ELT terms - defined and referenced!

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

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This refers to a feature of written and spoken discourse in which the writer/ speaker tones down the definiteness of what they are saying either as an expression of their unsureness or for interpersonal reasons. There are many linguistic items available to express hedging.


Some people don’t like appearing very definite in their opinions so they use expressions like: it could be/ maybe/ there’s a possibility that/to a certain extent/ arguably to hedge their opinions i.e. to soften the strength of the opinion they are expressing.

Further reading

Bygate, M. (1987) Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hyland, K. (1994) Hedging in academic writing and EAF textbooks. English for Specific Purposes.13/3.

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






Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS)

Thinking skills are often divided into higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and lower order thinking skills (LOTS). Higher order thinking skills include analysing, evaluating and creating. HOTS  involve greater manipulation of information than LOTS do. The division of thinking skills into HOTS and LOTS was made initially in the late 1940s by a committee of educators in Boston, Mass. chaired by Benjamin Bloom and colleagues. This taxonomy (known as Bloom’s Taxonomy) has been revised several times.


"Teachers are sometimes criticised for asking too many low level LOTS questions in their classes and not asking enough HOTS questions which really challenge learners to think about the information they are given rather than just absorbing it passively."

Further reading

Anderson, L. W., Krathwohl, D. R., Airasian, P. W., Cruikshank, K. A., Mayer, R. E., Pintrich, P. R., Raths, J., Wittrock, M. C. (2000). A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York: Pearson, Allyn & Bacon.

Biggs, J. B. and Collis, K. (1982). Evaluating the Quality of Learning: the SOLO taxonomy. New York, Academic Press.

Bloom B. S. (1956). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Dale, L. and Tanner, R. (2012). CLIL Activities. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





Hot/cold correction

Hot correction is when the teacher (or a peer) corrects the learner during an activity. Cold correction is when the teacher presents the learners with their mistakes for correction after an activity has taken place.


We are often told to avoid hot correction as it interrupts learners’ fluency. But I think that a teacher can interrupt subtly by using gestures or facial expressions. Students can often relate to this kind of hot correction better than to the more detached presentation of their errors in cold correction at the end of an activity.

Further reading

Bartram, M. and Walton, R. (1991) Correction. Stamford, CT: Cengage.

Li, S. (2014). Key Concepts in ELT: Oral Corrective Feedback. ELT Journal 68 (2): 196-198

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

Seidlhofer, B. (2011) Understanding English as a Lingua Franca: A Complete Introduction to the Theoretical Nature and Practical Implications of English used as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.






A hypernym is another word for the more common term superordinate. It is a word which is the name of a category for other words e.g. Gadget is a hypernym for mobile phone, pen drive, mouse, tablet, hand-help device.


Something I sometimes do with my class is ask them to go through their vocabulary records and find hypernyms (I don’t use that term with them!) for as many words as they can, or I give them some hypernyms and ask them to find words belonging to them. It seems to help them remember the words and consolidate their meaning.

Further reading

Berry, R. (2010). Terminology in English Language Teaching: Nature and Use. Bern: Peter Lang.

Cook, V. (2013). Second Language Learning and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.





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.








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’ (http://www.iatefl.org/). 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: http://iatefl.britishcouncil.org/





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 http://www.koreatesol.org/sites/default/files/pdf_publications/TECv15n3-11Autumn.pdf




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.




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