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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L1, L2

An L1 is your mother tongue, the first language you learn in your home environment. L2 has various meanings. It can refer to any language learnt after learning L1.

It also refers to the language learnt after the L1 and that is used in the learner’s environment (e.g. learning Greek as a child while living in Greece, having first learnt English from your English-speaking parents).

A third meaning is for languages widely used in countries or regions but not recognised as official languages. For example, in Guyana, English is the official language but Guyanese Creole is an L2 widely used by many people.


"Nowadays, with so many people being bilingual, it is not always simple to say which is their L1 and which is their L2."

Further reading

Cook, V.J., Long, J., & McDonough, S. (1979), First and Second Language Learning, in G.E. Perren (ed.)The Mother Tongue and Other Languages in Education, CILTR.

Crystal, D. (2003). English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ellis, R. (1985). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kachru, B. (1992). World Englishes: approaches, issues and resources. Language Teaching, 25. Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1997). World Englishes and English-using communities. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 17.



Learner autonomy

This refers to the learner’s ability to take charge of and direct their own language learning without relying on the teacher. It is believed that if a learner is autonomous, they take responsibility for their own learning and that this is a good thing, as it allows them to learn independently (and hence more deeply) and to go on learning. Many teaching approaches, materials and courses contain a focus on strategies that help to make the learner more autonomous e.g. how to work with a dictionary, developing proofreading skills, deciding what to learn next. Some learners appreciate the freedom and responsibility autonomy gives them, while others may prefer the teacher to remain in charge. Learner autonomy is also referred to as self-directed learning.


"He’s such an autonomous learner that he finds it hard to accept being told what and how to learn by a teacher in a classroom."

Further reading

Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and Researching Autonomy in Language Learning. Harlow: Longman.

Benson, P. & Voller, P. (1996) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. Harlow: Longman.

Cohen, A. D. (1998). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. Harlow: Longman.

Holliday, A. (2005) The Struggle to Teach English as an International Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kumaravadivelu, B. (2003). Beyond Methods: Macrostrategies for Language Teaching. New Haven, NH: Yale University Press.

Little, D., Ridley, J. & Ushioda, E. (Eds.). (2003). Learner Autonomy in Foreign Language Classrooms: Teacher, learner, curriculum and assessment. Dublin: Authentik.

Nunan, D. (1988). The Learner-centred Curriculum: A study in second language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nunan, D. (1996). The Self-directed Teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Scharle, A & Szabo, A. (2000) Learner Autonomy: A guide to developing learner responsibility Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Smith, R. (2008). Key concepts in ELT: learner autonomy. E LT Journal 62/4. Oxford University Press.



Learner training

Learner training involves teaching learners how to carry out the strategies that enable them to become better learners, and often more autonomous learners. Examples of these strategies are: writing down new words on vocabulary cards, taking advantage of all opportunities to use the target language, repeating new words to yourself, listening out for specific grammatical features.


"I once had a student who needed no learner training - she already kept beautifully organised files, noted down new words, asked questions when she didn’t understand, listened to all available radio and TV programmes, had an English study buddy etc etc. She was remarkable and made very rapid progress."

Further reading

Ellis, G. and Sinclair, B. (1989). Learning to Learn English. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Griffiths, G. (2007). Language learning strategies: students' and teachers' perceptions. ELT Journal 61/2. Oxford University Press.

O’Malley, J. and Chamot, A.(1990).  Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






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.



Learning aim

A learning aim is something that the teacher intends her students will learn during a lesson, and that she designs her lesson around in order for that learning to take place. It may also refer to the learning goals of a course or syllabus. The term is often used interchangeably with the term objective.


"My aims in my last lesson were:

- To present and practise new adjectives for describing people

- To give students oral fluency practice in describing one another

- To give students written practice in describing their families"

Further reading

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

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

Thornbury, S. and Watkins, P. (2007) The CELTA Course. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Watkins, P. 2005. Learning to Teach English: A practical introduction for new teachers. Peaslake: Delta Publishing.





Learning outcome

A learning outcome is a statement (often in a lesson plan or syllabus) of what a learner is expected to know or be able to do, and to what degree, at the end of a lesson or course as a result of successful learning of the focus of the lesson or course. Learner outcomes can be used to tell learners what they will be learning. They are also used to shape lesson activities and guide the content of assessment.


"Thinking about learning outcomes when you are planning your lesson and writing a lesson plan really helps the teacher to see if what they intend to teach is at the right level for their learners."

Further reading

Burns, A. and Richards, J.(2012). Pedagogy and Practice in Second Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J. (2013). Curriculum approaches in language teaching: forward, central and backward design. RELC Journal 44/1.






A lemma is the dictionary or citation form of a word. Spoke, speaking, spoken, speaks are all forms of the lemma speak, for example


When students start using a dictionary they sometimes can’t find the word they want because they don’t realise they need to look for the citation form of the word, its lemma. They need training in helping them to do this.

Further reading

Knowles, G. and Don, Z. M. (2004). The Notion of a Lemma: Headwords, Roots and Lexical Sets in International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 9/1. http://www.corpus4u.org/forum/upload/forum/2005071007011220.pdf

Macaro, E. (2003). Teaching and Learning a Second Language. New York:Continuum.

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



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.




Lexical chain

A lexical chain is a series of words used in a text that are linked to the same lexical field, including synonyms and related terms. A lexical chain is one source of cohesion in a text.


"In the sentence 'Elephants have long trunks and tusks, which distinguish elephants from many other animals’, ‘elephant’, ‘trunks’, ‘tusks’, and ‘animals’ all form a lexical chain in that they all relate to the lexical field of elephants."

Further reading

Thornbury, S. (1997). About Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Thornbury, S. (2005) Beyond the Sentence. Oxford: Macmillan.




Lexical cohesion

Lexical cohesion refers to the lexical devices used in spoken or written discourse to help join texts together. These devices include lexical chains, lexical sets, repetition of words, substitution and ellipsis.


"The lexical cohesion in this sentence is in italics: I went to Paris as a child. I remember it as a very lovely city. Cities though are full of problems these days so I imagine the capital of France is too now."

Further reading

Flowerdew, J. and Mahlberg, M. (2009). Lexical Cohesion and Corpus Linguistics. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halliday, M.A.K; and Ruqayia Hasan (1976). Cohesion in English. London: Longman.

Hoey, Michael (1991): Patterns of Lexis in Text. Oxford: OUP.

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




Lexical field

See Semantic field

Lexical item

A lexical item is a word or group of words with a single meaning.  Here, for example, are five lexical items: look after, quick as a flash, potato, at, waste paper basket.  A lexical item may have more than one form e.g. child and children are one lexical item as are sleep, sleeping, slept. Thornbury (2006) defines a lexical item as ‘any item that functions as a single meaning unit, regardless of its different derived forms, or the number of words that make it up’. Estimates of proficient or learner speaker vocabulary size are normally based on lexical items rather than words.


"You recognise a lexical item through the unit of meaning it conveys."

Further reading

Aitchison, J. 1987. Words in the Mind: An introduction to the mental lexicon. Oxford:Blackwell.

Lewis, M (1997). Implementing the lexical approach. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Nation, I.S.P. 1990. Teaching and Learning Vocabulary. Boston: Heinle and Heinle.

Schmidt, N. (2000).  Vocabulary in language teaching, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, Paul, and Robert Waring. "Vocabulary size, text coverage and word lists”


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




Lexical modality

See Modality

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.



Lexical set

A lexical set is a set of words that all relate to the same topic or situation, for example, words for furniture, words for describing graphs, words for describing different kinds of movement. Vocabulary teaching at beginner or elementary levels is often based around lexical sets.


"Here are some possible words from the lexical set for reading: books, blogs, text, to read, to skim, to scan, page, print, ink, printing, font size, glasses."

Here are some for the lexical set for cooking: boil, stir, stew, burn, mix, saucepan, bowl, recipe, spoon, oven.

Further reading

Nation, P. (2011). Learning Vocabulary in Lexical Sets: Dangers and Guidelines. TESOL Journal 9/2.

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

Wells, J.C. (1982). Accents of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.






A lexicon is the set of vocabulary that makes up a language. The grammar of a  language and its lexicon are often considered its key components. Different professions and subjects are also said to have their own lexicon, as are individual children and language learners. Some experts only include individual words in a lexicon, others include chunks and collocations.


"A young child’s lexicon will be very different from that of an adult language learner."

Further reading

Fitzpatrick, T. and Barfield, A. (2009) Lexical Processing in Second Language Learners: Papers and Perspectives in Honour of Paul Meara (Second Language Acquisition. Multilingual Matters.

Nation, P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.





Likert scale

A Likert /ˈlɪkɜt/scale (devised in 1932 by organisational psychologist Rensis Likert) and also known as a ‘summative scale’, is a bipolar psychometric scale used in qualitative research to record responses along a range which captures intensity of feeling about attitudes to a given issue. It is regarded as a balanced method of data collection as it features an equal number of positive and negative responses, usually separated by a neutral response in mid-position. However, some researchers prefer to produce a ‘forced choice’ by omitting the middle option. Generally, five possible responses are set along a horizontal line (although some practitioners use as many as seven, or even nine, which gives more scope to respondents who like to avoid extremes!)

A typical five-item response line is:

Strongly disagree  -  Disagree  -  Neither agree nor disagree  -  Agree  -  Strongly agree

As well as levels of agreement, Likert scales can also be used to record other variable responses:


Very frequently  -  Frequently  -  Occasionally  -  Rarely  -  Never



Very important  -  important  -  moderately important  -  of little importance  -  Unimportant


Almost always true  -  Usually true  -  Occasionally trues  -  Usually not true  -  Almost never true


Strictly speaking, a Likert scale is the sum of responses to a number of statements (‘Likert items’) and refers to the range of potential scores. So, in a 5-point range like the one below, if scores of are distributed in a range of 1-5, the Likert scale is 5-25:

Strongly disagree                   1

Disagree                               2

Neither agree nor disagree       3

Agree                                    4

Strongly agree                        5


To report on a Likert scale, the values for each separate option should be summed and a score created for each respondent. Scores can then be used to create a chart showing the distribution of opinion across the target population. Scores are very often plotted and reported using diverging stacked bar charts (see Robbins & Heiberger 2011). For results to be meaningful, all the items selected should belong to a similar category, so that the summed score produces a reliable measurement of the particular behaviour or attitude being investigated.

The advantage of Likert scales is that they provide quantitative data about personal attitudes whilst allowing for degrees of opinion (or no opinion). Possible drawbacks are ‘central tendency bias’, where respondents avoid the extremes, ‘acquiescence bias’, where they simply agree with the statement presented, and ‘social desirability bias’, where they give the response that they think represents them in the most positive light. Another potential disadvantage is that few options are on offer, and respondents may not easily be able to align themselves with any of them.  There may also be a problem within sets of items, whereby respondents are influenced by their own answers to earlier questions, either remaining consistent out of habit, or deliberately breaking the pattern. These issues can be resolved at the design stage by means of carefully designed and sequenced questions.

[Alan Pulverness]


"Example Likert Scale" by Nicholas Smith http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg#mediaviewer/File:Example_Likert_Scale.svg

Further reading

Bertram, D. “Likert scales…are the meaning of life” http://poincare.matf.bg.ac.rs/~kristina/topic-dane-likert.pdf

Bryman, A. 2012. Social Research Methods.  4th ed Oxford: Oxford University Press

Denscombe, M. 2014 The Good Research Guide: For Small Scale Research Projects 2014Maidenhead: Open University Press

Likert, R. 1932. “A Technique for the Measurement of Attitudes” Archives of Psychology, No.140.

Robbins, N. B. & M. R. Heiberger. 2011. “Plotting Likert and Other Rating Scales” https://www.amstat.org/sections/SRMS/Proceedings/y2011/Files/300784_64164.pdf

Uebersax, J.S. “Likert scales: dispelling the confusion”  http://www.john-uebersax.com/stat/likert.htm

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.




Linguistic landscape

The linguistic landscape, sometimes known as 'environmental print', is the text and accompanying images which can be seen in (usually) urban environments on the streets, shops, vehicles, and people (e.g. t-shirt slogans; tattoos). It is a rich source of contemporary language use, and can have a multitude of functional purposes, e.g. to advertise, to warn, to entertain, to inform. Several studies (e.g. Sayer, 2010; Chern & Dooley, 2013), have related the use of English in non-English-speaking environments to cultural and socio-economic factors. Drawing students' attention to how language(s) can be used in the linguistic landscape can promote 'noticing' and lead to discussion and debate.


"I always ask my students to take photos of the linguistic landscape which surrounds them as they walk to and from the language school."

Further reading

Check out the NILE Norwich Linguistic Landscape blog (coming soon)

Chern, C. & Dooley, K. (2013). Learn English by walking down the street. ELTJ 68 / 2 pp. 113-123

Gorter, D. (ed). (2006). Linguistic Landscape. A New Approach to Multilingualism. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

Lopriori, L. (2011). Buzzword of the day: Linguistic Landscapes. TESOL Italy Newsletter Vol XXI, No. 5, p.3

Sayer, P. (2010). Using the linguistic landscape as a pedagogical resource. ELTJ 64 / 2 pp. 143-154



Loop input

A method of carrying out teacher training / development sessions in which the trainer carries out activities for training that have the same design and focus as activities for use in the language learning classroom. For example, a training course could start off with a Find Someone Who activity about teachers’ use of ice-breakers and mingling in class. The trainer would then go on to refer to this activity when discussing the use of icebreakers / mingling activities / communicative activities. Loop input mirrors the activity in focus and allows participants to experience it and reflect on that experience.


"On my training course the teacher once made us do an activity in which we had to put cards into two different categories: advantages and disadvantages of doing categorising activities.  She then suggested how we could use categorising activities in class and asked us what our opinion of doing them had been. I later found out that this was called a loop input approach to training – it’s a method that really helps you understand and evaluate different techniques."

Further reading

Woodward, T. (1991). Models and Metaphors in Language Teacher Training: Loop Input and Other Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Woodward, T. (2003). Key concepts in ELT: loop Input. ELT Journal 57/3.





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