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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Principled eclecticism

See Eclecticism

Entry link: Principled eclecticism


EFL stands for English as a Foreign Language. Generally speaking, it refers to learners learning English in an environment where English is not used, or to learners studying English on brief trips to an Anglophone country. ESL stands for English as a Second Language and has generally been used to refer to learners who have another mother tongue, learning English while living in an English-speaking environment. In the UK nowadays this tends to be called ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages). ESOL or ESL classes are likely to include a focus on language and communication, but also on the cultural practices of the Anglophone country the students are living in. With globalisation and the increased movement of people and immigration, the distinction between EFL and ESL is becoming less clear.


I teach French in French Guyana where the official language is French. Most of my students speak very little French, though. Their mother tongue might be Portuguese and/or an Indian language. In the street they often hear and speak French Creole. So, am I teaching EFL or ESL?

Further reading

Kachru, B. (1997) World Englishes and English-Using Communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. Cambridge University Press.






Entry link: EFL/ESL


This is a teaching technique in which the teacher prompts learners in order to elicit or draw out from them specific answers.  It is a technique used especially to re-activate or revise language items or ideas, and/or to encourage learners to contribute to their own learning rather than being spoon-fed by the teacher. Some people criticise the use of elicitation techniques as they think that they lead to language being used simply for display (to show you know it), rather than to real communicative language use.


"Teacher: What do you call someone who checks and records a firm’s money?

Student 1: A banker.

Teacher: No, they work in the firm and watch what money the firm spends and receives. An a………

Student 2:  An accountant.

Teacher: That’s right."

Further reading

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

Scrivener, J. (2012). Classroom Management Techniques. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Eliciting



Entry link: ESOL



Entry link: ESL

Focus on form

This approach to teaching language was first defined by Michael Long as follows: ‘focus on form…overtly draws students’ attention to linguistic elements as they arise incidentally in lessons whose overriding focus is on meaning or communication’ (Long 1991) and ‘focus on form often consists of an occasional shift of attention to linguistic code features – by the teacher and/or one or more of the students – triggered by perceived problems with comprehension or production' (Long and Robertson in Doughty and Williams, 1998). Focus on form (See Form), in which form is focussed on in the classroom as the need arises in the context of communication, is sometimes contrasted with ‘focus on formS’ in which forms are the primary focus in the classroom.


I observed a class yesterday that was having a discussion about ‘good newspapers’. In the middle of the discussion one of the students asked the teacher why you could say ‘papers’ (newspapers) if ‘paper’ is an uncountable noun. The teacher told him, then they all got back to the discussion. A few weeks ago I observed another class in which the teacher had been teaching countable and uncountable nouns. She gave the learners a short text containing both kinds of noun, then asked the learners to do a guided discovery activity to work out the difference between the two, then the students did exercises. In the first class there was an example of focus on form; the second class was an example of focus on formS.

Further reading

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

Gass, Susan; Selinker, Larry (2008).Second Language Acquisition: An Introductory Course. New York, NY: Routledge.

Long, M.H. (1991). Focus on form: a design feature in language teaching methodology. In K.de Bot, R. Ginsberg, and C. Kramsch (Ed.s), Foreign Language Research in Cross-cultural Perspective. Amsterdam: John Betjamins.

Sheen, R. (2002). Key concepts in ELT: Focus on ‘form’ v ‘Focus on Forms’. ELT Journal 48/1.



Entry link: Focus on form


See Strong/Stressed and Weak/Unstressed Syllables

Entry link: Syllable

Formative assessment

Making judgments about the success of learning while it is taking place rather than once it is over. The purpose of formative assessment is to help the teacher (or learners) decide what should be taught next, and possibly how, based on analysis of the needs of the learners as revealed by the assessment. Formative assessment is often informal, with the teacher listening to or looking at learners’ performance and possibly taking notes. Learners may be unaware that it is taking place.


"Formative assessment really helps me see how well my learners, and individual learners in particular, have learnt something. To help me focus and remember I often use a checklist to monitor them while they are doing groupwork."

Further reading

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

Boyle, B. & Charles, M. (2013) Formative Assessment for Teaching and Learning) London: Sage

Cummins, J. and Davison, C. (2007). International Handbook of English Language Teaching, Part 1. New York: Springer.

Harmer, J. (2007). The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson.

Hughes, A. (2003). Testing for Language Teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.




Entry link: Formative assessment


See Grammar dictation

Entry link: Dictogloss


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.




Entry link: Hypernym


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/




Entry link: IATEFL


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.



Entry link: Input

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



Entry link: Input hypothesis


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.




Entry link: Intake

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.



Entry link: L1, L2

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.



Entry link: Learner autonomy

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.





Entry link: Learning outcome


A method is a recognised and acknowledged set of teaching techniques and procedures that put into practice a set of beliefs about teaching and learning. The term is sometimes used interchangeably with approach, while others reserve approach to refer to theories and principles of language teaching. Richards and Rodgers (2001) say of the two ‘a method is theoretically related to an approach, is organisationally determined by a design, and is practically realised in procedure’ (p .16). Some prominent methods in English language teaching include Total Physical Response, Task-Based Learning, Grammar Translation. A teaching method covers syllabus, materials and classroom activities.


“Some teachers prefer to teach eclectically, taking techniques and activities from a variety of methods rather than rigidly sticking to one. This is often because they think that different learners learn language in different ways.”

Further reading

Celce-Murcia, Marianne, ed. 2001. Teaching English as a second or foreign language, 2nd edition. Boston, MA: Heinle and Heinle.

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

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

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



Entry link: Method

Notional syllabus

A syllabus that is organised according to the grammatical notions (concepts) that a learner might need to express (e.g. cause and effect, frequency, pastness, agency, duration, quantity) rather than according to structural or task progression. Notional syllabuses were particularly influential in the 1970s and were often linked with functional syllabuses, making for notional-functional syllabuses, in which the language needed to express particular functions was focussed on.


"Because of its focus on abstract categories like pastness, uncertainty, comparison, it is quite hard to make a notional syllabus seem real, achievable and motivating to students."

Further reading

Abbs, B. and  Freebairn, I. (1979). Building Strategies. Harlow: Longman.

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

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

Wilkins, D.A. (1976). Notional Syllabuses. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Entry link: Notional syllabus


This is an acronym for Politics, Alcohol, Religion, Sex, Narcotics, -Isms and Pork. It refers to the common practice amongst publishers and exam boards of excluding sensitive or taboo topics from the content of their products so as not to give offence and to facilitate the sale of these products.  Some people believe that this practice is one factor contributing to the lack of real meaning and relevance that is sometimes noted in ELT materials.


When you get to know a class, you become aware of their sensitivities and interests. You’re then in a good position to judge how much or what parts of PARSNIP to adopt or ignore when choosing materials or topics to use in class.

Further reading

Gray, J. (2002). ‘The global coursebook in English language teaching’. In Block, D., and Cameron, D. (Eds.) Globalization and Language Teaching. London: Routledge.

Block, D. and Cameron, D. (2002) . Globalization and Language Teaching. London:Routledge.

Harwood, N. (2010).  English Language Teaching Materials: Theory and Practice. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Meddings. L. (2006). "Embrace the Parsnip" http://www.theguardian.com/education/2006/jan/20/tefl4




Entry link: PARSNIP

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