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Glossary of Terms


This can mean word stress - control has the accent on the second syllable but we use it to mean the pronunciation used by some speakers – a regional or class accent.


A term used to describe language being absorbed without conscious effort; i.e. the way children pick up their mother tongue. Language acquisition is often contrasted with language learning.

Active Vocabulary

The words and phrases which a learner is able to use in speech and writing. Contrasted with Passive Vocabulary.


A level of attainment where the learner has mastered most of the structures and functions of the language and is able to move freely through several registers - there may be a working vocabulary of in excess of 3000 words.

Aids to Teaching

(a) Visual: Blackboard, whiteboard, overhead projector, realia, posters, wallcharts, flipcharts, maps, plans, flashcards, wordcards, puppets.

(b) Electronic:Tape recorder, TV or video player, computer, CD Rom, language laboratory.

Applied Linguistics

The study of the relationship between theory and practice. The main emphasis is usually on language teaching, but can also be applied to translation, lexicology etc.

Audio-Lingual Method

Listen and speak: this method considers listening and speaking the first tasks in language learning, followed by reading and writing. There is considerable  emphasis on learning sentence patterns, memorization of dialogues and  extensive use of drills.

Authentic Materials

Unscripted materials or those which have not been specially written for classroom use, though they may have been edited.Examples include newspaper texts and TV broadcasts.

Auxiliary Verbs

Forms of the verbs be, do and have which are used to create the different tenses in English: am/is/are/was/were eating/ being eaten; do/does/did eat; has/have/had eaten/ been eaten.


A psychological theory developed by B F Skinner; became the basis for the audio-lingual approach, which viewed language learning in terms of habit formation.


Being able to communicate effectively in two or more languages, with more or less the same degree of proficiency.


Computer Assisted Language Learning.

Cloze Procedure

An exercise where every fifth word (or sixth or seventh etc) is deleted rom a text. The interval between the deleted words should remain the same throughout the text. The student then supplies the missing words, often relying on contextualization for help.


Cognates are words from different languages which are related historically, eg English bath - German bad or English yoke - Hindi yoga. Beware FalseFriends however.

Cognitive Code

An approach in which a conscious effort is made to understand the Learning rules when learning a new item. There is little concern with the formation of habits as in the audio-lingual and direct methods; can be seen as deductive learning, cf inductive learning.


The tendency for words to occur regularly with others: sit/chair, house/garage.

Common Core

The central part of the course or syllabus; or the elements of a language vital to any teaching programme.

Communicative Language Teaching

An approach concerned with the needs of students to communicate outside the classroom; teaching techniques reflect this in the choice of language content and materials, with emphasis on role play, pair and group work etc.

Content Words

Words with a full meaning of their own; nouns, main verbs (ie not auxiliaryor modal verbs), adjectives and many adverbs. Contrasted with structure words.


Placing the target language in a realistic setting, so as to be meaningful to the student.

Cue Cards

Cards with words or pictures on them which are used to encourage student response, or pair and group work.


The regional variety of a language, differing from the standard language, in grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation or idiomatic usage.

Direct Method

The most common approach in TEFL, where language is taught through listening and speaking. There may be little or no explicit explanation of grammatical rules, nor translation into the mother tongue of the student - inductive learning rather than deductive.


A unit of language greater than a sentence.


The intensive and repetitive practice of the target language, which may be choral or individual.


Students at this level may have a vocabulary of up to 1000 words and will probably be learning or practising present simple and continuous tenses, past simple and present perfect, will/shall, 'going to' futures. They should be able to hold simple conversations and survive in everyday situations.


English as a Second Language.


English to/for Speakers of Other Languages.


English for Special Purposes; eg for business, science and technology, medicine etc.

Extensive Reading

Reading for general or global understanding, often of longer texts.

False Friends

Cognate words, or words accidentally similar in form, whose meaning is rather different in the two languages, eg English gentle - French gentil.

Finely-tuned Language

Language which is equivalent to the students' knowledge, which they should readily understand.

First Certificate

Cambridge First Certificate: an examination which may be taken by students of a good intermediate level.

Function Words

See Structure Words

Functional Approach

A course based on a functional approach would take as its starting point for language development, what the learner wants to do through language. Common functions include identifying oneself and giving personal facts about oneself; expressing moods and emotions.

General Service List

A standard list of 2000 frequently used words as compiled by Michael West. Regarded as a language core by many syllabus designers.


The order in which language items are taught. Systematic grading may reduce the difficulties of language learning by introducing the language in  steps or stages.


A method based upon memorizing the rules and logic of a language and the practice of translation. Traditionally the means by which Latin and Greek have been taught.


The written symbols for sounds in language; ie letters of the alphabet or a character in picture writing (as in Japanese kange).


International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language.

Immersion Method

This simulates the way in which children acquire their mother tongue. The learner is surrounded by the foreign language, with no deliberate or organized teaching programme. The learner absorbs the target language naturally without conscious effort.

Inductive Learning

Learning to apply the rules of a language by experiencing the language in use, rather than by having the rules explained or by consciously deducing the rules.


The change in form of a word, which indicates a grammatical change:eg. behave - behaved - behaviour - misbehave.


At this level a student will have a working vocabulary of between 1500 and 2000 words and should be able to cope easily in most everyday situations. There should be an ability to express needs, thoughts and feelings in a reasonably clear way.

Intensive Reading

Reading for specific understanding of information, usually of shorter texts.


The ways in which the voice pitch rises and falls in speech.


The mother tongue.


A language other than the mother tongue.


Language Acquisition Device; a term coined by Noam Chomsky to explain an innate psychological capacity for language acquisition.

Language Laboratory

A room equipped with headphones and booths to enable students to listen toa language teaching programme, while being monitored from a central console. Labs may be Audio-Active (AA), where students listen and respond to a tape, or Audio-Active-Comparative (AAC), where they may record their own responses and compare these with a model on the master tape. Lexical item An item of vocabulary which has a single element of meaning. It may be a compound or phrase: bookcase, post office, put up with. Some single words may initiate several lexical items; eg letter: a letter of the alphabet / posting a letter.

Lexical Set

A group or family of words related to one another by some semantic principle: eg lamb, pork, chicken, beef are all different types of meat and form a lexical set.


A technique used on teacher training courses: a part of a lesson is taught to a small number of students. A variation of this is 'peer teaching', where the 'students' are often peers of the trainee teacher attending the same course.

Minimal Pair

A pair of items differing by one phonological feature; eg sit/set, ship/sheep, pen/pan, fan/pan, pan/pat etc.

Modal Verb

Verbs which express the mood of another verb: will/would; shall/should; may/might; can/could; must, ought, need, dare, used to.


The device by which learners check their spoken or written language against their knowledge of the rules that operate in the particular situation they are facing.


The smallest unit of language that is grammatically significant. Morphemes may be bound, ie they cannot exist on their own; eg -er,un-, -ed, mis- ; or they can be free, as is ball in football.


The branch of linguistics which studies how words change their forms when they change grammatical function, ie their inflections swim -swam - swum - swimming - swimmer; cat - cats; mouse - mice;  happy - happier - happily etc. See also Syntax.

Natural Approach

Pioneered by Krashen, this approach combines acquisition and learning as a means of facilitating language development in adults.

Pair Work

A process in which students work in pairs for practice or discussion.

Passive Vocabulary

The vocabulary that students are able to understand compared to that which they are able to use. Contrasted with Active Vocabulary.



Peer Group

Usually refers to people working or studying at the same level or in the same grouping; one's colleagues or fellow students.

Phatic Communion

Phrases used to convey sociability rather than meaning.


The smallest unit of sound which causes a change of meaning:

cattle - kettle /kætl/ - /ketl/; sleep - sleeve, /sli:p/ - /sli:v/.

Phonemic sounds are written in sloping brackets / /. There are usually considered to be 24 consonant and 20 vowel phonemes in RP.



The study of sounds by the manner or place of articulation.

Phonetic Transcription 

The recording of speech sounds in writing, using a special alphabet; eg book [buk], bath [ba:q]. Phonetic transcription (using squarebrackets [ ] ) makes finer distinctions than Phonemic transcription, with a narrow transcription being more accurate than a broad one. A standard sometimes applied is the  IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet).


The study of the sound system of a language - its phonemes, stress and intonation.

Polar Questions

See YES/NO Questions.

Practice Stage

This follows the Presentation Stage and is the time when students begin to master the target items themselves.

Presentation Stage

Usually the beginning of a lesson when new language is introduced by the teacher, generally followed by a practice stage.


Using real objects or things in the classroom as teaching aids; eg travel brochures, train tickets, food items etc.


Using more utterances than necessary; includes talking around the subject, unnecessary addition and saying the same thing twice in different ways. In grammar it refers to a grammatical feature which has no functional use, such as the -s inflection for present tense third person singular.


A variation in language due to circumstances: these may include age, sex, status, topic or setting. The language of medicine, business and science all differ in their register, which may be spoken or written.


The means by which language which has been presented and practised is fully internalized by the learner. This usually involves plenty of repetition and extra language use.

Rhotic Accents

Accents which pronounce R after a vowel, as in mother, part, and which include American, Scottish, Irish and Western British accents.


The pattern of sound length and stress in speech. English has stress-timed rhythm, while Spanish is said to have syllable-timed rhythm, because the syllables tend to be uniform in time.

Role Play

A practice activity which involves students acting out a given role; eg playing an angry customer returning an item to a shop or being a patient in a doctor's waiting room. It may be controlled and structured, or more or less improvised.


Received Pronunciation - a term coined by Daniel Jones. RP was, until recently, widely regarded as being the yardstick for correct pronunciation; corresponds loosely to a public school or BBC accent.

Roughly-tuned Language

Language which is somewhat beyond the students' knowledge, whichthey should eventually absorb through exposure.


Royal Society of Arts.An examining board which offers exams in both EFL and TEFL. It is now merged with UCLES.


Going quickly over a text to find a particular piece of information.

Scheme of Work

An outline plan for a sequence of lessons, usually within a syllabus,perhaps for a period of hours or for a number of weeks.


The weak English vowel, represented / /, which is found in English unstressed syllables. The only other unstressed vowel is /I/.


The study of the meaning of words and the study of context, - how meaning is expressed through language and in individual languages.

Silent Way

An approach to language teaching, developed in the States by Caleb Gattegno, involving a highly structured system of specialized techniques and apparatus. The teacher is encouraged to restrict his own speech to a minimum, in order that students become involved in establishing meaningful language behaviour themselves.


Refers to students acting out language situations, where they may have to draw on their knowledge of the outside world; eg they have just survived a plane crash in the desert and must now plan a course of action.

Situational Approach

Uses selected situations as the basis of the teaching programme; eg at a railway station, in a restaurant, in a bank etc.


Reading a text quickly to get the gist.


Normally refers to word stress: English words have one syllable which is invariably stressed, the others being weak or unstressed: below, normally, photographer. Words of three or more syllables may have secondary stress on one of the remaining syllables: photograph, ' responsibility.It may also refer to the greater emphasis of some syllables or words over others in speech. This often carries changes of meanings as in

He went to America (not she) or

He went to America (not Australia)

This is an aspect of sentence stress, or rhythm, and involves different intonation patterns.


The complex set of rules underlying a language, generally the grammar of a language.

Structural Approach

An approach based on the teaching of the different areas of 'grammar' in a language; eg present simple tense, conditionals, adverbs and adjectives etc. A structural syllabus will view the language in terms of linguistic structures,of which there will be grading and sequencing; cf a functional approach.

Structure Words

Words with no lexical content, with a grammatical role in the phrase or sentence; eg 'articles, pronouns, prepositions, modal and auxiliary verbs'. These are sometimes called function words.


A plan of what is to be taught. Most syllabuses now attempt to combine structural and functional approaches. This is reflected in many modern coursebooks.


The branch of grammar concerned with word order as an element in a clause or sentence and the rules governing word order and sentence structure.

Target Language

The items to be learned in a particular lesson or sequence of lessons.


Teaching English as a Second Language. See Introduction to Modulet 1.TESOL Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages. This includes both TEFL and TESL.


Test of English as a Foreign Language. An American examination to test language proficiency; usually necessary in order to gain entry to university in  the United States. A related exam is TOEIC, Test of English for International Communication.


Total Physical Response: an approach developed by J Asher, in which learners are not required to speak until they are ready. This may take days,  weeks or even months. During this period learners listen and acquire language; understanding and comprehension are demonstrated through non-verbal, physical responses.


The influence of a mother tongue habit on the language being learned; can be in pronunciation, word order or use of tenses etc.


A stretch of speech or written language, which may be a single word or a string of sentences. This is generally marked in speech by silence before and after. Also refers to a word or expression that conveys meaning.

WH Questions

Questions starting with one of the question words: Who, What, When, Where, Why, Whose & How.

YES/NO Questions

Questions starting with a modal or auxiliary verb, Does/Are/Will/Could etc.as opposed to open or WH questions starting with a WH word.Sometimes called Polar Questions.

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