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

A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z | ALL


Verb phrase

See Phrase

Visual literacy

Visual literacy is the ability to interpret and make sense of information presented in graphic or pictorial form e.g. through diagrams, charts, images. Visual literacy can act as an aim in a language course or a means through which language is learnt. Visual literacy is also important is CLIL where visual organisers play an important part in scaffolding learning.


In a world in which we are surrounded by images, teachers often think it is important to include work on visual literacy in their classroom to help learners interpret and evaluate these images.

Further reading

Bentley, K. (2010). The TKT Course CLIL Module. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Golstein, B. (2008). Working with Images. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.








Vocal tract

This is how The Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics defines vocal tract: ‘the air passages which are above the VOCAL CHORDS and which are involved in the production of speech sounds. The vocal tract can be divided into the nasal cavity…. and the oral cavity’ (Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics, p.629).


In this diagram we can see the vocal tract:                                                 

                                                        Vocal chords



Further reading

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

Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. ( 2010). Longman Dictionary of Teaching and Applied Linguistics. Harlow: Pearson.

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

Roach, P. English Phonetics and Phonology. Glossary: http://www.cambridge.org/servlet/file/EPP_PED_Glossary.pdf?ITEM_ENT_ID=2491706&ITEM_VERSION=1&COLLSPEC_ENT_ID=7



Voiced, voiceless/unvoiced

These terms refer to whether or not sounds are produced by vibrating our vocal cords. Voiced sounds in English are all the vowels and some consonants e.g. /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/.  Unvoiced, or voiceless sounds are produced without vibration of the vocal cords e.g. /f/, /k/, /t/.


To hear and feel the effect of using or not using the voice we can say pairs of consonants, the only difference between which is use or non-use of the voice, i.e. whether they are voiced or voiceless. Try saying these pairs and feel what is happening to your voice by placing your fingers on your throat to feel the vibration or lack of it.

/f/     /v/

/t/     /d/

/k/    /g/

/s/    /z/

/ʃ/    /ʒ/

/tʃ/  /dʒ/


Further reading

Baker, A. (2006). Ship and Sheep. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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






One meaning of this term is its use in phonology to refer to one of two types of speech sound: vowels and consonants (See Consonant). Unlike consonants, vowels are produced without the speech organs (See Articulators/ Speech Organs) blocking the outgoing air. There are 20 vowels in RP English including both single vowels and diphthongs. In this meaning, vowel is sometimes called vowel sound.

Another meaning is the written symbol used to represent a vowel. In English these are: a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y.


I think it is very useful to use the phonemic chart to teach English vowel sounds bit by bit. I think it really helps learners, particularly older ones, to hear the difference between the vowel sounds and get a feel for where and how to pronounce them.

Further reading

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

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

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

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