Wednesday, 20 January 2021, 9:56 AM
Site: NILE
Course: NILE ELT Glossary (NILE-ELT Glossary)
Glossary: ELT terms - defined and referenced!


This acronym stands for International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. Its aims are to ‘to link, develop and support English Language Teaching professionals around the world’ ( IATEFL’s main activities are organising an annual conference for teachers and local seminars, awarding grants and scholarships, publishing a newsletter and magazine, and putting on webinars.


Teachers come from all over the world to attend the IATEFL annual conference. It gives them an opportunity to give a talk on an area of interest, or to listen to a wide range of speakers speaking on a wide range of ELT related subjects. It is also a great opportunity to meet teachers from different countries and to visit a well-stocked resources exhibition.

Further reading

Conference video:




An idiom is a formulaic expression with one overall meaning. It is often not possible to work out the meaning of an idiom just by looking at its individual words, as idioms often carry a lot of cultural meaning, for example she made a real dog’s breakfast of her homework; a little birdie told me you’ve had some very good news. There are several different kinds of idioms such as phrasal verbs, similes, metaphors, proverbs and euphemisms.


"My English is pretty fluent but I still have problems understanding idioms. What does ‘let’s go for a whirl’ mean, for example, or ‘I really like chilling out with friends’?  It’s not easy to learn this kind of English at school."

Further reading

Cambridge Idioms Dictionary, 2nd edition. (2006). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach. Boston, Mass., Thomson Heinle.

McCarthy, M. and O’Dell, F. (2002) English Idioms in Use. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




The part of the verb used to give orders or instructions. In English the positive form of the imperative  is the base form without ‘to’ e.g. brush your teeth, keep quiet, drive carefully. Its negative form is don’t/ do not + base form e.g. don’t worry about that, don’t forget your keys, don’t lose it.


It’s quite important to teach the register of the imperative in English. Learners sometimes think it’s the same as a polite imperative in their own language and don’t realise that in English it can be quite direct and abrupt.

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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



Indefinite article

See Articles

Inductive v deductive

These terms are used to refer to ways of learning. Inductive learning takes place by the learner extracting or working out rules from examples or data whereas deductive learning works by learning rules then applying them to examples or data.


The grammar translation method made heavy use of a deductive way of learning, presenting learners with rules and then asking them to use them to complete exercises.  The communicative approach relies much more on an inductive approach in which second language learners hear or read language around them, in much the same way as first language learners do, then unconsciously devise rules about how different aspects of language work.

Further reading

Doughty, C. & J. Williams (eds) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language

Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gollin, J. (1998). Key Concepts in ELT: Deductive vs Inductive Language Learning. ELT Journal, 52/1.

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

Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Inferring meaning

When we infer meaning we work out from linguistic and contextual clues what a word, group of words or sentence might mean. We do this for different types of meaning e.g. denotation, connotation, attitude.


She said the food was great but it was very easy to infer from the look on her face that she really meant it was horrible!

Further reading

Clarke, D.F., & Nation, I.S. P. (1980). Guessing the Meanings of Words from Context:Strategy and Techniques. System/ 8.

Coady, J. and Huckin, T. (eds.), (1997). Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Macaro, E., (2003). Teaching and Learning a Second Language. New York: Continuum.

Schmitt, N., (1997). Vocabulary learning strategies. In N. Schmitt, and M. McCarthy, eds. Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition and Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Takač, V. P. (2008). Vocabulary Learning Strategies and Foreign Language Acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.





This refers to the process of adding a morpheme to a word to change its grammatical meaning (e.g. tense, person) but not its word class. In English it applies particularly to verbs, nouns and adjectives.


Some languages make heavy use of inflections, German, Greek and Turkish, for example. This makes it a challenge for learners to speak these languages accurately – a language might, for instance, have at least seven different inflections for nouns: singular, plural. nominative case, genitive, vocative, dative, accusative. What a nightmare for those seeking to achieve perfection!

Further reading

Carter, R. and McCarthy, M. (2006). Cambridge Grammar of English.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Information gap

This term is used to refer to the situation in which one person or group has information which another person or group wants but doesn’t have. For example, if a shopkeeper knows the price of an item you want to buy but you don’t know the price, then there is an information gap between you and the shopkeeper. To ‘bridge’ this information gap, you ask the shopkeeper the price and he/she replies. As can be seen from this example, the information gap prompts purposeful communication. This is the reason why many communicative classroom activities are designed around information gaps. They are said to promote genuine communication and use of language rather than language use for display or purely practice purposes. Many well-known ELT activities are based around an information gap e.g. Find Someone Who, jigsaw reading and listening, describe and draw, problem solving.


"In our first lesson I gave each student brochure of their new town, then I asked them to plan a joint outing together for next Sunday. To do this the students had to share information about all the places they could visit, then exchange opinions and make a decision. It was a huge information gap activity, which worked very well."

Further reading

Spratt, M., Pulverness, A., Williams, M. (2011). The TKT Course Modules 1, 2 and 3. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, J. (2012). Essential Teacher Knowledge. Harlow: Pearson.

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




The language in the learner’s  environment that the learner is exposed to through hearing or reading and which is available for intake in order to drive language learning.


"When you go to a foreign country there is input everywhere: in street signs, newspapers, television, people talking, menus, leaflets etc etc."

Further reading

Doughty, C., & Williams, J. (Eds.) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Krashen, S.D. (1982). Principles and Practice in Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Pergamon.



Input hypothesis

The input hypothesis is the idea, developed particularly by Stephen Krashen, that language is acquired by exposure to language that is of interest to the learner and that is made up of a level of lexis and grammar slightly above that of the learner’s. This is called comprehensible input.  Krashen has recently refined his idea of comprehensible input to say that ‘It may be the case that input needs to be not just interesting but compelling. Compelling means that the input is so interesting you forget that it is in another language’ (Krashen, S., 2011).


When we go to a foreign country as a family we seem to learn different things even though we’re all in the same environment. My son, an enormous eater, seems to learn all the words for food, my husband, an avid football fan, notices and learns words to do with sport, and I tend to pick up social formulae. We all have the same input but we notice and acquire different things from it. This seems to me to be evidence of the input hypothesis and of the need for compelling input.

Further reading

Doughty, C. and Williams, J. (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. (2013).  How Languages are Learned, 4th edition. Oxford:Oxford University Press.

Stephen Krashen in




The language that a learner meets in their environment and that they absorb. A distinction is made between input and intake. Input is the language available in the environment, intake is that part of the input that the learner (consciously or unconsciously) chooses to pay attention to and take in. Intake is the first stage in noticing language.


"When he hears a foreign language his ears perk up and his eyes brighten-he seems to unconsciously or consciously pay attention to every bit of input that comes his way, busily turning input into intake."

Further reading

Gass, S. and Madden, C. (1985). Input in Second Language Acquisition. California: Newbury House. Kumaravadivelu, B. (1994). Intake factors and intake processes in adult language learning. Applied Language Learning 1994, 5/1.

Van Patten, B. (2002). From Input to Output. New York: McGraw Hill.




This term is used to refer to a way of teaching language skills and to types of syllabus. A lesson which extends work on one skill into another is called an integrated skills lesson. For example, learners could do work on a listening text on a particular topic then do a speaking activity that picks up on the language of the same topic, or they could do work on a reading text then develop their ideas and language by writing about the topic of the reading text.

An integrated syllabus is one which tries to ensure that the different syllabus components support one another e.g. the vocabulary enables the grammar, the grammar enables the functions.


"I like using integrated skills in class. I think this approach gives learners an opportunity to consolidate and extend their language in a different context or skill."

Further reading

McDonough, J. and Shaw, C. (2003). Materials and Methods in ELT, 2nd edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

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

Selinker, L. and Russell, S. (1986). An empirical look at the integration and separation of skills in ELT. ELT Journal 40/3. Oxford University Press.



Integrative tests

See Discrete-item and integrative tests


The version of the target language spoken by a learner at any given time during the period of learning . A learner’s interlanguage will change and develop as they become more proficient. Some aspects of it may fossilize as their proficiency develops.


"Learners’ interlanguage can develop quickly if they get enough exposure – you see the way they use different grammatical structures with more precision, the range and appropriateness of vocabulary use and the clarity of their pronunciation really changing fast."

Further reading

Batstone, R. (1994). Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Brown, H.D. (1994). Principles of Language Learning and Teaching. Harlow: Pearson Education.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, S.  (2006). How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pitt Corder, S. (1991). Error Analysis and Interlanguage. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rutherford, W.E. (1987). Second Language Grammar: Learning and Teaching. Harlow: Longman.

Skehan, P. (1994.) Second language acquisition strategies, interlanguage development and task-based learning, in Bygate, M., A. Tonkyn, and E. Williams, Grammar and The Language Teacher. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.




This is someone with whom a speaker talks and interacts. An interlocutor participates in a conversation or dialogue.

In speaking tests the interlocutor is the person with whom the candidate speaks.


Interlocutors interact in different ways in different cultures. One of the things to learn when learning a foreign language is how to act as an interlocutor e.g. how far away from the speaker to stand, when and whether to interrupt. Otherwise you may not get your message across successfully.

Further reading

Cribb, M. (2009). Discourse and the Non-Native English Speaker. New York: Cambria.

Stenstrom, A. (1994). An Introduction to Spoken Interaction. Harlow: Longman.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence. Oxford: MacMillan.

Thornbury, S. (2005) How to Teach Speaking. Harlow: Pearson.

Tsui, A. (1994). Introducing Classroom Interaction. London: Penguin.




See Pronoun

Intonation and intonation contour

Intonation is the movement we introduce into our voices in order to convey meaning. We move our voices up or down or some combination of the two over a tone unit, with our intonation forming an intonation pattern or intonation contour over that unit. We use intonation to indicate attitude, grammatical functions or the organisation of discourse.


Try saying these three sentences in the way indicated in brackets and following the intonation contour given in the lines. Notice how the intonation is different in each sentence and how your voice moves across each contour.


He gave you the ticket (said as a statement)


He gave you the ticket (said as a question)


He gave you the ticket (said to show surprise)



Further reading

Brazil, D. (1997). The Communicative Value of Intonation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Celce-Murcia, M., Brinton, D. and Goodwin, J. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

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

Halliday, M.A.K., and Greaves, W.S., (2008). Intonation in the Grammar of English.  London:Equinox.

Hirst, D.J. & Di Cristo, A. (eds) 1998. Intonation Systems. A Survey of Twenty Languages. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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

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

Wells, J.C. (2006) English Intonation: An Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






See Transitive / Intransitive

Intrinsic/extrinsic motivation

These terms both refer to types of motivation. Intrinsic motivation is the wish to do something because of the pleasure or enjoyment that doing this brings. Extrinsic motivation refers to the wish to do something that is due to the desired result or outcome of doing it. Both of those motivations have been used to explain the wish to learn languages, though nowadays more complex explanations of language learning motivation are available. Teachers are often concerned about how to increase their learners’ motivation.


"When I learnt English at school I just did it to get good marks, and because I thought it would help me when travelling. Now though, I just love it – I love learning all those words, imitating the accent, listening to the flow etc etc – I guess my motivation has changed from extrinsic to intrinsic."

Further reading

Dörnyei, Z. (1990). Conceptualizing motivation in foreign language learning. Language Learning, 40.

Dörnyei, Z. (2001). Motivation Strategies in the Language Classroom.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dörnyei, Z.(2008). The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford University Press.

Dörnyei, Z. (2010). Teaching and Researching: Motivation. London: Routledge.

McDonough, S. (2007). Motivation in ELT. ELT Journal 61/4. Oxford University Press.

Scrivener, J. (2011). Learning Teaching, 3rd edition. Oxford: Macmillan.

Ur, P.  (1999). A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Intrusive /r/ /w/ /j/

Intrusive /r/ /w/ and /j/ are sounds used in English to help with linking words in connected speech. They are inserted at word boundaries.


Intrusive /r/-her efforts (/hɜ:refəts/), law and order (/lɔ:rəndɔ:də/)

Intrusive /w/ - you are (/ju:wɑ:/), go on /gʊəwɒn/

Intrusive /j/ - they are (/ðeɪjɑ:/), she is (/ʃi:jɪz/)

Further reading

Hancock, M. (1995). Pronunciation Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Marks, J. (2012). Delta Teacher Development: Pronunciation Book. Peaslake, Surrey: Delta.

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