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)

Currently sorted By creation date descending Sort chronologically: By last update | By creation date change to ascending

Page: (Previous)   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  ...  16  (Next)


This acronym stands for Special Interest Group. These groups, often set up by participants, are formal or informal and interact to focus on a mutual interest. There are many SIG groups for teachers of EFL. They allow teachers to pursue their interests and engage in continuous professional development.


IATEFL (See IATEFL) has a list of SIGs here: https://www.iatefl.org/special-interest-groups/sig-list


Further reading









Entry link: SIG

Patterns of interaction

This term refers to the patterns of who interacts with who in a classroom. The main patterns are: student(s) to teacher, teacher to student(s), student(s) to student(s), student alone. A teacher can choose which is the most appropriate pattern to use in order to achieve the learning aims of different activities.


I started the class with a teacher to students interaction pattern as I gave all the students some information. The students then did some pair work followed by some individual work, and then the lesson ended with them doing some group work. So across the lesson we used four different kinds of interaction pattern.

Further reading

Harmer, J. (2012). Essential Teacher Knowledge. Harlow: Pearson Education.

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

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


Seedhouse, P. (1995). Classroom interaction: possibilities and impossibilities. ELT Journal


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

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tsui, A.B.M.(1995). Introducing Classroom Interaction. London: Penguin.




Entry link: Patterns of interaction

Modal verb

A modal verb is a verb which expresses an attitude or wishes about the meaning in the main verb, or a statement of its likelihood or possibility. The modal verbs in English are: may, might, can, could, must, should, will, would. These modal verbs have distinctive forms, too: not taking ‘s’ in the 3rd person singular of the present simple, not having an infinitive or a participle, and forming the question form of the present and past simple through inversion of the subject and verb, and the negative simply by adding ‘not’.


The underlined verbs in this sentence are modal verbs:

We had to move country even though it seemed the future would be difficult. But we couldn’t stay where we were. Now we can’t go back home but we may be able to at some point in the future.

Further reading

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

University Press.

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

Cambridge University Press.

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



Entry link: Modal verb

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.






Entry link: Main clause and subordinate clause

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.




Entry link: Lingua Franca

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.



Entry link: Lexical priming

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.




Entry link: Lexical approach


This term is used with two different meanings. One meaning refers to classroom interaction in which the focus is on the students as opposed to the teacher, and which involves heavy use of pair and group work.

The second meaning refers to involving learners in decisions about their own learning. These can include decisions about curriculum content, ways of learning and ways of assessing.


When I learnt a foreign language at school the teacher was in command of and at the centre of everything – interaction, choice of what and how to learn and also how to assess. In some foreign language learning these days there is much more learner-centredness – sometimes learners make decisions about the curriculum and assessment, and often there is an emphasis on student participation in the classroom, with the teacher taking on mainly a monitoring role while the learners take over the role of language user and inputter.

Further reading

Holliday, A. (2005). The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. New York:

Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2006). Understanding language teaching from method to post-method.

London: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-Centred Curriculum: A Study in Second Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

(2012). Learner-Centered English Language Education: The Selected Works of David

Nunan. Abingdon, Oxon.: Routledge.

Nunan, D., & Lamb, C. (2001). Managing the learning process. In D. R. Hall & A. Hewings

(Eds.), Innovation in English language teaching (pp. 27-45). London: Routledge.

Williams, M., & Burden, R. L. (1997). Psychology for Language Teacher: A social

constructivist approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Entry link: Learner-centredness

Inductive v deductive

These terms are used to refer to ways of learning. Inductive learning takes place by the learner extracting or working out rules from examples or data whereas deductive learning works by learning rules then applying them to examples or data.


The grammar translation method made heavy use of a deductive way of learning, presenting learners with rules and then asking them to use them to complete exercises.  The communicative approach relies much more on an inductive approach in which second language learners hear or read language around them, in much the same way as first language learners do, then unconsciously devise rules about how different aspects of language work.

Further reading

Doughty, C. & J. Williams (eds) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language

Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gollin, J. (1998). Key Concepts in ELT: Deductive vs Inductive Language Learning. ELT Journal, 52/1.

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

Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. and Rodgers, T. (2001). Approaches and Methods in Language Teaching.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Entry link: Inductive v deductive


A genre refers to texts (spoken or written) that share the same conventions e.g. structure, vocabulary, register, grammar. Students often need to be aware of the characteristics of particular genres in order to produce them well.


Genres can be very different from one another. In speaking, for example, lectures and conversation are two quite different genres with different structures and registers. And in writing the genre of emails is quite different from that of essays.

Further reading

Allison, D. (1999) Key Concepts in ELT: Genre. ELT Journal, 53/2.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Cameron, L. (2008) Complex Systems and Applied Linguistics, Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

Martin, J. (1989) Factual Writing: Exploring and challenging social reality (2nd ed.), Oxford:

Oxford University Press.

McCarthy, M. and Carter, R. (1994) Language as Discourse: Perspectives for Language

Teaching, London: Longman.

Paltridge, B. (2001). Genre and the Language Learning Classroom. Ann Arbor: University of

Michigan Press.

Swales, J.M. (1990)Genre Analysis: English in academic and research settings, Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005). Beyond the Sentence: Introducing Discourse Analysis. Oxford:





Entry link: Genre


This refers to those parts of learners’ language which are used incorrectly but which do not seem responsive to correction or open to improvement. Many learner errors correct themselves automatically over time, but some seem resistant to change. These latter are called fossilized errors.


Many advanced learners will be very fluent and accurate but have some recurrent errors which refuse to disappear. This phenomenon is known as fossilization.

Further reading

Candlin, C. and Mercer, N. (2001). English Language Teaching in its Social Context. Abingdon, Oxon.: Psychology Press.

Doughty ,C.J. and Long, M.H. (2008). The Handbook of Second Language. Hoboken, N.J.:

John Wiley & Sons.

Han, Z. (2004) Fossilization in Adult Second Language Acquisition. Bristol, UK: Multilingual


Thornbury, S. The de-fossilization diaries:  http://scottthornburyblog.com/2013/08/18/the-de-fozzilization-diaries/




Entry link: Fossilization


A state in which someone is totally involved in, focussed on and motivated by what they are doing. This state is considered to be an optimum one for learning, and said to be encouraged by meaningful challenges this notion was popularised by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.


Sometimes, usually when you’re doing something you enjoy, you manage to focus just on that, nothing else distracts you and you feel completely absorbed in what you’re doing. It’s a very rewarding and satisfying feeling that is sometimes called ‘flow’.

Further reading

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1998) Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books.

Egbert, J. 2003. A study of Flow Theory in the foreign language classroom’. The Modern

Language Journal, 87/4.

van Lier, L. 1996.Interaction in the Language Curriculum: Awareness, Autonomy &

Authenticity.Harlow: Longman.




Entry link: Flow

Finite verb/non-finite verb

A finite verb is the part(s) of a verb that in English shows time, number or person. A non-finite verb shows none of these. An independent sentence or main clause must contain a finite verb.


Here are some examples of both kinds of verb:



She takes

They take

We took

To take


Having taken


Further reading

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

Cambridge University Press.

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



Entry link: Finite verb/non-finite verb


This refers to the beneficial effect of being surrounded by spoken and/or written language. A child growing up in a monolingual environment normally has a large amount of exposure to their native language. Many language learning experts believe that learners must be exposed to adequate amounts of language used naturally and in context for acquisition to take place.


She lived in Russia for a long time but actually learnt very little Russian, as she spent most of her time with people from her own country, so she had very little exposure to Russian.

Further reading

Doughty, C. (2001). Cognitive Underpinnings of Focus on Form. In P. Robinson. (ed.),

Cognition and Second Language Instruction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Doughty, C. & J. Williams (eds) (1998). Focus on Form in Classroom Second Language

Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (1994). The Study of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ellis, R. (ed.) (2001).Form-Focused Instruction and Second Language Learning. Malden, MA:


Gass, S. (1997) Input, interaction and the second language learner. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence


Krashen, S. (1985).The Input Hypothesis: Issues and Implications. Harlow: Longman.

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





Entry link: Exposure


This term refers to the words used to express different functions of language. Exponents are one way to begin looking at functional approaches to language teaching.


Here are just some examples of the exponents of suggesting:

What about …..?

How about…..?
What if we …..?
Why don’t we…..?

We could……

Further reading

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

Halliday, M.A.K. 1975.Learning How to Mean. London: Edward Arnold.

Ur, P. (1996) A Course in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Exponent

Estuary English

This refers to an accent of English, first noticed and named by David Rosewarne, an EFL teacher, that is found particularly in the South East of Great Britain. It has some similarities with the sounds of Cockney, and has been identified as far north as Yorkshire and as far west as the Welsh border!


It could be useful for teachers to get their students to listen to examples of Estuary English as it’s so commonly heard in many parts of England.

Further reading

Coggle, P. (1993).Do you speak Estuary? The new Standard English – How to spot it and speak it. London: Bloomsbury.

Crystal, D. (1995) Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Rosewarne, David (1984). ''Estuary English''. Times Educational Supplement, 19 (October 1984)". Phon.ucl.ac.uk. 1999-05-21.

1994 Estuary English: tomorrow's RP? English Today 37/10.





Entry link: Estuary English


Ellipsis refers to leaving out words from sentences where the meaning is sufficiently clear from the situation or the language already used. Usually ellipsis does not lead to a loss of meaning, though students may need training in recognising it and the cohesion it gives to discourse.


There is ellipsis in this sentence Bob often goes on holiday to the sea, and Tom too.  does or goes there has been left out after ‘Tom’  because the speaker thinks it’s not necessary to say these elements.

Further reading

Albery, D. (2012) The TKT Course KAL Module. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Cambridge University Press.

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




Entry link: Ellipsis

Direct method

A method of language teaching popular until the early 1950s. The method advocated the use of only the target language in the classroom, and the use of student-teacher dialogue supported by visuals such as gestures or photos.


When I learnt Russian my teacher used the Direct Method. She would do things round the classroom or talk about objects or pictures she showed us, describing her actions or the pictures and then asking us questions about them. In some ways it was quite similar to the way in which a parent teaches a child language.

Further reading

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

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

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




Entry link: Direct method


This term is used to refer to syllabus (See syllabus), learning objectives, methods of assessment, teaching methods and materials.

The term is also sometimes used synonymously with syllabus.


Writing a curriculum for a particular learning situation involves understanding a lot about the context in which the teaching and learning will take place.

Further reading

Christison, M and Murray, D. (2014). What English Language Teachers Need to Know,

Volume 3.  New York and London: Routledge.

Graves, K. (1996). Teachers as Course Developers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I.S.P. and  Macalister, J.(2010). Language Curriculum Design. Oxford: Routledge.

Nunan D. 1994. The Learner-Centered Curriculum. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan D. 1996. Syllabus Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Richards, J. (2013). Curriculum Approaches in Language Teaching: Forward, Central, and

Backward Design. RELC Journal 44/1

Richards, J. (2001).  Curriculum Development in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press.

http://www.professorjackrichards.com/wp-content/uploads/Curriculum-Approaches-in Language-Teaching.pdf.

Tomlinson B. (2012). Language Curriculum Design. ELT Journal 66/2.

White, R. (1998). The ELT Curriculum: Design, Innovation and Management. Hoboken, NJ.:Wiley.



Entry link: Curriculum

Course of study

This term is used in two different ways. It refers to a set of lessons or workshops making up a whole. In this sense it is synonymous with ‘course’.

It is also used to refer to a programme of study into which different courses are integrated.


In this example course is used in both its meanings, which makes the example potentially a little confusing!

The course I took in Italian at university was made up of lots of different courses e.g. medieval literature, philology, etymology, 19th century history.

Further reading

No further reading is provided for this general word.



Entry link: Course of study

Page: (Previous)   1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  ...  16  (Next)