ELT terms - defined and referenced!

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

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Teacher Talking Time (TTT)

This is the class time the teacher takes up talking to the class, rather than allowing the students to talk or do activities. For many years it was recommended to teachers that they reduce their TTT so as to make their classes more learner-centred. Recently, however, it has been recognised that teacher talk can provide learners with a valuable source of exposure to language, listening practice and feedback.


I know I used to talk ‘at’ my students too much. I have recorded myself teaching and realise from doing so that I used to almost ‘lecture’ my students. When they begin to get that ‘glassy-eyed look’ you know there has been too much TTT. I’ve tried to reduce those moments and my students now participate much more.

Further reading

Kumaravadivelu, B. (1993). Maximizing learning potential in the communicative classroom. ELT Journal 47/1.

Nunan, D. (1987). Communicative language teaching: making it work. ELTJournal 41/2.

Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Oxford: Macmillan.

Thornbury, S. (1996). Teachers research teacher talk. ELT Journal 50/4.

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

van Lier, L. (1996)  Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity. Harlow: Longman




Entry link: Teacher Talking Time (TTT)


Tense is the grammatical form used in a verb to show the time of occurrence of an event or action.


There are only two tenses in English, present and past. In They study English, study is an example of the present simple tense. In They studied English last year, studied  is an example of the past simple tense.

Further reading

Batstone, R. (1994) Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

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

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

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



Entry link: Tense

Test Teach Test (TTT)

This is a way of teaching language which stands on its head the classic approach of presenting students with new language then asking them to practise it. In TTT the teacher first of all puts students in a situation where they need to use the target language so he/she can judge whether they know it or not, to what degree they know it and to make the students aware of their need for it. The teacher then presents the target language and gives the students activities in which they are encouraged to use it. The thinking behind TTT is that students shouldn’t be spoon-fed with language they may not really need or want, and that creating a need leads to greater motivation to learn and better language learning.


I gave my students a role play the other day in which they took on roles as environmental inspectors. They then went round the school and surveyed its ‘green practices’. At the end they got into groups to decide on what measures needed to be taken and in what order. I just listened and took notes. After, I asked my students if there was any language they thought they’d needed for the activity and didn’t have. What they said agreed with my notes. They were having real problems with the language of suggestions and recommendations, and also with some more technical vocabulary. So, next lesson, I presented that language to them, and then asked them to do their group work on ‘green practices’ again. A colleague of mine had suggested I try this TTT approach. I was nervous beforehand but in fact it worked well as the students were keen to learn the new language.

Further reading

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

Lindsay, C. and Knight, P. (2006). Learning and Teaching EnglishA Course for Teachers. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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




Entry link: Test Teach Test (TTT)

Threshold level

This term is used with two principal meanings in ELT. The first is to refer to the work by J.K. Van Ek and John Trim ‘The Threshold Level’ which was first published by the Council of Europe in 1989. This publication was amongst the first to specify per learning level the situations in which learners need to use English, and what grammar, vocabulary and functions they require to do so. The focus of the Threshold Level was mainly on survival language and it was very influential in syllabus and course book design in the 1980s and 1990s. The Threshold Level was considered to be the minimal level at which learners achieved functional ability in the language.

The other meaning for threshold level is the minimal level that learners need to be at in order to do something e.g. An IELTS band 5.5 is often given as the threshold level for university study through the medium of English.


"Some people say that to start learning through CLIL learners must have reached threshold level in their own language first."

Further reading

Bialystok, E. (2001. Bilingualism in Development: Language, Literacy and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cummins, J. (1984) Bilingualism and Special Education. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Cummins, J. (2000) Language, Power and Pegagogy. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Rampton, B. (1990) Displacing the "native speaker": Expertise, affiliation and inheritance in ELT Journal 44/2.

Van Ek, J.K. and Trim J. (1998) Threshold 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: Threshold level

Top down/bottom up

These terms are used to refer to strategies we use when listening and reading in order to get meaning from a text. Top down skills involve using our knowledge of the world, such as topic knowledge, familiarity with the speaker, familiarity with the genre, to make sense of what we are hearing or reading. Bottom up skills involve using the language in the text, such as the meaning of words or the grammar of a sentence, to make sense of what we are hearing or reading. Good readers or listeners are believed to make use of the two strategies interactively.


When we read a text in class I always do a warmer to find out what the learners know about the topic and get them to predict its content. In that way they make use of their top down strategies. Then I often do reading for detail as well, as this kind of reading really requires them to read the language in the text to suck out its meaning. This gives them practice in using their bottom up strategies.

Further reading

Brown, S. (2006). Teaching Listening. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Field, J. (1999). Key concepts in ELT: ‘Bottom up’ and ‘top down’.  ELTJournal 53/4.

Hedge, Tricia. (2003): Teaching & Learning in the Language Classroom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McDonough J. and Shaw, C. (2003). Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.

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






Entry link: Top down/bottom up


A word or group of words, normally in speech, that make sense by themselves but do not necessarily contain the grammatical requirements of sentences found in more formal written language. The Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics (2010) says of an utterance: ‘a unit of analysis in speech which has been defined in various ways but most commonly as a sequence of words within a single person’s turn at talk that falls under a single intonation contour. Utterances may sometimes consist of more than one sentence, but more commonly consist of stretches of speech shorter than sentences’. The term utterance is often used in contrast to sentence in written language. 


"This little dialogue contains two utterances:

A: He didn’t really understand what was going on.

B: Right."

Further reading

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

Coady, J.,Huckin, T. (ed.s) (1997). Second language vocabulary acquisition: a rationale for pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kissine, M (2013). From utterances to speech acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lewis, M. (2010). The lexical approach. Andover, Hampshire: Cengage Learning.

Prodromou, L. (2008). English as a lingua franca: a corpus - based analysis. London: Continuum.

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010) Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Pearson.



Entry link: Utterance

Wait time

This is the amount of time teachers give students to answer questions. Research indicates that leaving more time leads to more students wanting to answer, fuller answers and more questions from other students, too.


I don’t think I give my students enough wait time when I ask questions. I’m going to record myself in class to check how much time I leave on average, then leave more time and see what difference, if any, it makes to the students’ answering.

Further reading

McDonough, J. and Shaw, C. (2003). Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.

Nunan, D. 1991. Language Teaching Methodology. Hemel Hempstead: Prentice Hall.

Thornbury, S. (1996). Teachers research teacher talk. ELT Journal 50/4.




Entry link: Wait time


A piece of paper, or electronic material, which contains tasks, exercises or problems for the learner to complete or solve. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with the term handout, but for some there is a difference as a handout provides materials for reference only rather than activities.


"The teacher always gave us worksheets for us to try and apply in practice what she had just told us about before."

Further Reading

Harmer, J. (2012). Teacher knowledge, Harlow: Pearson.

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

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




Entry link: Worksheet


Aspect is a grammatical term referring to how a verb expresses the speaker’s or writer’s view of certain features of time in an event i.e. whether it is completed or still in progress, whether it is one-off or repeating and its relevance to the present. In English, there are two aspects: progressive (or continuous) and perfect. Aspect is shown in auxiliary verbs + past participles, and the two aspects sometimes combine.


Examples of the progressive aspect are: He is cooking, they were cooking.

Examples of the perfect aspect are: they have cooked, they had cooked.

Examples of the perfect progressive aspect are: they have been cooking, they had been cooking.

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: Aspect

Attested language

Attested languages are languages which can be proved to exist or to have existed because of documents showing them in use or because they are still spoken. They contrast with unattested languages. Unattested languages are supposed to have existed and experts have sometimes hypothesised what some of their forms and lexis must have been, but there is no proof of their existence.


Sanskrit from which many Indo-European languages derive is an attested language with many manuscripts attesting to its existence as far back as 1700 BCE. Many Germanic languages are thought to come from Proto-German, an unattested language as in fact no documents have ever been found in which Proto-German is used.

Further reading

Fisiak, J. (1997). Linguistic Reconstruction and Typology. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter:

Fox, A.  (1995) Linguistic Reconstruction: An Introduction to Theory and Method. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Entry link: Attested language

Authentic text

An authentic text is a written or spoken text produced to be read/heard by proficient language users and not altered in any way to aid language learning. An authentic text is unchanged for learning, preserving its features of genre, style, layout, discourse. In the 1980s and 1990’s it was considered very important in the communicative approach to only use authentic texts as they represented what learners needed to cope with in real life and provided them with exposure to genuine language features.


"I generally prefer using authentic texts with my learners as they think they are real and interesting. But sometimes the texts are quite difficult as they aren’t adapted at all for language learning."

Further reading

Jolly, D., & Bolitho, R. (1998). A framework for materials writing. In B. Tomlinson (Ed.), Materials Development for Language Teaching (pp. 90-115). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Guariento, W. and Morley, J. (2001).  Text and task authenticity in the EFL classroom. ELT Journal 55/4. Oxford University Press.

Nunan, D. (2004). Task-based Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Porter D & Roberts, J (1980) Authentic listening  activities. ELT Journal 36/1. Oxford University Press.




Entry link: Authentic text


This stands for Communicative Language Teaching. There is not full agreement as to the meaning of communicative language teaching. It is generally agreed that it refers to teaching language for use in communication rather than as an object of study. There is much disagreement, however, as to the methodology it should involve, with some experts advocating that the only way to teach communication is to put learners in situations where they need to communicate, while others believe that language study can also aid communication. Use of pair and group work and free use of language are typical of a communicative classroom. 


When I first started teaching we used the structural approach, teaching vocabulary and structures mainly through drilling and exercises. When the communicative approach came along, we were expected to focus on functions, too, and also to use pair and group work and get students to use the language to communicate with one another. It was quite a challenge!

Further reading

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

Carter, R. and Nunan, D. (2001). Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Harmer, J. and Thornbury, S. Communicative Language Teaching

Howatt, A.P.R. with Widdowson H.G. (2004). A History of English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Widdowson, H. G. (1978). Teaching Language as Communication. Oxford: Oxford University Press.




Entry link: CLT

Communicative competence

Communicative competence refers to an ability to communicate that depends not just on linguistic ability but also sociolinguistic ability, including appropriate use of language, management of discourse and recognising cultural practices in communication e.g. who makes eye contact with who. The growing awareness of communicative as opposed to linguistic competence had a big impact on language teaching and was behind the development of the communicative approach.


The use of video in the classroom has made it easier for teachers to focus on communicative competence, as they can show clips in which communication becomes problematic, for example, because the participants don’t follow cultural norms for turn taking, or use the wrong register and give offence. Video shows language in context and can lead to awareness and discussion of appropriacy.

Further reading

Bachman, Lyle (1990).Fundamental Considerations in Language Testing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Canale, M., Swain, M (1980). Theoretical bases of communicative approaches to second language teaching and testing. Applied Linguistics (1).

Hymes, D. H. (1972). On Communicative Competence. In Pride, J. B., & Holmes, J. (Eds.),Sociolinguistics, Baltimore, USA: Penguin Education.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T.S. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Savignon, Sandra (1997).Communicative Competence: theory and classroom practice: texts and contexts in second language learning (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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




Entry link: Communicative competence


When teachers or learners strengthen or reinforce previous learning they consolidate it. For example, a learner may go home and do memory games on the vocabulary they learnt in class that day, or a teacher might do a revision activity of a newly learnt skill. Lessons often contain a consolidation stage during which the teacher aims to reinforce new language or ideas introduced earlier on in the lesson.


"I never remember language if I just meet it once. I always need to do additional activities that help me consolidate my learning."

Further reading

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





Entry link: Consolidate


This is the theory that knowledge is actively constructed by individuals rather than being the fruit of passive absorption of facts. According to constructivist theory each individual interprets and organises the knowledge they receive according to their own prior knowledge and experience of the world. This theory supports a learner-centred classroom in which learners are given the opportunity to explore, personalise and apply knowledge.


CLIL often adopts a constructivist approach to learning through its adoption of group work, problem-solving and interactive learning.

Further reading

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

Mercer, S., Ryan, S., Williams, M. (2012). Psychology for Language Learning: Insights from Research, Theory and Practice.  

Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Williams, M. And Burden, L.A. (1997). Psychology for Language Teachers: a Social Constructivist Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Constructivism


This term is used in ELT to refer either to the situational (where and when) context in which something happens, or to the language surrounding words in a sentence or utterance (sometimes called co-text). M.A.K. Halliday proposed that a situational context contains three components: field (subject matter), tenor (social relations between interactants) and mode (the way in which language is used), which strongly influence the register of language. The contexts in which languages are learnt and taught are also much discussed in ELT these days.


"When we teach learners new language it’s important to put it in context – this helps them understand its meaning."

Further reading

Brown, H. Douglas. (1994) Principles of Language Learning and Teaching, 3rd Edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall Regents.

Celce-Murcia. . (2001) Discourse and Context in Language Teaching: A Guide for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holliday, A. with Martin Hyde and John Kullman (2010). Intercultural communication: an Advanced resource book for students, 2nd edition. Oxford: Routledge.

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



Entry link: Context


The study of the origins of words and how their meaning, use and form have evolved over time.


I studied the etymology of Italian when I was learning Italian at university – it was all about the patterns of change that words and sounds had followed across the centuries. At the time I found it incredibly dry and boring, but now it helps me to work out the meaning or pronunciation of some words I don’t know.

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2007). Words Words Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hogg, R. and Denison, D. (2006). A History of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






Entry link: Etymology


This is a teaching technique, also known as grammaticization, in which students are given key words, e.g. from a dialogue or text that have just read or are about to read, and asked to add ‘grammar’ words to these key words to produce a text that makes sense. Behind this technique is Diana Larsen-Freeman’s idea of ‘grammaring’, the skill of relating form and structure to meaningful units.


I like doing grammatisation with my students and they like it too. I just give them key words in the correct orderfrom very short texts and they have to fill in the ‘grammar’ words. They find it quite intriguing how many meaningful combinations you can get from a few key words. Sometimes they get really involved in defending the meaning of their sentences.

Further reading

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

Thornbury, S. (1995). Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: MacMillan.

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

Batstone, R. (1994). Grammar. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Entry link: Grammatisation


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.





Entry link: Inflection

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.





Entry link: Intrinsic/extrinsic motivation

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