ELT terms - defined and referenced!


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




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Conversion

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.

Example

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.

 

 

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).

Example

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

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/display-questions

 

 

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.

Example

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.

 

 

Gerund

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.

Example

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.

 

 

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.

Example

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/language-assistant/teaching-tips/using-gradedreaders-0

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

 

 

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).

Example

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

 

 

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.

Example

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.

http://hyxy.nankai.edu.cn/jingpinke/buchongyuedu/learning%20strategies%20by%20Oxford.pdf

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

 

 

Monolingual learner dictionary

This is a learner dictionary (a dictionary that is graded to suit the learners’ language level and needs) in which the dictionary entries, explanations and examples are all in the target language.

Example

I have tried hard to encourage my students to use monolingual learner dictionaries so that they just think in the target language, but they keep using bilingual dictionaries instead. They say they find them more helpful.

Further reading

Chan, A. (2008).Why do learners prefer bilingualized dictionaries to monolingual dictionaries, or vice versa? Oxford University Research Archive.

Cowie, A.P. (2013). English Dictionaries for Foreign Learners, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmitt, N. (Ed.) (2010). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics, 2nd edition. Abingdon: Routledge.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/using-dictionaries

 

 

Pragmatics

This is the study of the meaning of language in context. It looks at how language is interpreted in particular situations. Its focus is not semantic meaning but contextual meaning, as contained in e.g. setting, the relationship between speakers, and knowledge of the world.

Example

In this dialogue, the response ‘Excellent news’ seems to indicate that the woman is pleased that Helen is sick. Another possible interpretation is that in fact the woman is pleased for another reason – that Helen has finally decided to take days off when she’s ill. Pragmatics would study the situation in which this dialogue took place to explore possible interpretations.

Man: Helen’s sick. She’s having the day off.

Woman: Excellent news – about time too.

Further reading

Bahtia, V., Flowerdew, J., Jones, R. (2007).  Advances in Discourse Studies, Oxford: Routledge.

Grundy, P. (2008). Doing Pragmatics. Oxford: Routledge.

Houck, N.R. and Tatsuki, D.H. (eds.) (2011). Pragmatics: Teaching Natural Conversation. Virginia: TESOL.

Rose K.R. and Kasper, G. (2001) Pragmatics in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tan, P. (1994). Key concepts in ELT: pragmatics. ELT Journal 48/1.

Thornbury, S., Slade, D. (2006). Conversation: From Description to Pedagogy. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

 

 

Referential question

A referential question is a question a teacher or student asks because they genuinely want to find out the answer to the question. Referential questions are often contrasted with display questions (See Display Questions), which are asked so as to give the student an opportunity to ‘display’ their knowledge or ability. In language teaching, referential questions are often associated with the warm-up stage of a lesson or with free practice activities. They often lead to a use of language that the teacher cannot predict, and tend to involve use of higher order thinking skills (See HOTS).

Example

In the dialogue below, the teacher’s first question is a display question, asked to check whether the student knows the word ‘architect’. The teacher knows the answer to this question. The teacher’s second question is referential. The teacher is unlikely to know the answer to it, and answering it involves the student in using their own ideas and unpredictable language.

Teacher: What’s the name of the person who draws plans for designing and building houses?

Student: architect.

Teacher. That’s right. Do you think that’s an interesting job? Why?

Student: I’d love to be an architect. To create new buildings must be wonderful.

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

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/referential-questions

 

 

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.

Example

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

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/teacher-talking-time

 

 

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.

Example

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.

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/test-teach-test

 

 

Transitive / Intransitive

These are grammatical terms used about verbs to indicate whether or not they can take an object when used in the active voice.

Transitive verbs can take an object, and some can take more than one e.g. call, give. They can also be used in the passive.

An intransitive verb cannot take an object, nor can it be used in the passive.

In English some verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively e.g. to enter, to run, to win.

Example

In the following sentence, the transitive verbs are in bold and the intransitive ones are underlined. She got up early, put on her slippers and dressing gown, then went downstairs to the dining room where breakfast had already been placed on the table.

Further reading

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

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv244.shtml

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference/clause-structure-and-verb-patterns

 

 

Turn

A turn is a term used to describe each contribution a speaker makes to a conversation or other spoken genre. A turn is bounded by the contributions of other speakers i.e. a turn begins when one speaker begins to talk and ends when another speaker takes over. In terms of grammar and meaning a turn may or may not be complete and may consist of one or many utterances (See Utterance). The rules for turn taking can vary between languages and cultures. Students may need to be made aware of those that operate in the language they are learning. Intonation and body language play an important part in marking turns.

Example

Scientists have discovered that some kinds of monkeys include turns in their communications, waiting for one another to respond before communicating again themselves.

Further reading

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

Houck, N.R. and Tatsuki, D.H. (eds.) (2011). Pragmatics: Teaching Natural Conversation. Virginia: TESOL.

Wong, J. and Waring, H. (2010). Conversation Analysis and Second Language Pedagogy. New York: Routledge.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24566083

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/turn-taking

 

 

 

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.

Example

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.

http://eltchat.org/wordpress/iatefl/the-power-of-questions-eltchat-summary-15052013/

 

 

Affixation

This term refers to the addition of a morpheme at the beginning or end of a word (prefixes and suffixes). This additional morpheme changes the meaning of the word. Affixes can also change the part of speech of a word e.g. happy→ happiness, they can make opposites e.g. happy→ unhappy or they can have a grammatical function e.g. the regular past tense suffix-ed.

Example

A game I sometimes play with my students in class is to give them a word e.g. ‘real’, set them a time limit, and ask them to see how many new words they can make from that word by adding affixes, both prefixes and suffixes.

Further reading

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

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/affixes

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/new-words-english

 

Allophone

This is a phonological term which refers to a sound which can replace another sound in a word without changing its meaning, for example, in the word ‘bath’ the ‘a’ sound can be pronounced either as /æ/ or as /ɑː/ without the meaning being changed. So, in this word, these two sounds are allophones. The phoneme /ɜː/ in /bɜːθ/ is not an allophone in this instance as it changes the meaning of the word.

Example

When people learn foreign languages they sometimes get confused because phonemes which would not be allophones in their language are allophones in the target language or vice versa, for example, /b/ and /v/ are two distinct phonemes in English but they are sometimes allophones in Spanish.

Further reading

Jenkins, J. (2000). The Phonology of English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Underhill, A. (2005). Sound Foundations. Oxford: MacMillan.

 

Article

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.

Example

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.

https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/determiners-and-quantifiers/definite-article

http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/radio/specials/1456_gramchallenge24/

 

 

Aspect

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.

Example

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.

http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/knowledge-database/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.

Example

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.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Attested_languages

 

 

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