ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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

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This is a term from phonetics. It refers to a process that occurs in connected speech to enable the sounds in speech to flow more smoothly. In assimilation one sound is influenced by a nearby sound and becomes like it in some way.


Fun birthday - fʌm bəːθdeɪ (the /n/ in ‘fun’ is assimilated towards the /b/ in ‘birthday’)

Sandwich - /samwidʒ/ (the /n/ is assimilated towards the /d/)

Further reading

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

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/EPP_PED_Glossary.pdf?ITEM_ENT_ID=2491706&ITEM_VERSION=1&COLLSPEC_ENT_ID=7

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




Attested language

Attested languages are languages which can be proved to exist or to have existed because of documents showing them in use or because they are still spoken. They contrast with unattested languages. Unattested languages are supposed to have existed and experts have sometimes hypothesised what some of their forms and lexis must have been, but there is no proof of their existence.


Sanskrit from which many Indo-European languages derive is an attested language with many manuscripts attesting to its existence as far back as 1700 BCE. Many Germanic languages are thought to come from Proto-German, an unattested language as in fact no documents have ever been found in which Proto-German is used.

Further reading

Fisiak, J. (1997). Linguistic Reconstruction and Typology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter:

Fox, A.  (1995) Linguistic Reconstruction: An Introduction to Theory and Method. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





The audio-lingual method focussed on drilling key language structures orally. It was popular in the 1950s and 1960s, and derived from the behaviourist belief that repetition helped form habits. Although it has since been shown that repetition is not key to learning language, the method continues to be used by some teachers, often as a part of PPP (Presentation, Practice, Production).


"We used to spend lesson after lesson repeating lines in dialogues, as a class and individually. It probably helped our memories, but we never used the language freely, and it could get boring."

Further reading

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

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

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



Authentic task

An authentic task is a task carried out in the classroom that has all the characteristics of a real-life task carried out outside the classroom i.e. it is done for a purpose unrelated to language learning, and language is used purely in order to get the task done. Some people are strong advocates of using only authentic tasks in the classroom, while some believe authentic tasks need to be balanced with tasks that focus on language. Others think it is difficult to achieve a truly authentic task in the classroom as the tasks will have been contrived in some way by the teacher. Examples of authentic tasks are project work, carrying out surveys, group presentations.


"Authentic tasks work very well with some learners. Others prefer more structured activities. It depends a lot on their learning style."

Further reading

Bachman, L. (1990). Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gilmore, A. (2004). A comparison of textbook and authentic interactions. ELT Journal 58/4. Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Authentic text

An authentic text is a written or spoken text produced to be read/heard by proficient language users and not altered in any way to aid language learning. An authentic text is unchanged for learning, preserving its features of genre, style, layout, discourse. In the 1980s and 1990’s it was considered very important in the communicative approach to only use authentic texts as they represented what learners needed to cope with in real life and provided them with exposure to genuine language features.


"I generally prefer using authentic texts with my learners as they think they are real and interesting. But sometimes the texts are quite difficult as they aren’t adapted at all for language learning."

Further reading

Jolly, D., & Bolitho, R. (1998). A framework for materials writing. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development for Language Teaching (pp. 90-115). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Guariento, W. and Morley, J. (2001).  Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom. ELT Journal 55/4. Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Porter D & Roberts, J (1980) Authentic listening  activities. ELT Journal 36/1. Oxford University Press.




Auxiliary verb

An auxiliary verb is a verb that helps another verb. It helps it to form e.g. progressive aspect, the passive voice, a past participle, negative, interrogative or emphatic forms. In English the auxiliary verbs are do, be, and have.


‘Have’ as an auxiliary

Having finished his work, he went out for lunch

Has she written that email?

He had never understood

‘Be’ as an auxiliary

It’s been cooked somewhere else

It was made yesterday

She is waiting

‘Do’ as an auxiliary

I do believe you, honestly

How do you do?

When did he get here?

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.






A technique used by teachers to make students aware of features of language or of language learning strategies. Becoming aware of something is part of noticing it.


"When our teacher taught us new vocabulary she used to ask questions like: What was the vowel sound in that word? Where is the word stress? The questions helped to raise our awareness of things we might not have noticed otherwise."

Further reading

Carter, R. (2003). Key concepts in ELT: language awareness. ELT Journal 57/1. Oxford University Press.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. New York: Newbury House Publisher

Schmidt, R. (1993). Awareness and Second Language Acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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






See Washback


A school of psychology very popular in the Western world in the middle of the 20th century. It claims that learning occurs through the establishment of fixed responses to given external stimuli, and that to establish these responses or behaviours, they need to be constantly repeated and reinforced. Behaviourism had a strong influence on language teaching in the audio-lingual method. It lost credibility when it was understood that language was too varied to be learnt simply by reinforcement and repetition, and that repetition was not enough to ensure all learning.


Drilling, the avoidance of mistakes and of using the L1 in class are influences from behaviourism that can still be seen in English language teaching.

Further reading

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

Howatt, A.P.R. with Widdowson H.G. (2004). A history of English language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, M. and Burden, R. (1997) Psychology for Language Teachers: A Social Constructivist Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




This term from phonology refers to the place, i.e. the two lips, where certain sounds are produced. In English the bilabial sounds are /p/, /b/, /m/, /w/.


Bilabial sounds, such as /m/ and /b/ are usually among the speech sounds that babies first produce.

Further reading

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

Ladefoged, P., Maddieson, I.(1996).The Sounds of the World's Languages. Oxford: Blackwell.

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

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





Blended learning (n.)

Courses which involve a face-to-face, in-class element as well as some online learning.

Blended learning is an area of interest to many English teachers.

Bloom's Taxonomy

This is a classification of affective and cognitive skills that is used to provide learning objectives. It was published by a committee of educators in the USA in 1956. Benjamin Bloom was the chair of this committee. The taxonomy of cognitive skills in particular has been very influential in curriculum and examination design. It was revised in 2000.


Bloom’s taxonomy identifies cognitive skills and divides them into two categories, as follows:

Higher order thinking skills (HOTS): creating, evaluating, analysing

Lower order thinking skills (LOTS): applying, understanding, remembering

Further reading

Airasian, P. W.; Cruikshank, K. A.; Mayer, R. E.;Pintrich, P. R.; Raths, J.; Wittrock, M. C. (2000) in Anderson, Lorin W.;Krathwohl, D. R., eds. A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. Columbus, Ohio: Allyn and Bacon.

Bloom, B. S. et al. (1956) ‘Taxonomy of educational objectives’, Handbook I: Cognitive  domain, New York: Longman.

Coyle, D., Hood P., Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning.            Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Unrau, N. J. (1997). Thoughtful teachers, thoughtful learners. Scarborough, Ontario, Pippin    Publishing.






See Top-down and Bottom-up

Buzz lecture or reading/buzzing (n/n.)

A way of encouraging participants to listen or read carefully and of checking their retention of input. In this technique the lecture or reading is paused from time to time and participants talk in twos or threes to summarise to each other what the lecturer has just said or the section of the article that they have just read. 

The students seemed to enjoy buzzing as it was much more active and fun than having to remain quiet throughout the lecture.



can-do statements



These are two kinds of questions the teacher asks in the classroom. CCQs refer to Concept Checking Questions and are used by a teacher to check that students have understood the meaning of new language (word, grammar, function etc) or the form. CCQs need not necessarily in fact be questions; they might, for example, be gestures, sentences for completion or pictures but their purpose is to check understanding. They also aim at getting the student to think about new language and draw conclusions about it, thus encouraging inductive learning. Is it talking about the past or now?  is an example of a CCQ that a teacher might ask when introducing the past tense to learners.

ICQs are Instruction Checking Questions. These are used after a teacher has given instructions to make sure students have understood what they need to do. They might refer to the language to be used in the activity or to the procedure to use. They aim to ensure that students are on track before they begin an activity so as not to waste time or be confused. Like CCQs, ICQs are often phrased as binary choices e.g. Must you write or talk first? Should you tick or underline the new words?


I try to use different ways of checking concepts e.g. asking students to mime, asking them to explain the meaning in their own words, eliciting examples – in this way the CCQs don’t become routine or meaningless. With ICQs I only ask them when the task is a bit complicated and could be misunderstood. Otherwise students can feel they’re being patronised.

Further reading

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

Thornbury, S. and Watkins, P. (2007) The CELTA Course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





This stands for the Common European Frame of Reference. It was compiled by the Council of Europe and contains a series of descriptors of learners’ language performance at six different levels of proficiency, A1-C2, across the different language skills. The descriptors are expressed as ‘can-do’ statements. They can be used to set goals for learning or teaching and also to assess students’ proficiency.


A lot of course books these days use the CEFR to define the level of the learners they are intended for and to design their syllabus around.

Further reading

Council of Europe (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Heyworth, F. (2006). Key concepts in ELT: The Common European Framework. ELTJournal 60/2.







Chunks are longer stretches of language that frequently occur together. They include collocations, phrasal verbs, social formulae, sentence frames, idioms and discourse markers. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with collocation.


"When students learn fixed expressions such as despite the fact that, in my opinion, to summarise or by the way as chunks, they often find them easier to remember."

Further reading

Lewis, M. (1993). The Lexical Approach. Brighton: Language Teaching Publications.

Lindstromberg, S. and Boers, F. (2008). Teaching Chunks of Language. London: Helbling Languages.

Schmidt, N. (2000). Key concepts in ELT: chunks. ELT Journal 54/4. Oxford University Press.

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



Citation form/dictionary form

A citation form is the form of a word that is found as a headword in a dictionary. A citation form represents other forms of the same word. Citation forms are pronounced as full forms. These may sound different when said in connected speech.


Take is the citation form for takes, taking, taken, took

Further reading

Carter, R., & McCarthy, M. (1994). Grammar and the spoken language. Applied Linguistics, 16/2.

Nation, Paul & Waring, Robin (1997). Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists. In

Schmitt, Norbert & McCarthy (eds) Vocabulary: description, acquisition and pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Clause is a grammatical term that refers to a sentence or part of sentence containing in English a subject and a finite verb at least. A clause may be main or subordinate.


Here is an example of a main clause: Judy wrote her friend an email. Here is an example of the same main clause together with three subordinate clauses, one of time, one of reason and one of concession.  After she got home, Judy sent her friend an email because she needed some information urgently, even though it was late at night.

Further reading

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

Thornbury, S. (1997).  About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

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



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