ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


scroll  books  digital

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

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

Browse the glossary using this index

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | ALL

Page: (Previous)   1  ...  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  ...  17  (Next)


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.



Lexical set

A lexical set is a set of words that all relate to the same topic or situation, for example, words for furniture, words for describing graphs, words for describing different kinds of movement. Vocabulary teaching at beginner or elementary levels is often based around lexical sets.


"Here are some possible words from the lexical set for reading: books, blogs, text, to read, to skim, to scan, page, print, ink, printing, font size, glasses."

Here are some for the lexical set for cooking: boil, stir, stew, burn, mix, saucepan, bowl, recipe, spoon, oven.

Further reading

Nation, P. (2011). Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines. TESOL Journal 9/2.

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

Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






A lexicon is the set of vocabulary that makes up a language. The grammar of a  language and its lexicon are often considered its key components. Different professions and subjects are also said to have their own lexicon, as are individual children and language learners. Some experts only include individual words in a lexicon, others include chunks and collocations.


"A young child’s lexicon will be very different from that of an adult language learner."

Further reading

Fitzpatrick, T. and Barfield, A. (2009) Lexical Processing in Second Language Learners: Papers and Perspectives in Honour of Paul Meara (Second Language Acquisition. Multilingual Matters.

Nation, P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





Likert scale

A Likert /ˈlɪkɜt/scale (devised in 1932 by organisational psychologist Rensis Likert) and also known as a ‘summative scale’, is a bipolar psychometric scale used in qualitative research to record responses along a range which captures intensity of feeling about attitudes to a given issue. It is regarded as a balanced method of data collection as it features an equal number of positive and negative responses, usually separated by a neutral response in mid-position. However, some researchers prefer to produce a ‘forced choice’ by omitting the middle option. Generally, five possible responses are set along a horizontal line (although some practitioners use as many as seven, or even nine, which gives more scope to respondents who like to avoid extremes!)

A typical five-item response line is:

Strongly disagree  -  Disagree  -  Neither agree nor disagree  -  Agree  -  Strongly agree

As well as levels of agreement, Likert scales can also be used to record other variable responses:


Very frequently  -  Frequently  -  Occasionally  -  Rarely  -  Never



Very important  -  important  -  moderately important  -  of little importance  -  Unimportant


Almost always true  -  Usually true  -  Occasionally trues  -  Usually not true  -  Almost never true


Strictly speaking, a Likert scale is the sum of responses to a number of statements (‘Likert items’) and refers to the range of potential scores. So, in a 5-point range like the one below, if scores of are distributed in a range of 1-5, the Likert scale is 5-25:

Strongly disagree                   1

Disagree                               2

Neither agree nor disagree       3

Agree                                    4

Strongly agree                        5


To report on a Likert scale, the values for each separate option should be summed and a score created for each respondent. Scores can then be used to create a chart showing the distribution of opinion across the target population. Scores are very often plotted and reported using diverging stacked bar charts (see Robbins & Heiberger 2011). For results to be meaningful, all the items selected should belong to a similar category, so that the summed score produces a reliable measurement of the particular behaviour or attitude being investigated.

The advantage of Likert scales is that they provide quantitative data about personal attitudes whilst allowing for degrees of opinion (or no opinion). Possible drawbacks are ‘central tendency bias’, where respondents avoid the extremes, ‘acquiescence bias’, where they simply agree with the statement presented, and ‘social desirability bias’, where they give the response that they think represents them in the most positive light. Another potential disadvantage is that few options are on offer, and respondents may not easily be able to align themselves with any of them.  There may also be a problem within sets of items, whereby respondents are influenced by their own answers to earlier questions, either remaining consistent out of habit, or deliberately breaking the pattern. These issues can be resolved at the design stage by means of carefully designed and sequenced questions.

[Alan Pulverness]


"Example Likert Scale" by Nicholas Smith http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg#mediaviewer/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg

Further reading

Bertram, D. “Likert scales…are the meaning of life” http://poincare.matf.bg.ac.rs/~kristina/topic-dane-likert.pdf

Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods.  4th ed Oxford: Oxford University Press

Denscombe, M. 2014 The Good Research Guide: For Small Scale Research Projects 2014Maidenhead: Open University Press

Likert, R. 1932. “A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes” Archives of Psychology, No.140.

Robbins, N. B. & M. R. Heiberger. 2011. “Plotting Likert and Other Rating Scales” https://www.amstat.org/sections/SRMS/Proceedings/y2011/Files/300784_64164.pdf

Uebersax, J.S. “Likert scales: dispelling the confusion”  http://www.john-uebersax.com/stat/likert.htm

Lingua Franca

A lingua franca is a language which is not the first language of the speakers in an interaction, and that is used by them to enable communication between them. Pidgins and creoles often act as lingua francas, and nowadays English often does, too.


When Jimmy went to Morocco, he sometimes ended up speaking with people in Dutch, though his language was English and theirs was Arabic or Berber. He’d learnt Dutch while living in Holland as had his Moroccan friends. Dutch became their lingua franca.

Further reading

Jenkins, Jennifer. 2007. English as a Lingua Franca: Attitudes and Identity. Oxford: Oxford

University Press.

Kachru, B. (ed.). 1992. The Other Tongue (Second edition). Urbana and Chicago: University

Of Illinois Press.

McArthur, T. 1998. The English Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

McKay, S. 2002. Teaching English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University

Phillipson, Robert (1992), Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford:  Oxford University Press.

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




Linguistic landscape

The linguistic landscape, sometimes known as 'environmental print', is the text and accompanying images which can be seen in (usually) urban environments on the streets, shops, vehicles, and people (e.g. t-shirt slogans; tattoos). It is a rich source of contemporary language use, and can have a multitude of functional purposes, e.g. to advertise, to warn, to entertain, to inform. Several studies (e.g. Sayer, 2010; Chern & Dooley, 2013), have related the use of English in non-English-speaking environments to cultural and socio-economic factors. Drawing students' attention to how language(s) can be used in the linguistic landscape can promote 'noticing' and lead to discussion and debate.


"I always ask my students to take photos of the linguistic landscape which surrounds them as they walk to and from the language school."

Further reading

Check out the NILE Norwich Linguistic Landscape blog (coming soon)

Chern, C. & Dooley, K. (2013). Learn English by walking down the street. ELTJ 68 / 2 pp. 113-123

Gorter, D. (ed). (2006). Linguistic Landscape. A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Lopriori, L. (2011). Buzzword of the day: Linguistic Landscapes. TESOL Italy Newsletter Vol XXI, No. 5, p.3

Sayer, P. (2010). Using the linguistic landscape as a pedagogical resource. ELTJ 64 / 2 pp. 143-154



Loop input

A method of carrying out teacher training / development sessions in which the trainer carries out activities for training that have the same design and focus as activities for use in the language learning classroom. For example, a training course could start off with a Find Someone Who activity about teachers’ use of ice-breakers and mingling in class. The trainer would then go on to refer to this activity when discussing the use of icebreakers / mingling activities / communicative activities. Loop input mirrors the activity in focus and allows participants to experience it and reflect on that experience.


"On my training course the teacher once made us do an activity in which we had to put cards into two different categories: advantages and disadvantages of doing categorising activities.  She then suggested how we could use categorising activities in class and asked us what our opinion of doing them had been. I later found out that this was called a loop input approach to training – it’s a method that really helps you understand and evaluate different techniques."

Further reading

Woodward, T. (1991). Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, T. (2003). Key concepts in ELT: loop Input. ELT Journal 57/3.





Lower Order Thinking Skills (LOTS)

Thinking skills are often divided into higher order thinking skills (HOTS) and lower order thinking skills (LOTS). Lower order thinking skills include remembering, understanding and applying. Generally speaking, LOTS involve focussing on and absorbing information, and less manipulation of information than HOTS do. (See Higher Order Thinking Skills). 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.


"‘Tell me what you did in the holidays’ or ‘Describe your family’ are typical ELT LOTS questions. An example of a HOTS question might be ‘What do you think of that film’?’ or ‘Compare your town with London’. You don’t need to think so hard for LOTS answers and the language you need to use is often simpler."

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.






Main clause and subordinate clause

A main clause is one that contains a finite verb (See Finite Verb) and is able to be used independently i.e. by itself because it makes sense by itself.

A subordinate clause is a clause of time, result, reason, concession, etc which qualifies a main clause and cannot stand by itself (in writing) as its meaning is incomplete.


In this sentence the part in bold is the main clause and the parts in italics are subordinate clauses.

Even though she thought the book was very expensive she decided to buy it so that she could study it easily at home

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edition. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

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






Mandative subjunctive

This is the use of the subjunctive ‘in a subordinate clause that follows an expression of command, demand, or recommendation’ (http://grammar.about.com/od/mo/g/Mandative-Subjunctive.htm), for example: they recommended that he get some work experience /she suggested he dress more smartly. It is formal in use and contrasts with the formulaic subjunctive in which the subjunctive is used in a chunk as part of a fixed expression e.g. heaven forbid, so be it, come rain come shine.


The mandative subjunctive is rare in English, but not in some other languages. You really need to get a feel for when to use it – in romance languages it’s often used to express doubt, wishes or commands. Is it used in your language? When?

Further reading

Chalker, S. (1995).Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press.

Leech, G. and Svartvik, J. (2003). A Communicative Grammar of English, 3rd edition. Oxford:Routledge.






A process in which a participant in an interaction is not concerned with expressing their own views, opinions etc., but accepts the role of facilitator, helping to facilitate the communication between interlocutors who are having difficulties, for whatever reason, in communicating with one another. In ELT, mediation can refer to aiding communication between learners, to learners helping other learners to communicate, to focussing on the role of mediation involved in certain jobs (e.g. relaying messages) or to the teacher adapting imported cultural teaching techniques and methods to the culture of the learners.  In 2001, the Common European Framework of Languages included mediation as a component of communicative competence.


"When I went on a training course in the UK, there were things about everyday living there that were different from what we do back home. Our teacher was always willing to answer questions about cultural differences we’d noticed. She acted as a bridge between us and the culture, mediating between the two."

Further reading

Cook, V. in Odlin, T. (ed.) (1994). Perspectives on Pedagogical Grammar. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Council of Europe. (2001). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, G. (1996). How culturally appropriate is the communicative approach? ELT Journal 50/3.





Metacognitive strategies

These are the learning and thinking strategies we use in order to choose which lower level strategies to use to achieve something. A visual learner might, for example, decide that they would learn much better from looking at a diagram about a process rather than by reading the accompanying text about the process. In this example, looking at the diagram is a comprehension strategy, whereas choosing to look at the diagram is a metacognitive strategy, i.e. thinking about the best way to learn. The main metacognitive strategies are planning, prioritising, setting goals, and self-management.


When teachers teach metacognitive strategies they need to be aware that learners have different learning styles, so what is the best strategy for one student to learn may not be best for another.

Further reading

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

Hismanoglu, M. (2000) Language Learning Strategies in Foreign Language Learning and Teaching. http://iteslj.org/Articles/Hismanoglu-Strategies.html

Oxford, R. L. (1990).Language Learning Strategies: What every teacher should know. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.

Oxford, R. (2003). Language Learning Styles and Strategies: An Overview.


Swan, M. (2008).Talking sense about learning strategies. RELC Journal,39 (2). 




The language and terms that we use to talk abstractly about language and language learning. This covers terms for grammar, vocabulary, phonetics, discourse and learning strategies. Teachers may use some metalanguage to talk to their learners about language or language learning e.g. ‘This is an indefinite pronoun’, ‘Try to work out what the best vocabulary learning strategies are for you’. Some learners, though not all, appreciate learning some metalanguage as they think it helps them to learn better.

The NILE Glossary contains many terms which make up the metalanguage of English language teaching, as does Scott Thornbury’s A-Z of ELT.


"His lessons were full of so much metalanguage that I really didn’t have a clue what he was talking about."

Further reading

Allford, D. (2013). Vygotsky, metalanguage and language learning. The Language Learning Journal, 41/1.

Andrews, S. (2007). Teacher Language Awareness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.t

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





A figurative use of language in which one thing is described as another to bring out its characteristics, e.g. in he has a really hot temper, hot is metaphor for quick and fierce. Metaphors can be culturally specific and are therefore important for learners to be aware of and learn. Some experts maintain that some cultural metaphors strongly influence the way we see the world.


"People sometimes use a range of metaphors for talking about lesson planning, for example: a route map, a straightjacket, a photograph, a sketch, an instruction leaflet."

Further reading

Holme, R. (2004). Mind, Metaphor and Language Teaching. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lakoff, G. and Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Lazar, G.(2003). Meanings and Metaphors. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Littlemore, J. and Low, G. (2006). Metaphoric competence and communicative language ability. Applied Linguistics 27(2).

Thornbury, S. (1991). Metaphors we work by. EFL and its metaphors. ELT Journal, 45/3. Oxford University Press. http://www.scottthornbury.com/articles.html




Page: (Previous)   1  ...  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  ...  17  (Next)