ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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We hope this is useful for you and your NILE Online course.

(Definitions written by Mary Spratt, edited by Alan Pulverness)

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Accuracy describes the ability to write or speak a foreign language without making grammatical, vocabulary, spelling or pronunciation mistakes. It is often contrasted with fluency. Classroom activities are sometimes categorised into those that promote fluency and those that promote accuracy.


"She makes lots of grammar and pronunciation mistakes – her speech isn’t very accurate; but she speaks so fluently and expressively that everyone understands her."

Further reading

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

Ellis, R. (2001). Grammar teaching – Practice or consciousness-raising? In Richards, J. C., & Renandya, W. A. (Eds.), Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Norris, J. M., & Ortega, L. (2001). Does type of instruction make a difference? Substantive findings from a meta-analytic review. Language Learning, 51, Supplement 1.

Spada, N. (1997). Form-focussed instruction and second language acquisition: A review of classroom and laboratory research. Language Teaching 30.

Swan, M. (1985) A critical look at the Communicative Approach, ELT Journal, 39/ 1and 39/ 2. Oxford University Press.

Truscott, J. (1996). The case against grammar correction in L2 writing classes. Language Learning, 46.

Widdowson, H.G. (1985) Against dogma: A reply to Michael Swan,  ELT Journal, 39/ 3. Oxford University Press.

Accuracy and correcting mistakes (CUP) www.cambridge.org.br/upload/news/00000855.doc



Entry link: Accuracy


The way in which languages are learnt unconsciously or ‘picked up’ by exposure to comprehensible input. In this definition, the term acquisition is used in contrast to learning, which is seen as a deliberate and conscious process of rule learning and self-monitoring of language use. However the terms acquisition and learning are used interchangeably by some writers.


"She learnt Portuguese simply through acquisition – hearing and reading it all around her and chatting with friends. She never studied it."

Further reading

Doughty, C. and Williams, J. (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Entry link: Acquisition


A set of letters containing the first letters of a group of words that is a name or phrase e.g. ELT (English Language Teaching), TBC (to be confirmed), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Acronyms often belong to particular contexts and may not be understood by people outside that context e.g. acronyms used in ELT, such as PPP, TBL, TPR, TTT. Some definitions distinguish between acronyms and initialisms (where the first letters of a phrase are pronounced letter by letter rather than as a word e.g. scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).


"Many people don’t understand all the acronyms used in textese as there are always so many new ones, and some like LOL have more than one meaning."

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Teacher Acronym Song



Entry link: Acronym

Adverb; Adverbial phrase

An adverb is a word which usually qualifies the verb in a sentence showing how, when, where, to what degree, how often, or with what viewpoint etc the event, action or process in the verb is carried out. An adverbial phrase is a set of words fulfilling the same purpose.


Here are examples of different types of adverbs and adverbial phrases:

Of manner: carefully, in a new way

Of time: yesterday, the day after tomorrow

Of place: there, over the back

Of degree: fully, to a certain extent

Of frequency: weekly, every three weeks

Of attitude: honestly, in my opinion

Further reading

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

University Press.

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

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





Entry link: Adverb; Adverbial phrase

Adverbial phrase

See Adverb

Entry link: Adverbial phrase

Affective filter

Certain researchers into language acquisition, particularly Stephen Krashen, maintain that language learning is facilitated or obstructed by an ‘affective filter’. The filter is made up of attitudes or feelings which are said to control and select the input learners absorb from their environment. If their affective filter is set low, learners are open to receiving input. If it is set high, because they are stressed/ anxious/ poorly motivated etc., then they are not open to receiving input.


"For some unknown reason, he just loved Spanish and took in everything he heard – his affective filter was clearly set low."

Further reading

Ellis, R. (1983).Review of Krashen’s principles and practice in second language acquisition. ELT Journal 37/3. Oxford University Press.

Gass, S. (1997). Input, Interaction and the Second Language Learner. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

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

VanPatten, B. and Williams, J. (eds) (2007). Theories in Second Language Acquisition: an introduction. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.



Entry link: Affective filter


This term refers to the addition of a morpheme at the beginning or end of a word (prefixes and suffixes). This additional morpheme changes the meaning of the word. Affixes can also change the part of speech of a word e.g. happy→ happiness, they can make opposites e.g. happy→ unhappy or they can have a grammatical function e.g. the regular past tense suffix-ed.


A game I sometimes play with my students in class is to give them a word e.g. ‘real’, set them a time limit, and ask them to see how many new words they can make from that word by adding affixes, both prefixes and suffixes.

Further reading

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




Entry link: Affixation


The learning potential of a text, a context or a situation which provides the learner with the opportunity acquire – or learn – new language. The term often occurs in its plural form. The classroom, too, can provide the learner with affordances for learning e.g. when learners gradually pick up and identify moments for use of classroom language such as ‘I don’t understand’, ‘I have a question’, ‘Please, can you help me’.


"With the spread of English as a global language, a learner these days can be presented with many affordances to acquire English in everyday life. Similarly, in the classroom, children with English as an L1 can provide the others with many affordances for learning English in group work and general chit chat."

Further reading

Gibson, J.J. (1977). In R. Shaw and J. Bransford (ed.s). Perceiving, Acting and Knowing, Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Singleton, D. and Aronin, L. (2007). Multiple Language Learning in the Light of the Theory of Affordances. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1/1.

Van Lier, L. (2000). From input to affordance: Social-interactive learning from an ecological perspective. In Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




Entry link: Affordance/affordances


This is a phonological term which refers to a sound which can replace another sound in a word without changing its meaning, for example, in the word ‘bath’ the ‘a’ sound can be pronounced either as /æ/ or as /ɑː/ without the meaning being changed. So, in this word, these two sounds are allophones. The phoneme /ɜː/ in /bɜːθ/ is not an allophone in this instance as it changes the meaning of the word.


When people learn foreign languages they sometimes get confused because phonemes which would not be allophones in their language are allophones in the target language or vice versa, for example, /b/ and /v/ are two distinct phonemes in English but they are sometimes allophones in Spanish.

Further reading

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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


Entry link: Allophone


This is a phonological term referring to the place in the mouth where some sounds are produced. The alveolar ridge is the ridge behind the teeth. The sounds produced when the tongue makes contact with the ridge are called alveolar. In English the alveolar sounds are /t/, /d/, /s/, /z/, /n/, /l/.



I’ve always found that it helps students to be aware of where in the mouth sounds are formed. When students have problems with any of the alveolar sounds I show them a labelled diagram of the mouth then get them to touch the ridge with their tongue as they try to say the problem sound. Then I tell them to practise at home in front of the bathroom mirror!

Further reading

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

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

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




Entry link: Alveolar


Analytic and holistic assessment are two ways of evaluating the performance of learners in order to give grades. In analytic assessment, separate grades are awarded to different typical features of a performance, whereas in holistic assessment markers give a grade based on their evaluation of a learner’s overall performance.


When I marked my students’ interviews, I did so analytically, giving them a separate mark for fluency, accuracy, discourse management and pronunciation. Later, I discovered that my colleague marked hers holistically, using descriptions of general performance at particular levels. I think I’ll try doing that next time, then see which seems better for me and my students.

Further reading

Bachman, L. and Palmer, A. (1997). Language Testing in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hamp-Lyons, L. (ed.) (1991). Assessing Second -language Writing in Academic Contexts. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation.

Hughes, A. (2003).Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Entry link: Analytic/holistic

Anaphoric and cataphoric reference

These are two terms used to describe words which refer to other words in a sentence or text. Anaphoric reference refers to words that have occurred previously, while cataphoric reference refers to words that come later. Pronouns, determiners and demonstrative adjectives often fulfil these functions, which contribute to the cohesion of discourse.


Try to work out what each reference word refers to in this text. Is the reference anaphoric or cataphoric?

Michael gave Anne a new book for her birthday. She was very pleased with it but forgot to thank him. That upset him. ‘This is what I’ll do’, he decided: ‘I’ll never give her a present again’.

Key: Green = anaphoric, red = cataphoric.

Further reading

Cook, G. (1989). Discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

Townsend Hall, B. (1997). Key Concepts in ELT: Anaphora. ELT Journal 51/4.



Entry link: Anaphoric and cataphoric reference


An approach to language teaching is the set of beliefs on which that teaching is based. The beliefs cover what language is, how it is used and learnt. From these beliefs a set of teaching practices are built. The terms method and approach are sometimes used interchangeably, with approach being used nowadays more commonly than method, perhaps because it implies a less rigid set of teaching practices than method, e.g. The Lexical Approach v the Direct Method.


"The Communicative Approach is based on a wide view of what constitutes language and language use. What methods should be used to teach this language and language use are still hotly debated."

Further reading

Hedge, H. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Larsen Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Practice in Language Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S.  (2009) Teaching unplugged. Peaslake: Delta.

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

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: Approach


This refers to the degree of fit or suitability that there is between a piece of language and the social context in which it is used. When the piece of language matches the social context it is said to be appropriate. When it doesn’t match it is said to be inappropriate. To match, it needs to be of the equivalent degree of formality. Appropriacy can be seen in pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar or discourse. The terms appropriacy and appropriateness are often used interchangeably in this meaning.


"I learnt my English by chatting informally with friends. When I started working in an office I had to make a definite effort to get the appropriacy of my language right."

Further reading

Carter, R. and Nunan, D. (2001). Teaching English to speakers of other languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, J. (2007). The practice of English language teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

McDonough, J. and Shaw, C. (1993). Materials and methods in ELT. Malden, MA, USA: Blackwell.


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




Entry link: Appropriacy


This is a grammatical term that refers to a type of determiner. Articles, in English, are used before a noun or noun group to indicate whether the noun is specific/ definite or general/ indefinite in its reference. In English, the definite article is the, the indefinite article is a/an, and we sometimes see mention of a ‘zero article’. This refers to plural nouns or uncountable nouns that are indefinite in reference and have no article before them.


Can you pass me an apple? (Indefinite article referring to an unspecified apple).

The apple you gave me yesterday was quite delicious. (Definite article referring to a specific apple).

Apples are meant to be good for your health. (Zero article referring to apples in general).

Further reading

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

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





Entry link: Article

Articulators (speech organs)

This is a term from phonology which refers to ‘a part of the mouth, nose or throat which is used in producing speech e.g. the tongue, lips, alveolar ridge etc’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.33). Articulators are also known as speech organs. There are two kinds of speech organ: active and passive.


When we learn to speak a foreign language we sometimes need to learn to use some articulators in different ways, for example, to pronounce the /θ/ phoneme in English, many learners have to place the tongue in a way to which they are not accustomed.

Further reading

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

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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





Entry link: Articulators (speech organs)


Aspect is a grammatical term referring to how a verb expresses the speaker’s or writer’s view of certain features of time in an event i.e. whether it is completed or still in progress, whether it is one-off or repeating and its relevance to the present. In English, there are two aspects: progressive (or continuous) and perfect. Aspect is shown in auxiliary verbs + past participles, and the two aspects sometimes combine.


Examples of the progressive aspect are: He is cooking, they were cooking.

Examples of the perfect aspect are: they have cooked, they had cooked.

Examples of the perfect progressive aspect are: they have been cooking, they had been cooking.

Further reading

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

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



Entry link: Aspect

Assessment and testing

These terms are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the collection of data about and awarding of marks to learner performance. Sometimes, however, testing is used just to refer to evaluation involving tests, whereas assessment encompasses not only tests but also other means of assessment such as observation, portfolios, case studies, interviews etc.


Some people argue that you get a fairer and more accurate picture of learner performance using the wide range of techniques available through assessment. They think that the results obtained from tests provide a less comprehensive picture of what the learner can do.

Further reading

Bachman, L. and Palmer, A. (1997). Language Testing in Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Cummins, J. and Davison, C. (2007). International Handbook of English Language Teaching.New York, USA, :Springer.

Hughes, A. (2003).Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: Assessment and testing

Assessment criteria

These are levels or qualities of performance that markers use consciously or unconsciously to grade learners’ performance. To prevent assessment criteria being used randomly or unreliably and to guide markers, assessment criteria are very often written out in the form of analytic or holistic (See analytic/holistic) band descriptors or checklists.


If you look at https://takeielts.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/ielts_task_1_writing_band_descriptors.pdf you will see examples of assessment criteria for writing (Task Response, Coherence and Cohesion, Lexical Resource, Grammatical Range and Accuracy). These have been fleshed out to provide band descriptors for nine levels of language proficiency for IELTS writing.

Further reading

Dictionary of Language Testing (1999). Studies in Language Testing 7.Cambridge: University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate.

Hughes, A. (2003).Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Assessment criteria

Assessment for learning

This kind of assessment is often contrasted with assessment of learning. It aims at promoting and encouraging learning rather than just evaluating or assessing it, seeing assessment as a means of identifying  what learning needs to be focussed on next. It often takes the form of formative assessment during lessons and encourages learner autonomy as a way of achieving its purposes.


"Sometimes I video students doing group work, then we evaluate their performance using a checklist. Then together we decide what we need to focus on in the next lessons to help them move forward. This is assessment for learning – they like it and so do I."

Further reading

Stoynoff, S. (2012). Looking backward and forward at classroom-based language assessment. ELT Journal 66/4.

CfBT Assessment for Learning: effects and impact https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED546817.pdf

Black, P. & William, D. (2001). Inside the Black Box: Raising standards through classroom assessment https://www.rdc.udel.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/InsideBlackBox.pdf

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B & William, D. (2004). Working Inside the Black Box: Assessment for learning in the classroom https://jaymctighe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Working-Inside-the-Black-Box.pdf



Entry link: Assessment for learning

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