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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Needs analysis



Needs analysis is primarily a process of investigating the specific linguistic needs of learners in order to design or adapt a course specifically for them. Needs analysis can also be used to find out other information about your learners including motivation, preferences, and learner styles which can help design or tailor the course to the profile of the learner. Data collection can be done through formal and informal interviews, questionnaires and questions will often relate what kind of things the learner will ultimately do with the language which can help formulate learning objectives


I used the results of my needs analysis to create my speaking and listening course from scratch

Further reading 

Harding K (2007) English for specific purposes; Oxford 

Jordan R.R (1997) English for academic purposes; Cambridge University Press 

Evans T and St John M (1998) Developments in English for Specific Purposes; Cambridge University Press 




Negotiating Meaning

This refers to the process readers, writers, speakers and interlocutors engage in in order to make sense of and clarify what is being said/ written. It can involve asking for clarification, repeating, paraphrasing, checking understanding.


Information gap activities help learners to learn and practise negotiating meaning, as they often find themselves not fully understanding what their partner has said or not being able to express themselves clearly. As a result the listener may ask for clarification or question what was said, and the speaker may paraphrase or repeat to get their message across more successfully.

Further reading

Bygate, M. (1987). Speaking. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Philp, J., Oliver, R. , Mackey, A.  (2008). Second Language Acquisition and the Younger Learner. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.

Johnson, K. (1995). Understanding Communication in Second language Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young, R. (1983). The negotiation of meaning in children's foreign language acquisition. ELT Journal 37/3.





This is a term which refers to the process in which a learner, consciously or unconsciously, notices or becomes aware of an item or aspect of language in the language input that surrounds them. This may involve noticing spelling, word stress, meaning, grammar, collocation or other language features. Noticing is believed to be the first stage in language learning, sometimes but not always triggering further stages of acquisition.


"She’s a visual learner and when we went to Russia together she was always looking at Russian script on signs, notices, advertising etc, trying to work out what each letter was. I didn’t even see the script myself, I just didn’t notice it – it didn’t register."

Further reading

Batstone, R. (1996) Key concepts in ELT: Noticing. ELT Journal 50/3. Oxford University Press.

Lightbown, P.-M. and Spada, N.(2006). How Languages are Learned, 4th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schmidt, R. (1990). 'The role of consciousness in second language learning'. Applied Linguistics 11.

Van Patten, B. (1990). Attending to form and content in the input. Studies in Second Language Acquisition 12.




Notional syllabus

A syllabus that is organised according to the grammatical notions (concepts) that a learner might need to express (e.g. cause and effect, frequency, pastness, agency, duration, quantity) rather than according to structural or task progression. Notional syllabuses were particularly influential in the 1970s and were often linked with functional syllabuses, making for notional-functional syllabuses, in which the language needed to express particular functions was focussed on.


"Because of its focus on abstract categories like pastness, uncertainty, comparison, it is quite hard to make a notional syllabus seem real, achievable and motivating to students."

Further reading

Abbs, B. and  Freebairn, I. (1979). Building Strategies. Harlow: Longman.

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

Van Ek, J.K. and Trim J. (1998) Threshold 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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



Noun phrase

See Phrase