ELT terms - defined and referenced!

Welcome to the NILE ELT Glossary


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

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This is a term from phonetics. It refers to a process that occurs in connected speech to enable the sounds in speech to flow more smoothly. In assimilation one sound is influenced by a nearby sound and becomes like it in some way.


Fun birthday - fʌm bəːθdeɪ (the /n/ in ‘fun’ is assimilated towards the /b/ in ‘birthday’)

Sandwich - /samwidʒ/ (the /n/ is assimilated towards the /d/)

Further reading

Kenworthy, J. (1987). Teaching English Pronunciation. Harlow: Longman.

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: https://www.peterroach.net/glossary.html

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




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.





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.



Authentic task

An authentic task is a task carried out in the classroom that has all the characteristics of a real-life task carried out outside the classroom i.e. it is done for a purpose unrelated to language learning, and language is used purely in order to get the task done. Some people are strong advocates of using only authentic tasks in the classroom, while some believe authentic tasks need to be balanced with tasks that focus on language. Others think it is difficult to achieve a truly authentic task in the classroom as the tasks will have been contrived in some way by the teacher. Examples of authentic tasks are project work, carrying out surveys, group presentations.


"Authentic tasks work very well with some learners. Others prefer more structured activities. It depends a lot on their learning style."

Further reading

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

Gilmore, A. (2004). A comparison of textbook and authentic interactions. ELT Journal 58/4. Oxford University Press.

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

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



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.




Auxiliary verb

An auxiliary verb is a verb that helps another verb. It helps it to form e.g. progressive aspect, the passive voice, a past participle, negative, interrogative or emphatic forms. In English the auxiliary verbs are do, be, and have.


‘Have’ as an auxiliary

Having finished his work, he went out for lunch

Has she written that email?

He had never understood

‘Be’ as an auxiliary

It’s been cooked somewhere else

It was made yesterday

She is waiting

‘Do’ as an auxiliary

I do believe you, honestly

How do you do?

When did he get here?

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.






A technique used by teachers to make students aware of features of language or of language learning strategies. Becoming aware of something is part of noticing it.


"When our teacher taught us new vocabulary she used to ask questions like: What was the vowel sound in that word? Where is the word stress? The questions helped to raise our awareness of things we might not have noticed otherwise."

Further reading

Carter, R. (2003). Key concepts in ELT: language awareness. ELT Journal 57/1. Oxford University Press.

Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. New York: Newbury House Publisher

Schmidt, R. (1993). Awareness and Second Language Acquisition. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 13. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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




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