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)

Browse the glossary using this index

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An approach to teaching and learning which does not adhere to any one recognised approach but selects from different approaches and methods according to teacher preference and also to the belief that different learners learn in different ways and different contexts, and that therefore no one approach or method is sufficient to cater for a range of learners. Eclecticism is sometimes criticised as being too random and having no guiding principles. This criticism has given rise to Principled eclecticism which attempts to keep the flexibility of eclecticism while including in it principles of teaching and learning.


"Some teachers appreciate the freedom and flexibility that eclecticism allows them in their teaching, while others prefer the clear teaching guidelines that using one particular approach or method can provide."

Further reading

Kumaravadivelu, (2012). Towards a post-method pedagogy. TESOL Quarterly Volume 35, Issue 4, pages 537–560.

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2000). Techniques and principles in language teaching, 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.







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.







This stands for English as a Lingua Franca, and refers to the use of English in international communication. Certain scholars have suggested that as English has become a lingua franca between people from a range of L1s, features of its use such as particular pronunciations and grammatical constructions which would previously have been considered non-standard and ‘wrong’ should be accepted rather than corrected, providing they do not cause a breakdown in communication, as they are a mark of the L1 learner’s identity There is much debate in ELT about the research base for ELF’s findings and their implications for the classroom.


If you listened to two non-native speakers of English talking together you might hear them regularly  pronouncing the article ‘the’ as /də/ or /zə/ yet obviously having no problem communicating with one another. ELF proposes that if that’s the case there is no need to insist on ‘correct’ pronunciation with the corresponding loss of learner identity that correction can lead to.

Further reading

Seidlhofer, B. (2005). Key concepts in ELT: English as a lingua franca. ELT Journal 59/4.

Jenkins, J. (2012). English as a Lingua Franca from the classroom to the classroom. ELT Journal 66/4. http://www.scribd.com/doc/125335514/Jennifer-Jenkins-English-as-a-Lingua-Franca-from-the-classroom-to-the-classroom

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

Walker, R. (2011).Teaching the Pronunciation of English as a Lingua Franca. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Widdowson, H.G. (2003).Defining Issues in English Language Teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Chit Cheung Matthew Sung (2013). English as a Lingua Franca and its Implications for Language Teaching http://jalt-publications.org/jj/articles/3436-perspectives-english-lingua-franca-and-its-implications-english-language-teaching JALT Journal, Vol. 35, No. 2, November 2013



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.





This is the process in which particular sounds are omitted in connected speech because they are followed by another similar sound. In English, elision often happens between plosive sounds and with the vowel sound schwa /ə/. Elision helps speakers to produce sounds more smoothly and efficiently.


Many people pronounce ‘chocolate’ as /tʃɒklət/ eliding the schwa before /l/. ‘He went to the cinema’ can give an example of an elided plosive with ‘went to’ pronounced as ‘/wentu:/.

Further reading

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

Hancock, M. (1995). Pronunciation Games. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Marks, J. (2012). Delta Teacher Development: Pronunciation Book. Peaslake, Surrey: Delta.

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






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.




Emergent language

This is language which is a fruit of the learning process rather than taught language. It occurs as learners, in an effort to express themselves, experiment with language they haven't as yet fully mastered. Many experts suggest that teachers would do better to support learners’ emergent language rather than presenting them with language they have not yet shown a need for.


Dogme is an approach to teaching that recommends teachers work with learners’ emerging language by providing opportunities for use and giving feedback, rather than working with a pre-set syllabus.

Further reading

Larsen-Freeman, D. (2003). Teaching Language: From Grammar to Grammaring. Boston:Heinle & Heinle.

Meddings, L. and Thornbury, S. (2009). Teaching Unplugged: Dogme in English Language Teaching. Guildford: Delta Publishing.

Thornbury, S. (2005) Uncovering Grammar. Oxford: MacMillan.





Environmental Print

See Linguistic Landscape




These words – error and mistake in particular – are often used interchangeably. When given distinct meanings, a slip refers to the kind of mistake we can all (including proficient speakers) make due to pressure of time, anxiety etc. i.e. this is not a mistake due to lack of proficiency but due to the temporary effect on the speaker of particular circumstances .

An error refers to a systematic mistake made by a language learner that is due to lack of mastery of that part of the language system [see also interlanguage]. Mistake is a non-technical word that refers to both a slip and an error.


"He’s a proficient English speaker – there are no errors in his language, but when he gave that talk the other night he was so nervous that he made loads of slips."

Further reading

Ellis, R. and Barkhuizen, G.P.  (2005). Analysing Learner Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Corder, S. P. (1967). The significance of learners' errors. International Review of Applied Linguistics 5.

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








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.






The study of the origins of words and how their meaning, use and form have evolved over time.


I studied the etymology of Italian when I was learning Italian at university – it was all about the patterns of change that words and sounds had followed across the centuries. At the time I found it incredibly dry and boring, but now it helps me to work out the meaning or pronunciation of some words I don’t know.

Further reading

Crystal, D. (2007). Words Words Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hogg, R. and Denison, D. (2006). A History of the English Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.







This is the process of assessing the value of something by collecting data. Evaluation often leads to decision-making. Evaluation can be of teaching, learning, curricula, methods, exam impact, materials or other areas related to teaching and learning.


When evaluating materials it is useful to collect not just teachers’ opinions but those of learners, too.

Further reading

Alderson, C. and Clapham, C. (1995).Language Test Construction and Evaluation. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press.

Cunningsworth, A. (1984). Evaluating and Selecting ELT Materials. Heineman.

Cunningsworth, A. (1995). Choosing your Coursebook. Macmillan Heineman.

Kiely, R. N. &Rea-Dickins, P. M.(2005). Programme Evaluation in Language Education. Oxford: Palgrave Macmillan.

McDonough, J. and Shaw, C. (1993). Materials and Methods in ELT. Oxford: Blackwell.

Murphy. D (2000). Key Concepts in ELT: Evaluation. ELT Journal 54/2.

Sheldon, L. (1988). Evaluating ELT textbooks and materials.  ELT Journal 37/3.

Weir, C. and Roberts, J. (1994). Evaluation in ELT. NJ: Wiley

Williams, M and Burden, R. (1993) The role of evaluation in ELT project design. ELT Journal 48/1.






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.





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