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 refers to stretches of connected written or spoken language that are usually more than one sentence or utterance long. Seeing stretches of language as discourse rather than sets of grammatical patterns allows us to analyse it for both the internal linguistic links it contains and the external links it makes to our knowledge of the world.


"When I learnt English at school we rarely used language as discourse. The teacher limited our language use mainly to short sentences. We certainly never looked at things like coherence and cohesion."

Further reading

McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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





Discourse analysis

The study of how sentences and utterances join together to make ‘wholes’, i.e. study of the various ways in which sentences or utterances achieve coherence and cohesion.


"Discourse analysis has made us aware of all the different cohesive devices there are in writing, for example, conjunctions, backward and forward referencing, substitution.  Knowing about these things helps us to teach learners to write better."

Further reading

Celce-Murcia, M,. & Olshtain, E. (2000).Discourse and Context in Language Teaching. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Hatch, E. (1992).Discourse and Language Education. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, K. (1995).Understanding Communication in Second Language Classrooms.New York: Cambridge University Press.

McCarthy, M. (1992). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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




Discourse marker

A discourse marker is a word or group of words, often at the beginning of a sentence or utterance, which signal(s) to the listener or reader the direction in which the speaker or writer intends to continue what they are saying. Examples of discourse markers are as I was saying, to sum up, by the way. Linkers are also sometimes said to be discourse markers.


"It’s useful to teach discourse markers to learners. They help learners structure what they are saying or writing and make the purpose of what they are saying clearer."

Further reading

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

Hedge, T. (2005). Writing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, M. (1991). Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Widdowson, H.G. (2007) Discourse Analysis. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




Isolated, distinct, by itself. This term is used to refer to the teaching or testing of language items, when they are focussed on separately from others and in a minimal context. A teacher might, for example, give students an exercise just practising modal must, or a drill on the word stress in new vocabulary.

In language tests, multiple choice is often used to provide a discrete focus on specific grammar items. Correction is often discrete too, focussing on specific language items.


"When I listened to my students doing a group discussion it was clear they were having real problems with the forms of some irregular past tenses, so the next lesson I just focussed on these, doing noticing activities and exercises – a discrete approach – before combining them into another group discussion in the following lesson."

Further reading

Davies, A. Brown, A. et al. (1999). Dictionary of Language Testing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Discrete-item and Integrative tests

Discrete-item tests focus on eliciting and evaluating parts of language proficiency separately, e.g. grammar, lexis, pronunciation. Integrative tests aim to elicit and assess language use as a whole. Multiple choice grammar items are an example of discrete-item testing, whereas interviews are integrative tests.


It is often easier to design and mark discrete-item tests because they focus on just one thing e.g. tenses. Integrative tests, which focus on assessing e.g. learners’ ability to speak or write are more complex to mark reliably.

Further reading

H.D. Brown (2004). Language Assessment: Principles and Classroom Practices. Harlow: Pearson Longman.

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

Oller J.W. (1983). Issues in Language Testing Research. Rowley MA: Newbury House.



Display question

This is a question that a teacher asks in the classroom in order to get the student to ‘display’ or show their learning rather than because the teacher is interested in the information content of the reply. In fact, the teacher often knows the answer to a display question before it is given. Display questions are sometimes criticised for being rather meaningless and non-communicative but they can in fact be useful in checking learning. Display questions are often contrasted with referential questions (See Referential Questions).


In this exchange the teacher’s first question is a display question whereas the second is not.

Teacher: Maria, what’s the past of ‘tell’?

Maria: told

Teacher: Can you tell us what you think about using YouTube in the classroom?

Maria: It’s great – it really makes us interested in the lesson.

Further reading

Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010). Harlow: Pearson.

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

Tsui, A.B.M. (1995). Introducing Classroom Interaction. London: Penguin





Drilling is a teaching technique in which the teacher asks the students to repeat several times items of language that they are learning. These can be vocabulary, structures, sounds or functions. Drilling, which involves students in responding to a prompt, originated in the behaviourist approach to learning and was intended to reinforce learning through habit formation. Many now criticise drilling for being a passive, boring and uncreative way of learning language. Others think it has a place in providing accuracy practice and security for learners at early moments of learning something new. There are various kinds of drill, for example:  whole class, individual, repetition, substitution, transformation.


"Whenever I teach new vocabulary I ask my students to repeat it after me, sometimes four or five times. I make sure to listen carefully to their responses, and try to make the drill interesting by e.g. asking them to say things very quietly, very loudly, very slowly, very quickly etc. I think drilling, in small doses, helps learners, especially those who lack confidence."

Further reading

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

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

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

Ur, P. (2009). Grammar Practice Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





An approach to teaching and learning which does not adhere to any one recognised approach but selects from different approaches and methods according to teacher preference and also to the belief that different learners learn in different ways and different contexts, and that therefore no one approach or method is sufficient to cater for a range of learners. Eclecticism is sometimes criticised as being too random and having no guiding principles. This criticism has given rise to Principled eclecticism which attempts to keep the flexibility of eclecticism while including in it principles of teaching and learning.


"Some teachers appreciate the freedom and flexibility that eclecticism allows them in their teaching, while others prefer the clear teaching guidelines that using one particular approach or method can provide."

Further reading

Kumaravadivelu, (2012). Towards a post-method pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly Volume 35, Issue 4, pages 537–560.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.







EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. Generally speaking, it refers to learners learning English in an environment where English is not used, or to learners studying English on brief trips to an Anglophone country. ESL stands for English as a Second Language and has generally been used to refer to learners who have another mother tongue, learning English while living in an English-speaking environment. In the UK nowadays this tends to be called ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). ESOL or ESL classes are likely to include a focus on language and communication, but also on the cultural practices of the Anglophone country the students are living in. With globalisation and the increased movement of people and immigration, the distinction between EFL and ESL is becoming less clear.


I teach French in French Guyana where the official language is French. Most of my students speak very little French, though. Their mother tongue might be Portuguese and/or an Indian language. In the street they often hear and speak French Creole. So, am I teaching EFL or ESL?

Further reading

Kachru, B. (1997) World Englishes and English-Using Communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. Cambridge University Press.







This stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and refers to the use of English in international communication. Certain scholars have suggested that as English has become a lingua franca between people from a range of L1s, features of its use such as particular pronunciations and grammatical constructions which would previously have been considered non-standard and ‘wrong’ should be accepted rather than corrected, providing they do not cause a breakdown in communication, as they are a mark of the L1 learner’s identity There is much debate in ELT about the research base for ELF’s findings and their implications for the classroom.


If you listened to two non-native speakers of English talking together you might hear them regularly  pronouncing the article ‘the’ as /də/ or /zə/ yet obviously having no problem communicating with one another. ELF proposes that if that’s the case there is no need to insist on ‘correct’ pronunciation with the corresponding loss of learner identity that correction can lead to.

Further reading

Seidlhofer, B. (2005). Key concepts in ELT: English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal 59/4.

Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT Journal 66/4. http://www.scribd.com/doc/125335514/Jennifer-Jenkins-English-as-a-Lingua-Franca-from-the-classroom-to-the-classroom

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

Walker, R. (2011).Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. (2003).Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chit Cheung Matthew Sung (2013). English as a Lingua Franca and its Implications for Language Teaching http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/3436-perspectives-english-lingua-franca-and-its-implications-english-language-teaching JALT Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, November 2013


Elicitation, to elicit (n./v.)

A classroom technique whereby the teacher asks a series of questions to which s/he knows the answers. The teacher uses this technique either to find out what the learners already know, or to encourage them to think more deeply about something and to tentatively work their way towards new knowledge.

Before tackling the reading text the teacher elicited some of last week’s lexis from the students.



This is a teaching technique in which the teacher prompts learners in order to elicit or draw out from them specific answers.  It is a technique used especially to re-activate or revise language items or ideas, and/or to encourage learners to contribute to their own learning rather than being spoon-fed by the teacher. Some people criticise the use of elicitation techniques as they think that they lead to language being used simply for display (to show you know it), rather than to real communicative language use.


"Teacher: What do you call someone who checks and records a firm’s money?

Student 1: A banker.

Teacher: No, they work in the firm and watch what money the firm spends and receives. An a………

Student 2:  An accountant.

Teacher: That’s right."

Further reading

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

Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ur, P. (1999). A course in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





This is the process in which particular sounds are omitted in connected speech because they are followed by another similar sound. In English, elision often happens between plosive sounds and with the vowel sound schwa /ə/. Elision helps speakers to produce sounds more smoothly and efficiently.


Many people pronounce ‘chocolate’ as /tʃɒklət/ eliding the schwa before /l/. ‘He went to the cinema’ can give an example of an elided plosive with ‘went to’ pronounced as ‘/wentu:/.

Further reading

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

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.






Ellipsis refers to leaving out words from sentences where the meaning is sufficiently clear from the situation or the language already used. Usually ellipsis does not lead to a loss of meaning, though students may need training in recognising it and the cohesion it gives to discourse.


There is ellipsis in this sentence Bob often goes on holiday to the sea, and Tom too.  does or goes there has been left out after ‘Tom’  because the speaker thinks it’s not necessary to say these elements.

Further reading

Albery, D. (2012) The TKT Course KAL Module. 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.




Emergent language

This is language which is a fruit of the learning process rather than taught language. It occurs as learners, in an effort to express themselves, experiment with language they haven't as yet fully mastered. Many experts suggest that teachers would do better to support learners’ emergent language rather than presenting them with language they have not yet shown a need for.


Dogme is an approach to teaching that recommends teachers work with learners’ emerging language by providing opportunities for use and giving feedback, rather than working with a pre-set syllabus.

Further reading

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Boston:Heinle & Heinle.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Guildford: Delta Publishing.

Thornbury, S. (2005) Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: MacMillan.

Language Emergence: Implications for Applied Linguistics – Intro





Environmental Print

See Linguistic Landscape




These words – error and mistake in particular – are often used interchangeably. When given distinct meanings, a slip refers to the kind of mistake we can all (including proficient speakers) make due to pressure of time, anxiety etc. i.e. this is not a mistake due to lack of proficiency but due to the temporary effect on the speaker of particular circumstances .

An error refers to a systematic mistake made by a language learner that is due to lack of mastery of that part of the language system [see also interlanguage]. Mistake is a non-technical word that refers to both a slip and an error.


"He’s a proficient English speaker – there are no errors in his language, but when he gave that talk the other night he was so nervous that he made loads of slips."

Further reading

Ellis, R. and Barkhuizen, G.P.  (2005). Analysing Learner Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learners' errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics 5.

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








Estuary English

This refers to an accent of English, first noticed and named by David Rosewarne, an EFL teacher, that is found particularly in the South East of Great Britain. It has some similarities with the sounds of Cockney, and has been identified as far north as Yorkshire and as far west as the Welsh border!


It could be useful for teachers to get their students to listen to examples of Estuary English as it’s so commonly heard in many parts of England.

Further reading

Coggle, P. (1993).Do you speak Estuary? The new Standard English – How to spot it and speak it. London: Bloomsbury.

Crystal, D. (1995) Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Rosewarne, David (1984). ''Estuary English''. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)". Phon.ucl.ac.uk. 1999-05-21.

1994 Estuary English: tomorrow's RP? English Today 37/10.





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