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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A conjunction is a class of word which joins words, phrases, sentences or paragraphs. There are two types of conjunction: coordinating and subordinating. The former join equal components whereas the latter join a main and a dependent component. Conjunctions, unlike conjuncts, are part of the sentence they appear in.


Here is an example of a coordinating conjunction in a sentence: I went to the shops and bought something to eat. And, but, and or are common coordinating conjunctions.

Here is an example of a subordinating conjunction in a sentence: After I had gone to the shops I bought something to eat. There are many examples of subordinating conjunctions e.g. after, before, when, although, because, as a result of, due to.

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: Conjunction

Connected speech

This refers to the production of speech as a continuous stream rather than as a sequence of separate sounds. In connected speech, individual sounds may be different from their citation pronunciation, as they are affected by processes such as assimilation, elision, liaison (linking) and shortening.


It’s often quite easy to understand words in isolation, but when they’re part of connected speech they can be much more difficult to recognise. A classic example of this is ‘What do you…?’, which becomes /wɒdʒə/ in connected speech.

Further reading

Celce Murcia, M. Brinton, D., Goodwin, J. (1996). Teaching Pronunciation: A Reference for Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Dalton, C. and Seidlhofer, B. (2004) Pronunciation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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



Learning English – I would like to buy a hamburger. Retrieved from



Entry link: Connected speech


A connotation is the emotional association attached to a word collectively or by an individual. For examples, dogs in some cultures have the connotation of being soft, loyal creatures. In other cultures they are considered dangerous and dirty. Knowing the connotation of a word is part of knowing a word.


"My personal connotation for yoghurt is as something healthy, light and eaten at breakfast. For my mother it was something weird and unfamiliar."

Further reading

Gairns, R. and Redman, S. (1986). Working with Words: a guide to teaching and learning vocabulary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Klippel, F. (1994). Cultural aspects in foreign language teaching.  Journal for the Study of British Cultures. I/1.

Schmitt, N. and  McCarthy, M.  (ed.s) (1997). Vocabulary: Description, Acquisition, Pedagogy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Tomalin, B. and Stempleski, S. (1993). Cultural Awareness.Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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




Entry link: Connotation


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


A consonant is a speech sound made when the air we breathe out is in some way blocked by an articulator (See Articulator). There are 24 consonant sounds in English, produced in eight different places in the mouth, as can be seen on the Phonemic Chart (See Phonemic Chart).


I never think of / ŋ/ as being a consonant. It sounds more like a vowel. But in fact when you say it you can feel your glottis moving in and blocking the outcoming air.

Further reading

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.






Entry link: Consonant


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

Continuous aspect

See Aspect

Entry link: Continuous aspect

Controlled/restricted practice

Controlled/restricted practice is the second stage in Presentation, Practice, Production (PPP). This kind of practice involves students in using target language in a guided and restricted way in which they have little choice over what language to use. Examples of controlled practice activities are repetition and substitution drills. This kind of practice is aimed at providing learners with strongly guided support in their use of newly or poorly learnt language items.


"Sometimes I try to disguise controlled practice in guided role plays or pair work. I give students prompts so they can’t make mistakes. It’s more interesting like that rather than just doing choral drills."

Further reading

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

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

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



Entry link: Controlled/restricted practice


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.


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.



Entry link: Conversion


Corpora are collections of spoken and/ or written language that are stored and processed electronically. Corpora are used in corpus linguistics to find patterns in language use e.g. the collocations of words, grammatical structures in spoken language, word frequencies, types of error. Corpora in ELT can contain a range of different types of texts or be based on particular genres e.g. ESP texts, or on proficient speaker or learner English.  Examples of English language corpora are the British National Corpus (BNA), Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), Cambridge English Corpus (CEC), the Louvain Corpus of Native English Essays (Locness).


"The corpus shows this word collocates more frequently with slightly than with a little."

Further reading

International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, John Benjamin Publishing.

Carter, Ronald & McCarthy, Michael (1995): Grammar and the spoken language. Applied Linguistics 16:2, 141-158.

Cheng, W., Warren, M. & Xu X.F. (2003). The language learner as language researcher: putting corpus linguistics on the timetable. System 31:2, 173-186.

Granger, S.; Hung, J. & Petch-Tyson, S. (eds) (2002). Computer Learner Corpora, Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Teaching. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

O’Keefe, A.,  McCarthy, M., Carter, R.  (2007.) From Corpus to classroom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sinclair, J. ed. (2004) How to Use Corpora in Language Teaching, John Benjamins Publishing.



Entry link: Corpus/corpora

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


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

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