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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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.




This acronym stands for International Phonetic Alphabet. The IPA provides one symbol for each sound produced across the different human languages. The IPA chart shows these sounds in relation to one another. Any one language will only use a subset of all the sounds on the IPA chart. To see the IPA chart, click here:



Most language teachers don’t know all the symbols used on the IPA chart. It’s often simpler and more useful for them just to know those used in the language they teach.

Further reading

International Phonetic Association (1999). Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A guide to the use of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Jones, D. (1988).English Pronouncing Dictionary, 14th ed. London: Dent.

Ladefoged, P. (1990). "The Revised International Phonetic Alphabet". Language 66/ 3.

Laver, J. (1994). Principles of Phonetics. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Pullum, G. K., Ladusaw, W.A. (1986).Phonetic Symbol Guide. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.




L1, L2

An L1 is your mother tongue, the first language you learn in your home environment. L2 has various meanings. It can refer to any language learnt after learning L1.

It also refers to the language learnt after the L1 and that is used in the learner’s environment (e.g. learning Greek as a child while living in Greece, having first learnt English from your English-speaking parents).

A third meaning is for languages widely used in countries or regions but not recognised as official languages. For example, in Guyana, English is the official language but Guyanese Creole is an L2 widely used by many people.


"Nowadays, with so many people being bilingual, it is not always simple to say which is their L1 and which is their L2."

Further reading

Cook, V.J., Long, J., & McDonough, S. (1979), First and Second Language Learning, in G.E. Perren (ed.)The Mother Tongue and Other Languages in Education, CILTR.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Kachru, B. (1992). World Englishes: approaches, issues and resources. Language Teaching, 25. Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1997). World Englishes and English-using communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 17.



Learner autonomy

This refers to the learner’s ability to take charge of and direct their own language learning without relying on the teacher. It is believed that if a learner is autonomous, they take responsibility for their own learning and that this is a good thing, as it allows them to learn independently (and hence more deeply) and to go on learning. Many teaching approaches, materials and courses contain a focus on strategies that help to make the learner more autonomous e.g. how to work with a dictionary, developing proofreading skills, deciding what to learn next. Some learners appreciate the freedom and responsibility autonomy gives them, while others may prefer the teacher to remain in charge. Learner autonomy is also referred to as self-directed learning.


"He’s such an autonomous learner that he finds it hard to accept being told what and how to learn by a teacher in a classroom."

Further reading

Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. Harlow: Longman.

Benson, P. & Voller, P. (1996) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. Harlow: Longman.

Cohen, A. D. (1998). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. Harlow: Longman.

Holliday, A. (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching. New Haven, NH: Yale University Press.

Little, D., Ridley, J. & Ushioda, E. (Eds.). (2003). Learner Autonomy in Foreign Language Classrooms: Teacher, learner, curriculum and assessment. Dublin: Authentik.

Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-centred Curriculum: A study in second language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. (1996). The Self-directed Teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scharle, A & Szabo, A. (2000) Learner Autonomy: A guide to developing learner responsibility Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, R. (2008). Key concepts in ELT: learner autonomy. E LT Journal 62/4. Oxford University Press.



Learner training

Learner training involves teaching learners how to carry out the strategies that enable them to become better learners, and often more autonomous learners. Examples of these strategies are: writing down new words on vocabulary cards, taking advantage of all opportunities to use the target language, repeating new words to yourself, listening out for specific grammatical features.


"I once had a student who needed no learner training - she already kept beautifully organised files, noted down new words, asked questions when she didn’t understand, listened to all available radio and TV programmes, had an English study buddy etc etc. She was remarkable and made very rapid progress."

Further reading

Ellis, G. and Sinclair, B. (1989). Learning to Learn English. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Griffiths, G. (2007). Language learning strategies: students' and teachers' perceptions. ELT Journal 61/2. Oxford University Press.

O’Malley, J. and Chamot, A.(1990).  Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






This term is used with two different meanings. One meaning refers to classroom interaction in which the focus is on the students as opposed to the teacher, and which involves heavy use of pair and group work.

The second meaning refers to involving learners in decisions about their own learning. These can include decisions about curriculum content, ways of learning and ways of assessing.


When I learnt a foreign language at school the teacher was in command of and at the centre of everything – interaction, choice of what and how to learn and also how to assess. In some foreign language learning these days there is much more learner-centredness – sometimes learners make decisions about the curriculum and assessment, and often there is an emphasis on student participation in the classroom, with the teacher taking on mainly a monitoring role while the learners take over the role of language user and inputter.

Further reading

Holliday, A. (2005). The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching from method to post-method.

London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-Centred Curriculum: A Study in Second Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(2012). Learner-Centered English Language Education: The Selected Works of David

Nunan. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge.

Nunan, D., & Lamb, C. (2001). Managing the learning process. In D. R. Hall & A. Hewings

(Eds.), Innovation in English language teaching (pp. 27-45). London: Routledge.

Williams, M., & Burden, R. L. (1997). Psychology for Language Teacher: A social

constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Learning aim

A learning aim is something that the teacher intends her students will learn during a lesson, and that she designs her lesson around in order for that learning to take place. It may also refer to the learning goals of a course or syllabus. The term is often used interchangeably with the term objective.


"My aims in my last lesson were:

- To present and practise new adjectives for describing people

- To give students oral fluency practice in describing one another

- To give students written practice in describing their families"

Further reading

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

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

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

Watkins, P. 2005. Learning to Teach English: A practical introduction for new teachers. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.





Learning outcome

A learning outcome is a statement (often in a lesson plan or syllabus) of what a learner is expected to know or be able to do, and to what degree, at the end of a lesson or course as a result of successful learning of the focus of the lesson or course. Learner outcomes can be used to tell learners what they will be learning. They are also used to shape lesson activities and guide the content of assessment.


"Thinking about learning outcomes when you are planning your lesson and writing a lesson plan really helps the teacher to see if what they intend to teach is at the right level for their learners."

Further reading

Burns, A. and Richards, J.(2012). Pedagogy and Practice in Second Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. (2013). Curriculum approaches in language teaching: forward, central and backward design. RELC Journal 44/1.






A lemma is the dictionary or citation form of a word. Spoke, speaking, spoken, speaks are all forms of the lemma speak, for example


When students start using a dictionary they sometimes can’t find the word they want because they don’t realise they need to look for the citation form of the word, its lemma. They need training in helping them to do this.

Further reading

Knowles, G. and Don, Z. M. (2004). The Notion of a Lemma: Headwords, Roots and Lexical Sets in International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 9/1.

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

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



Lexical approach

In a lexical approach to language teaching, learning lexis is a principle goal, thus influencing syllabus design and classroom activities. Lexis in the lexical approach includes not just single words but collocations and chunks, and lexico-grammatical aspects of lexis as well as purely semantic.


One way of implementing the lexical approach in the classroom is to work with spoken or written texts and use various techniques to make students aware of the collocations and chunks the texts contain.

Further reading

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

Lewis, Michael (1996). Implications of a lexical view of language. In Challenge and Change in Language Teaching, Jane Willis and Dave Willis (eds.). Oxford: Heinemann.

Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach: Putting Theory Into Practice. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Lewis, M. (2000). Language in the lexical approach. In Teaching Collocation: Further

Developments In The Lexical Approach, Michael Lewis (ed.), 126-154. Hove: Language Teaching Publications.

Schmitt, N. (2000). Key Concepts in ELT: Lexical Chunks. ELT Journal 54/4.
Thornbury, Scott (1997). Reformulation and reconstruction: tasks that promote 'noticing'. ELT Journal 51/4.             

(1998). The Lexical Approach: a journey without maps? Modern English Teacher 7(4).

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

Willis, D. (1990).The Lexical Syllabus: A New Approach To Language Learning. London:

Collins ELT.




Lexical chain

A lexical chain is a series of words used in a text that are linked to the same lexical field, including synonyms and related terms. A lexical chain is one source of cohesion in a text.


"In the sentence 'Elephants have long trunks and tusks, which distinguish elephants from many other animals’, ‘elephant’, ‘trunks’, ‘tusks’, and ‘animals’ all form a lexical chain in that they all relate to the lexical field of elephants."

Further reading

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

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




Lexical cohesion

Lexical cohesion refers to the lexical devices used in spoken or written discourse to help join texts together. These devices include lexical chains, lexical sets, repetition of words, substitution and ellipsis.


"The lexical cohesion in this sentence is in italics: I went to Paris as a child. I remember it as a very lovely city. Cities though are full of problems these days so I imagine the capital of France is too now."

Further reading

Flowerdew, J. and Mahlberg, M. (2009). Lexical Cohesion and Corpus Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halliday, M.A.K; and Ruqayia Hasan (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hoey, Michael (1991): Patterns of Lexis in Text. Oxford: OUP.

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




Lexical field

See Semantic field

Lexical item

A lexical item is a word or group of words with a single meaning.  Here, for example, are five lexical items: look after, quick as a flash, potato, at, waste paper basket.  A lexical item may have more than one form e.g. child and children are one lexical item as are sleep, sleeping, slept. Thornbury (2006) defines a lexical item as ‘any item that functions as a single meaning unit, regardless of its different derived forms, or the number of words that make it up’. Estimates of proficient or learner speaker vocabulary size are normally based on lexical items rather than words.


"You recognise a lexical item through the unit of meaning it conveys."

Further reading

Aitchison, J. 1987. Words in the Mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon. Oxford:Blackwell.

Lewis, M (1997). Implementing the lexical approach. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Nation, I.S.P. 1990. Teaching and Learning Vocabulary. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Schmidt, N. (2000).  Vocabulary in language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, Paul, and Robert Waring. "Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists”


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




Lexical modality

See Modality

Lexical priming

The idea behind lexical priming is that as we learn words, we begin to associate them with certain contexts of language in use, so that later, when we meet these contexts again, they are likely to trigger the word, i.e. particular contexts prime us to use particular words.


What word would you put into this gap? These days politicians are no longer highly……….

Respected, paid, employable, moral, polished, amused, skilled, regarded and other words are all possible completions for the blank but lexical priming suggests that we would choose one of the first two words as the likely completion.

Further reading

Hoey, M. (2000). A World Beyond Collocation: New Perspectives on Vocabulary Teaching. In

Lewis, M. (Ed.). Teaching Collocation: Further Developments in the Lexical Approach. Hove: Thomson-Heinle.

Hoey, M. (2005). Lexical Priming: A New Theory of Words and Language. London: Routledge.

Hoey, M. (2009). A Review of “Lexical priming: a new theory of words and language.

Language Awareness 18/1.

Pace-Sigg, M. (2013). Lexical Priming in Spoken English Usage. Basingstoke, Hampshire:

Palgrave, MacMillan.



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