonant + vowel + consonant sounds

And here are some words showing different degrees of stress on different syllables:

|on|ly – main stress on ‘on’ and weak stress on ‘ly’

|phone – one main stress

|station – main stress on ‘sta’ with weak or no stress on ‘tion’

|Un|nec|es|sari|ly – main stress on 'sar', weak stress on 'un', 'nec', 'ess', 'ly'; weak or no stress on 'ri'

Further reading

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 4th edition. Harlow: Pearson.

Stirling, J. (2011). Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.



Question Tag/Tag Question

A question tag is a clause usually containing an inverted subject and an auxiliary or modal verb, and inserted at the end of a statement. It turns the statement into a question or a request for confirmation, depending on its intonation, with a rising tone indicating a question and a falling tone signalling a request for confirmation. A question formed by adding a question tag to the end of a statement is called a tag question.


Here are some tag questions that use different question tags:

He left last night, didn’t he?

She can’t swim, can she?

Nobody understands, do they?

You’ll bring it tomorrow, won’t you?

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.




Pitch is usually defined as “the rate of vibration of the vocal folds”, which is responsible for sounds being produced at higher or lower frequencies, or higher or lower pitch. Pitch can vary across a word or a whole utterance. Varying our pitch in conventionally agreed ways makes it possible for meaning to be expressed through intonation. For example, in English, in Wh- questions the pitch of the voice starts higher then falls.


In English we change the direction of the pitch of our voices on the most important syllable in a word or tone unit. We can see this from the contour line in this example:



Take the train, not the bus – it’s much quicker.

Further reading

Roach, Peter (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology, 4th edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Underhill, A. (2005) Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary:


Linguistic landscape

The linguistic landscape, sometimes known as 'environmental print', is the text and accompanying images which can be seen in (usually) urban environments on the streets, shops, vehicles, and people (e.g. t-shirt slogans; tattoos). It is a rich source of contemporary language use, and can have a multitude of functional purposes, e.g. to advertise, to warn, to entertain, to inform. Several studies (e.g. Sayer, 2010; Chern & Dooley, 2013), have related the use of English in non-English-speaking environments to cultural and socio-economic factors. Drawing students' attention to how language(s) can be used in the linguistic landscape can promote 'noticing' and lead to discussion and debate.


"I always ask my students to take photos of the linguistic landscape which surrounds them as they walk to and from the language school."

Further reading

Check out the NILE Norwich Linguistic Landscape blog (coming soon)

Chern, C. & Dooley, K. (2013). Learn English by walking down the street. ELTJ 68 / 2 pp. 113-123

Gorter, D. (ed). (2006). Linguistic Landscape. A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Lopriori, L. (2011). Buzzword of the day: Linguistic Landscapes. TESOL Italy Newsletter Vol XXI, No. 5, p.3

Sayer, P. (2010). Using the linguistic landscape as a pedagogical resource. ELTJ 64 / 2 pp. 143-154




Hyponym is a term used to describe a lexical relationship between words. Hyponyms are the words that are examples of a particular category, for example, pens, pencils, paper, sellotape are all hyponyms of the category, stationery. Hyponyms form a large part of lexical sets.


At beginner and elementary level we often teach hyponyms of everyday categories such as members of the family, types of shop, items of clothing, days of the week, types of food, colours, types of leisure activities. At the end of last term I divided my class into groups and gave them each an area of vocabulary, a superordinate. They then drew mind maps, posters or other drawings with all the hyponyms they could think of for their area. They drew some great things, for example, people in national dress from different countries of the world to illustrate different items of clothing.

Further reading

McCarthy, M. (1990). Vocabulary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nation, I.S.P.(2001).Learning Vocabulary in Another Language, Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I., (2000). Learning vocabulary in lexical sets: dangers and guidelines. TESOL Journal/9.

Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.

Yule, G. (2014). The Study of Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.