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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This simply means working together with others. Learners can work together to achieve their learning aims by supporting one another in various ways. Teachers can also collaborate e.g. colleagues working together on assessment, lesson planning or course book selection. Collaboration amongst teachers and also amongst learners is a feature of CLIL.


"In some classrooms you can see a collaborative approach to learning. Learners help one another by becoming ‘study buddies’ out of class, and in class they work together on tasks, helped by their teacher to develop collaborative learning strategies."

Further reading

Charles Hirsch, C. and Beres Supple, D.  (1996). 61 Cooperative Learning Activities in ESL. Walch Publishing.

Nunan, D. (1992). Collaborative Language Learning and Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Collaborate


A connotation is the emotional association attached to a word collectively or by an individual. For examples, dogs in some cultures have the connotation of being soft, loyal creatures. In other cultures they are considered dangerous and dirty. Knowing the connotation of a word is part of knowing a word.


"My personal connotation for yoghurt is as something healthy, light and eaten at breakfast. For my mother it was something weird and unfamiliar."

Further reading

Gairns, R. and Redman, S. (1986). Working with Words: a guide to teaching and learning vocabulary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Klippel, F. (1994). Cultural aspects in foreign language teaching.  Journal for the Study of British Cultures. I/1.

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

Tomalin, B. and Stempleski, S. (1993). Cultural Awareness.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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




Entry link: Connotation


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.





Entry link: Discourse

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.




Entry link: Discourse analysis


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.




Entry link: Discrete


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.



Entry link: Drilling

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




Entry link: Display question

Delexical verb

These are verbs that when used with their common collocations have little meaning of their own, the meaning coming from the collocation as a whole e.g. to have a shower, to take a bath, to make a mistake.


Delexical verbs in collocations are a good example of the importance of learning chunks of language rather than trying to work out the meaning of each single word.

Further reading

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

Hill, J. (1999) Collocational Competence. ETP/11.

Willis, J. and Willis, D. (1996). Challenge and Change in Language Teaching. Oxford:

Macmillan Heinemann English Language Teaching.



Entry link: Delexical verb


The way in which languages are learnt unconsciously or ‘picked up’ by exposure to comprehensible input. In this definition, the term acquisition is used in contrast to learning, which is seen as a deliberate and conscious process of rule learning and self-monitoring of language use. However the terms acquisition and learning are used interchangeably by some writers.


"She learnt Portuguese simply through acquisition – hearing and reading it all around her and chatting with friends. She never studied it."

Further reading

Doughty, C. and Williams, J. (1998). Focus on form in classroom second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Entry link: Acquisition


A set of letters containing the first letters of a group of words that is a name or phrase e.g. ELT (English Language Teaching), TBC (to be confirmed), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization). Acronyms often belong to particular contexts and may not be understood by people outside that context e.g. acronyms used in ELT, such as PPP, TBL, TPR, TTT. Some definitions distinguish between acronyms and initialisms (where the first letters of a phrase are pronounced letter by letter rather than as a word e.g. scuba (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus).


"Many people don’t understand all the acronyms used in textese as there are always so many new ones, and some like LOL have more than one meaning."

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2008). Txtng: The Gr8 Db8. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Teacher Acronym Song



Entry link: Acronym


An approach to language teaching is the set of beliefs on which that teaching is based. The beliefs cover what language is, how it is used and learnt. From these beliefs a set of teaching practices are built. The terms method and approach are sometimes used interchangeably, with approach being used nowadays more commonly than method, perhaps because it implies a less rigid set of teaching practices than method, e.g. The Lexical Approach v the Direct Method.


"The Communicative Approach is based on a wide view of what constitutes language and language use. What methods should be used to teach this language and language use are still hotly debated."

Further reading

Hedge, H. (2000) Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Larsen Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and Practice in Language Teaching, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S.  (2009) Teaching unplugged. Peaslake: Delta.

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

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching, 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: Approach


This is a grammatical term that refers to a type of determiner. Articles, in English, are used before a noun or noun group to indicate whether the noun is specific/ definite or general/ indefinite in its reference. In English, the definite article is the, the indefinite article is a/an, and we sometimes see mention of a ‘zero article’. This refers to plural nouns or uncountable nouns that are indefinite in reference and have no article before them.


Can you pass me an apple? (Indefinite article referring to an unspecified apple).

The apple you gave me yesterday was quite delicious. (Definite article referring to a specific apple).

Apples are meant to be good for your health. (Zero article referring to apples in general).

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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





Entry link: Article


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.



Entry link: Audio-lingual


Related to mental abilities or skills. Cognitive is the adjective from cognition which refers to the mental processes of perception and thinking that our brains engage in.


"Cognitive skills such as remembering, evaluating, analysing and creating are often classified into higher and lower-order thinking skills."

Further reading

Anderson, L.W. (Ed.), Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.), Airasian, P.W., Cruikshank, K.A., Mayer, R.E., Pintrich, P.R., Raths, J., & Wittrock, M.C. (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Complete edition). New York: Longman.

Bentley, K. (2010). The TKT Course CLIL Module. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (1997). Second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Skehan, P. (1998). A cognitive approach to language learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.





Entry link: Cognitive


A conjunct is another term for a linker. A conjunct is a word or phrase which links a previous sentence or utterance to the next one by showing the sense relationship between them. Conjuncts may be conjunctions, adverbs or discourse markers.

A disjunct is an adverb used in a sentence as an attitude marker to indicate the speaker’s or writer’s point of view. A disjunct often modifies the meaning of the whole sentence. Confusingly, it is sometimes also referred to as a discourse marker.


Then, however, in other words, as I was saying, but, although are all examples of kinds of conjuncts. They show different kinds of relationship between two sentences e.g. concession, contrast, result, summation. Here is an example of a conjunct showing a relationship of time: She filled up her car with petrol then went to the bank.

In the following sentence ‘Actually’ is an example of a disjunct: Actually, I’ve no idea what he meant.  It shows the speaker’s attitude to the rest of the sentence. Some other examples of disjuncts are frankly, to be honest, honestly, personally, fortunately.

Further reading

Parrott, M. (2010). Grammar for English Language Teachers, second edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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



Entry link: Conjunct/Disjunct


Conversion is a linguistic term that describes a word’s change from one grammatical category to another. An example of this in English is ‘to big something up’ where the adjective ‘big’ is nowadays often combined with ‘up’ to make a phrasal verb meaning ‘to recognise the importance of something’ or ‘to praise’ it.

The term ‘conversion’ is often used interchangeably with ‘functional shift’, though some people say that conversion refers to a change in lexical meaning while functional shift refers to a change in syntactic meaning.


English is full of words that are the result of conversion, for example the verb to hand from the noun hand, using a colour adjective as a noun e.g. the Reds, the Greens, the Blacks, or using up as a verb in e.g. after the meal, they just upped and went home.

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2004). The Stories of English. New York: The Overlook Press.

Fowler, H.W. (2000). Fowler's Modern English Usage. New York: Oxford University Press.

Huddleston, R. & Pullam, G. (2002). The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language.  New York: Cambridge University Press.

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



Entry link: Conversion


Fluency is the ability to speak over stretches of language smoothly, naturally and without too much hesitation or pausing. Fluency is sometimes also used to refer to writing. In this case it means writing with ease – coherently and with flow.


"He was a native speaker but he spoke so slowly – he was always searching for words, hesitating and pausing. His lack of fluency made him a bit difficult to pay attention to and understand."

Further reading

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

Ellis, R. (ed.)  (2005). Planning and Task Performance in a Second Language. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hedge, T. (1993) Key concepts in ELT: Fluency. ELT Journal 47/3. Oxford University Press.

Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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




Entry link: Fluency


These are the ways through which language is expressed, for example, in grammar they refer to grammatical patterns, in pronunciation to sounds, stress and intonation and in writing to handwriting and spelling. Learners learning a language need to learn both the forms of language and the meanings they convey. Form in language learning is related particularly to accuracy.


"Some people find languages like French, Spanish and Italian quite difficult to learn as each verb tense and person has a distinct form. Remembering all of them can be a headache."

Further reading

Doughty, C., & Williams, J. (Eds.) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

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




Entry link: Form/forms


This is a grammatical term referring in English to a verb + -ing form which acts as a noun. Because it is a noun it is not the same as the –ing form used in the present participle. Some grammars use the term ‘-ing form’ to refer to both gerunds and present participles and do not distinguish between the two.


You often find gerunds as subjects on notices e.g. Running in the playground is forbidden, Talking after lights go out is forbidden, Driving over the speed limit carries a £60 fine.

Further reading

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

Fowler, H.W. (1926). A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford: Oxford UniversityPress.

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



Entry link: Gerund

Graded reader

A graded reader is a book in which the language has been graded or adapted to match a particular level of proficiency e.g. A2, B2. Graded readers may be newly written or adaptations of existing books. They can include any genre of writing. They sometimes include a glossary and activities on the text. The purpose of graded readers is to provide learners with additional exposure to language, often out of class, and develop their reading skills.


When I was learning English, my teacher used to feed me with graded readers as she knew I loved reading. I used to read at least one graded reader a week and was soon able to move on to ‘real books’.

Further reading

Cambridge English Readers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacMillan Readers. Oxford: MacMillan.

Oxford Bookworms Collection: Oxford: Oxford University Press.


http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/articles/extensive-reading- Extensive reading. by Graham Stanley

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/articles/reading-out-loud - Reading aloud, by James Houltby.

http://www.onestopenglish.com/section.asp?docid=146513 Using Readers in the ESL, EFL Classroom, by Lindsay Clandfield with Jo Budden



Entry link: Graded reader

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