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Are you an English teacher neophyte? Listed below are some basic terms and acronyms that are frequently used in the TESOL/ESL/EFL arena.

If you would like to add a term or send a correction to the terms, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

*These terms were heavily pulled from bogglesworld.com, ITESLJ.org, American TESOL Institute, and education.com. Please visit these sites for more English teaching terms and ESL resources!

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Academic Language: Language used in the learning of academic subject matter in formal schooling context; aspects of language strongly associated with literacy and academic achievement, including specific academic terms or technical language, and speech registers related to each field of study.

Academic Language Proficiency: Ability in language skills needed for mastering academic material; pertains to both written and oral language.

Accent: The features of pronunciation which indicate the regional or the social identity of a speaker. Pronunciation habits of the standard language acquired by people from a particular geographic region.

Accreditation: Formal procedures giving students certification after completion of studies, e.g. a certificate, a diploma, or a degree.

Acculturation: The process of adapting to a new culture. This involves understanding different systems of thought, beliefs, emotions, and communication systems. Acculturation is an important concept for understanding SLA, since successful learning is more likely when learners succeed in acculturating.

Accuracy:  Accuracy refers to the ability to produce grammatically correct sentences that are comprehensible. This is often contrasted with fluency.

Accuracy Order: Learners learn and produce the L2 with varying degrees of accuracy at different stages of development, perhaps corresponding to the acquisition order.

Action Research: A research methodology designed to have subjects, in particular teachers, to investigate an element of a particular activity which the aim of determining whether the changes can produce effective and positive improvements, especially student learning.

Active Learning Method: Learning methods that focus on ensure learners play and active role in the process of learning instead of passively receiving information Active control: if the student have the active control of a structure or some vocabulary they can say it , use it , where relevant.A lot of school students leave school with only a passive control of English , as they have had no practice in communicating in English or actively producing any English for themselves. Their English needs to be activated.

Activity Based Learning: A way of learning by doing activities. The rules of language are looked at either after the activity or not at all.

Acquisition: picking up a language through meaningful conversation the way children pick up languages. There is no study of forms and grammar. Acquisition is contrasted to learning a language through conscious study of forms. In Krashen's acquisition-learning hypothesis, acquisition is far superior to learning because it is language that is acquired that is available for fluent, rapid, and natural speech. Acquisition will occur when a learner is exposed to meaningful, comprehensible input.

Acquisition Device: Nativist theories of language acquisition claim that each language learner has an 'acquisition device' which controls the process of acquisition. This device contains information about possible universal grammars.

Acquisiton-Learning Hypothesis:  According to Stephen Krashen, adult second language learners can develop second language learning. One method is learning, a conscious study of the forms of language. The other method is acquisition, or just picking up a language the way children do without conscious attention to forms. Krashen further argues that acquisition is far more beneficial in terms of producing fluent, natural communication in another language.  Krashen also asserts that learning cannot change into acquisition.

Advanced: 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.

Additive Bilingualism: When learning a second language does not interfere with the learning of a first language. Both languages are developed. This can be contrasted to subtractive bilingualism.

Aesthetic Response: An affective or emotional response a person has to material, which is based on the individual's background knowledge, attitudes, and experiences.

Affective: Relating to emotional, non cognitive, aspects of learning.

Affective Domain: The area of learning that includes feelings, attitudes and values. The lowest level of this domain is acquisition of these and the higher end is internalization and action upon them

Affective Feedback: Affective feedback is when teachers (or anybody) display signs about how interested they are in trying to understand the student. These signs come in the form of gestures, facial expressions, and intonations. Positive affective feedback will encourage the learner to continue even if it is clear that the listener cannot fully understand.  Negative affective feedback will stop a learner from speaking entirely and raise their affective filter. Affective feedback can be contrasted with cognitive feedback, where a listener signals whether he or she understands what is being said.

Affective Filter: Process whereby a person learns to adapt to new surroundings through low anxiety and emotional support to incorporate social and cultural ideas and traditions and to become part of the new culture without losing his/her own sense of self worth as he/she gains new social and cultural ideas and traditions.

Affective-Filter Hypothesis:  Krashen argues that comprehensible input is not enough to ensure language acquisition.  Language learners also have to be receptive to that input. When learners are bored, angry, frustrated, nervous, unmotivated or stressed, they may not be receptive to language input and so they 'screen' the input. This screen is referred to as the affective filter.  This suggests that when learners are bored, angry, frustrated, nervous, unmotivated or stressed, they may be unsuccessful at learning a second language. This has very practical implications for language teachers: lower their affective filters. One problem with this hypothesis is the difficulty in determining cause and effect: Are language learners unsuccessful because they are bored, angry, and stressed? Or are language learners bored, angry, and stressed because they are unsuccessful?

Applied Linguistics: Applied linguistics is concerned with using linguistic theory to address real-world problems. It has been traditionally dominated by the fields of language education and second language acquisition. There is a recurrent tension between those who regard the field as limited to the study of language learning, and those who see it as encompassing all applications of linguistic theory.

Approach: A set of principles about teaching including views on method, syllabus, and a philosophy of language and learning. Approaches have theoretical backing with practical applications. The communicative approach has affected language teaching greatly, changing the focus away from structure to meaning and accuracy to fluency. In this approach, a functional syllabus replaces a structural syllabus. In recent years, some authors have combined an emphasis on lexis with the communicative approach to suggest a lexical approach to language learning and teaching.

Aptitude: The specific ability a learner has for learning a second language. This is separate from intelligence.

Aptitude Test: Standardized test designed to assess an individual's potential to acquire and/or develop knowledge or skills.

Assessment: The appraisal and valuation of student learning. Assessment can be an appraisal of the process (or progress) of learning (see formative assessment, or it can be an appraisal of the achievement of learning (see summative assessment). The assessment of learning can include a whole range of skills, qualities, methods and approaches, including peer and self assessment, and its focus is on determining the extent of student learning. In the literature there can be confusion between the terms assessment and evaluation, but a clearer distinction can be made by applying the former to student learning, and the latter to teaching and course effectiveness.

  • Continuous assessment: A type of testing which is different from a final examination. Some or all of the work that students do during a course is part of the final mark
  • Formal assessment: When a teacher judges students’ work through a test and then gives a formal report or grade to students, to say how successful or unsuccessful they have been
  • Formative assessment: When a teacher gives students feedback on their progress during a course, rather than at the end of it so they can learn from the feed back.
  • Informal assessment: When a teacher decides whether a student is doing well or not, or whether a course is successful or not, but without a test or an official report or grade.
  • Peer assessment: When students give feedback on each others' language
  • Self-assessment: When students decide for themselves if they can think their progress or language use is good or not.

Assessment Criteria: The qualities against which a student’s performance is judged for assessment. For example,assessment criteria for judging students’ writing may be: accuracy, use of vocabulary, spelling and punctuation; organization of ideas.

Attention Span: Attention span is the amount of time a person can concentrate on a single activity. The ability to focus one's mental or other efforts on an object is generally considered to be of prime importance to the achievement of goals.

Audio Lingual Approach/ Method (ALM): Language learning is a matter of habit formation. Audiolingualism is based on behaviorism. Error correction is considered important to prevent bad habits. As well, a structural syllabus is used in class. As a result grammatical structures are brought to the forefront with meaning being neglected. Audiolingualism is largely discredited in academic circles, though in some places it is still practiced. Some authors refer to it as an approach and some refer to it as just a method since it lacks a major theoretical foundation.

Auditory Learner: Learns through listening; these students learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder

Aural Learners: Learners who benefit more from left-brained activities. Aural learners learn respond well to oral instruction as opposed to visual instruction. The implication for ESL teaching is that learners have different styles of learning and a teacher should try to accommodate various learning styles. See also: visual learners.

Automatic Processing: When speech is produced with only 'peripheral attention to language forms.' (Taken from H. Douglas Brown, Teaching by Principles).  Automatic processing is necessary for producing fluent speech as language rapidly becomes more complex.


Back Chaining: A form of drilling where the teacher gets students to repeat from the end of a sentence or word, starting with the last word, then the last two words, last three etc. For difficult words treat each syllable separately starting with the last one.

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS): A component of second language proficiency which usually occurs on an informal level that preceedes the more complex skills of cognitive/academic language proficiency occurs. If only an oral assessment of a student’s skills is taken, the student may appear proficient according to BICS. BICS are less abstract and more concrete than the more demanding cognitive/academic language proficiency skills.

Behaviouralism: This is the theoretical view that language learning is a matter of habit formation.  The learner mimics the language they hear, and when they receive some positive feedback, that language becomes a habit.  This view is criticized because it does not explain how a child can acquire something as complex as a language with so little input and feedback.

Behaviorist Learning Theory: This a general theory of learning, developed by B F Skinner. It sees learning as the formation of habits. Environmental factors (input, teacher, classroom, etc.) are seen as more important than the student's mental, internal factors.

Bibliography: A listing of works used and/or considered by an author in the preparation of a work. See example of ESL Glossary bibliography below.

Biculturalism: Near native-like knowledge of two cultures; includes the ability to respond effectively to the different demands of these two cultures.

Bilingual: Possessing knowledge of two languages; typically it refers to a person who can speak and write two languages.

Bilingual Education: Teaching a second language by relying heavily on the native language of the speaker. The theory is that maintaining a strong sense of one's one culture and language is necessary to acquire another language and culture.

Blended Learning: An increasingly popular combination of online and in-person, classroom learning activities. Blended learning is the combination of multiple approaches to teaching or to educational processeswhich involve the deployment of a diversity of methods and resources or to learning experiences which are derived from more than one kind of information source. Examples include combining technology-based materials and traditional print materials, group and individual study, structured pace study and self-paced study, tutorial and coaching.

Body Language: Body language is a broad term for several forms of communication using body movements or gestures, instead of, or as a complement to, sounds, verbal language, or other forms of communication. In turn, it is one category of para-language, which describes all forms of human communication that are not language.

Bottom-up: Language a that proceeds from the most basic blocks of language, such as words, and then proceeding to more complex structures, and finally to meaning. This can be contrasted to top-down learning where students try to understand the general message without understanding all of the constituent parts. Listening for exact phrases and words would be considered a bottom-up listening activity, whereas listening for the gist would be considered a top-down activity. Also, studying individual grammatical structures or sentence structures would be bottom-up.

Brainstorming: Typically used in writing, but is any activity where individuals general ideas related to a topic or task; done in either groups or individually with no restriction on quality of ideas. Once ideas are generation, they are they evaluated and a decision about which to pursue is made.


Caretaker Talk: People who interact with young children often intuitively modify their language. Adults choose simpler sentences and vocabulary, repeat themselves, and paraphrase what children say. This simplified (modified) input is thought to help with language acquisition, though children may receive it from a variety of sources, including older siblings.

Case Study: An in-depth study of one individual or situation. The data in such a study may be recorded in field notes, typically a chronological account of both formal and informal observations. These notes are summarized and usually analyzed using some form of coding that identifies important trends and relationships in the data.

Cambridge Proficiency Examination (CPE): The Certificate of Proficiency in English or CPE (as it is usually referred to) is the most advanced general English exam provided by University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations. The English level of those who have passed the CPE is supposed to be similar to that of a fairly educated native speaker of English. This certificate ranks the highest among the other general Cambridge certificates (CAE, FCE).

CELTA: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults. This accreditation is comparable to a TEFL certificate. It is offered by the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (UCLES). Generally, it has a good reputation  This course is usually offered on a part-time basis over several months or a full-time basis over four weeks. For more information visit the Cambridge Website

CELTYL: Certificate in English Language Teaching to Young Learners (the YL extension designating Young Learners). For more information visit the Cambridge Website.

Choral Reading: Sometimes referred to as unison reading. The whole class reads the same text aloud. Usually the teacher sets the pace. Choral reading helps with the ability to read sight words and builds fluency.

Collaborative Learning: when learners work in groups on the same task simultaneously, thinking together over demands and tackling complexities. Collaboration is here seen as the act of shared creation and/or discovery. Within the context of electronic communication, collaborative learning can take place without members being physically in the same location.

Cloze: An instructional tool which asks a student to complete a sentence or phrase by filling in a word or set of words in a text.

Cognition: High level functions carried out by the human brain, including comprehension and use of speech, visual perception and construction, calculation ability, attention (information processing), memory, and executive functions such as planning, problem-solving, and self-monitoring.

Communicative Language Teaching (CLT): or the communicative approach, is an approach to language teaching that emphasizes interaction as both the means and the ultimate goal of study.

Community Language Learning (CLL): CLL is an approach in which students work together to develop what aspects of a language they would like to learn. The teacher acts as a counselor and a paraphraser, while the learner acts as a collaborator, although sometimes this role can be changed.

Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA): Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (CALLA) is a unique method for training teachers that focuses on curriculum development, lesson planning, and teaching. CALLA employs strategies for direct instruction of learning strategies and for teaching language through education content. There are three main categories of language strategies instruction: (1) thinking about and/or preparing for learning, (2) reshaping materials for learning, and (3) working with others or asking for help to learn.

Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP): Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is a level of language proficiency that facilitate academic and more abstract dialogue. Professor Cummins, of the University of Ontario, developed two main categories of interpersonal communication skills: Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills, which refers to day-to-day language skills, and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency. According to his research, it usually takes language learners 3-7 years to develop CALP.

Cognition Learning Method: Learning models based on the theory that acquisition of new knowledge and skills rests on the existence and development of mental cognitive structure.

Cognitivism: Cognitivism is a theory of learning. The idea of cognitivism is that learning is a conscious, rational process. People learn by making models, maps and frameworks in their mind. Cognitivism is the opposite of behavioralism.

Cognitive Feedback: Cognitive feedback is when teachers (or anybody) display signs that they understand what a learner is trying to communicate. Essentially, the listener is signaling, "I understand." or "I don't understand." Positive cognitive feedback sometimes has a negative consequence:  Learners make mistakes, but because they are understood, they don't change their language habits.  This can result in fossilization of errors.  Therefore, some error correction may be necessary, but too much will lower self-esteem and raise learners' affective filters. There are no hard rules, but teachers will eventually develop intuition on when correction is necessary. Cognitive feedback can be contrasted with affective feedback, where a listener (teacher) signals the extent that the want to listen.

Communicative Approach: A set of principles about teaching including recommendations about method and syllabus  where the focus is on meaningful communication not structure, use not usage. In this approach, students are given tasks to accomplish using language, instead of studying the language. The syllabus is based primarily on functional development (asking permission, asking directions, etc.), not structural development (past tense, conditionals, etc.). In essence, a functional syllabus replaces a structural syllabus. There is also less emphasis on error correction as fluency and communication become more important than accuracy As well, authentic and meaningful language input becomes more important. The class becomes more student-centered as students accomplish their tasks with other students, while the teacher plays more of an observer role.

Comprehensible Input: A hypothesis that learners will acquire language best when they are given the appropriate input.  The input should be easy enough that they can understand it, but just beyond their level of competence. If the learner is at level i, then input should come at level i+1. Comprehensible input is an essential component in Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis, where regulated input will lead to acquisition so long as the input is challenging, yet easy enough to understand without conscious effort at learning.

Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL): Call is an acronym for Computer Assisted Language Learning: the use of computers, software, and the internet for language learning.

Comprehensive Adult Student Assessment System (CASAS): A list of life-skill competencies.

Computer Marker Assignments (CMAs): Assignments that are evaluated and assessed by use of a computer; typical examples are standardize placement tests.

Concordance: Concordances are a bodies of authentic language samples from a wide variety of sources arranged in such a way on a page that a key word or phrase is highlighted many times so that the word or phrase and the surrounding context are able to be linguistically analyzed. One problem with this hypothesis is that i and i+1 are impossible to identify, though arguably teachers can develop an intuition for appropriate input. That is, teachers develop an intuition of how to speak to be understood.

Constructivism: As applied to learning and teaching, constructivism suggests that we learn by actively engaging in making our own meanings. Importantly, when students come into class, they are not blank slates, but have an already existing world-view, consisting of sets of values, ideas, and knowledge shaped by previous experience and learning. New learning will occur when active connections with this pre-existing world-view can occur. For this reason, it is important for the teacher to have a good sense of where the students currently stand in relation to what is being taught. Because of its emphasis on active learning, constructivism forms an underlying principle of student-centred learning.

Content Based Instruction (CBI) English as a Second Language: Content-based English as a Second Language is an approach to second-language learning that employs instructional materials, learning tasks, and classroom techniques to build the students.

Content-Centered Education: Teaching language through content in areas such as math, science, and social studies.  Language is no longer the main focus, but instead language is picked up while focusing on other regular content. This type of teaching is especially popular in ESL settings.

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

Contrastive Analysis Hypothesis: According to this hypothesis, L2 errors are the result of differences between the learner's first language and the target language, and these differences can be used to identify or predict errors that will occur.

Critical Period Hypothesis: The hypothesis that if somebody does not acquire a first language before a certain time (around puberty), they will lose the ability to acquire language. There are two versions of this hypothesis: The strong version states that language acquisition will be impossible after this point has been reached. The weak version states that acquisition will be difficult after this period has been reached.

Culture: The sum total of the ways of life of a people; includes norms, learned behavior patterns, attitudes, and artifacts; also involves traditions, habits or customs; how people behave, feel and interact; the means by which they order and interpret the world; ways of perceiving, relating and interpreting events based on established social norms; a system of standards for perceiving, believing, evaluating.

Curriculum: In education, a curriculum (plural curricula) is the set of courses and their contents offered by an institution such as a school or university. In some cases, a curriculum may be partially or entirely determined by an external body (such as the National Curriculum for England in English schools). In the US, the basic curriculum is established by each state with the individual school districts adjusting it to their desires


Designer Methods: One of many highly idiosyncratic methods that were developed in the 70s. See for example, suggestopedia, the silent way, or TPR.

Direct Method: A method of language learning associated with Francois Gouin and Charles Berlitz. Second language learning  should model first language learning in that it should be learned 'directly'; grammar is taught inductively with no explanations, the learner's first language is not used in the class, and new vocabulary is introduced by demonstration. This method came about as a much needed replacement for the grammar-translation method (classical method) in the late 1800s. It faded in the early 1900s as it was not practical in classroom settings, and then saw a comeback under the name of the audiolingual method after World War II.

Deductive Learning: An approach to learning in which students are fist taught the rules and given all the information they need about the language , they use these rules in language activities.

Deep Learning: Deep learning is typified as an intention to understand and seek meaning, leading students to attempt to relate concepts to existing experience, distinguishing between new ideas and existing knowledge, and critically evaluating and determining key themes and concepts.

Definition: A statement that describes a concept and permits its differentiation from other concepts.

Deep End Strategy: In a deep end strategy, new language input is provided within a context that includes other language structures.

DELTA: Diploma in English Language Teaching to Adults (UCLES).

DELTYL: Diploma in English Language Teaching to Young Learners (UCLES).

Dependency Grammar: Dependency grammar (DG) is a class of syntactic theories separate from generative grammar. Structure is determined by the relation between a word (a head) and its dependents. One difference from phrase structure grammar is that dependency grammar does not have phrasal categories. Algebraic syntax, Link grammar and Extensible Dependency Grammar are types of dependency grammar.

Descriptors:A word or a group of words used as a subject to describe the content in books, articles, and other materials for the purpose of indexing or organizing these items by topic. As an important element of effective research, descriptors are needed to determine the correct headings for a specific database or catalog.

Developmental Error: An error in learner language which does no result from transfer from the first language, but which reflects the learner's gradual discovery of the second language system.

Diagnostic Evaluation: Diagnostic Evaluation occur before or, more typically, during instruction, concerned with skills and other characteristics that are prerequisite to the current instruction, used to establish underlying causes for a student failing to learn a skill, try to anticipate conditions that will negatively affect learning, measures performance in skills not typically taught in the present classroom setting, based mostly on informal assessments, sometimes formal assessments and standardized tests are used.

Diagnostic Teaching: The use of the results of student performance on current tasks to plan future learning activities; instruction in which diagnosis and instruction are fused into a single ongoing process.

Diagnostic Test: Examination used to determine students current level of knowledge or skill to identify what course level they should be placed in or whether remediation is required.

Dialect: Regional form of a language. Over long periods of time, dialects can grow into distinct languages. Languages vary by geographical region, social class, educational level, and even individual speaker. The term dialect designates a definable regional variant: more loosely, it is often used for social and other variations as well. Theoretically, speakers of different dialects of the same language can understand each other

Dialogue Drill: Dialogue drill is an outgrowth of the audio-lingual method. It is used to develop speaking skills and pronunciation accuracy. The Dialogue places language structures in a context. The Drills emphasize the teacher as a model that students mimic in order to practice grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

Diction: Diction is the art of enunciating with clarity, of speaking in such a way that each word is clearly heard. It is concerned with pronunciation and enunciation. Diction is also concerned with the choice of words to be used. It is from this definition of diction that we derive the word dictionary.

Diphthong: A vowel sound produced by two adjacent vowels in the same syllable whose sounds blend together (ie, oy, ow).

Dip. TESAL: Diploma in the Teaching of English to Speakers of Asian Languages (Trinity College London).

Dip. TESOL: Diploma in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages(Trinity College London).

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.

Directionality: Learning that letters in a word, sentence or paragraph flow in the same direction. In English, the direction is always from left to right, with a “reverse sweep” at the end of the line back to the beginning of the line underneath. Other languages have different directionality – Arabic, for example, flows from right to left.

Discourse: Discourse is a form of two-way communication aimed at understanding each other's position. Arguments are examined for validity, according to set rules and without regard to person or status, with a view to shared decision-making.

Dissertation: Substantial academic paper written on an original topic of research, usually presented as one of the final requirements for the doctorate.

Distance Education:A formal learning activity which occurs when students and instructor are separated by geographic distance or by time, often supported by communications technology such as television, videotape, computers, email, mail, or interactive videoconferencing. Also referred to as Distance Learning or E-Learning (if learned on the internet).

Divergent Assessment: Assessment based on emphasizing the ability of the student to develop additional skills than those specified in a clearly defined task; opposed to convergent assessment.

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

Dual Mode Delivery: Education or training that can be provided either in a face-to-face format or in a distance education format. 


EAP: English for Academic Purposes. This branch of ESL/EFL includes teaching students how to write formally, give presentations at conferences, and read academic works.

Eco Correction: When a student makes a mistake, the teacher repeats the mistake with rising intonation so that students can correct themselves.

Eclectic approach: The Eclectic approach combines the techniques of several different approaches. For example, many courses have elements from the Functional approach, the Communicative approach, the structural-situational approach, a skills approach, and so on.

EFL: English as a Foreign Language. Originally this term referred to non-native speakers who are learning English language in a non-native English environment, for example, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese learning English in Korea, China, and Japan. This can be contrasted to ESL. However, now ESL has become a standard term to mean learning English by a non-native speaker regardless of the environment. Also, EFL is used more in Europe, whereas ESL is used more in Asia and North America.

ELL: English Language Learner

ELT: English Language Teaching/Training

ELP: English language proficient

Error Correction: An important issue for ESL teachers is when and how to correct the errors of language learners. Some researchers feel there is no need to correct errors at all, as errors will auto correct. However,  some researchers think that error correction is necessary. Among those who think it is necessary, there are those who say 'get it right from the beginning' to those who only care if they 'get it right in the end.' Different classroom theories  propose different solutions for error correction. 

ESL: English as a second language. Originally this term referred to non-native speakers who are learning English language in an English language environment, for example, immigrants to the U.K., Canada, or the U.S. This can be contrasted to EFL. However, now it has become a standard term to mean learning English by a non-native speaker regardless of the environment.

ESL/E2: English as a Second Language.The field of English as a second language; courses, classes and/or programs designed for students learning English as an additional language

ESOL: English for Speakers of Other Languages.

ESP: English for Specific Purposes. This includes English for scientists, English for academic purposes, English for doctors/health care workers, tourism English, and English for international conferences.

EST: English for Science and Technology

Extrinisic Motivation: Motivation through rewards such as points, candies, compliments, money, test scores, or grades. These rewards are externally administered and may inhibit learning in the long run, although seeming to be effective in the short run. One problem is that they are addictive. Researchers generally agree that intrinsic motivation is better for long-term learning. (For example, review Teaching by Principles by H. Douglas Brown).


FLT = Foreign Language Teaching

FEP = Fluent English Proficient (or Proficiency)

FES = Fluent English Speaker

Fluency:  Fluency refers to the ability to produce rapid, flowing, natural speech, but not necessarily grammatically correct speech. This is often contrasted with accuracy.

Fossilization:  When an error becomes a habit of speech in a second language learner.  This happens especially when the error does not interfere with communication, and hence, the speaker does not get corrective feedback.

Functional English:  Teaching English according to the function it used for, as opposed to its grammatical complexity. For example, a lesson based on functional English might group together the phrases:

Why don't you . . .?

I think you should . . .

If I were you, I would . . .

All of these phrases, have differing grammatical complexity, but serve the same function of giving advice. Other common functions include: asking for advice, asking for directions, offering help, telling stories, talking about the past, talking about obligations.

Functional Syllabus: Language programs with functions being the primary organizing feature. The course content is based on functions not grammatical structures. A typical unit might be Giving Advice.


Grammar Translation Method (GTM): The method focuses on translating grammatical forms, memorizing vocabulary, learning rules, and studying conjugations. Its focus is on accuracy and not fluency. Emphasis is on form and not on meaning. Paragraphs are dissected for form.



Innatism: This is the theoretical view that children have an innate knowledge of the structures of language. Children are born with a knowledge of Universal Grammar (or as called by Krashen a  language acquisition device) that gives them access to the universal principles of human language.  It is because of this innate knowledge that children can learn a complex language with relatively little input. Innatism can be contrasted with interactionism, a theory where meaningful interaction along with innate knowledge combine to make language acquisition possible.

Input Hypothesis:  According to Stephen Krashen the only way we can acquire language is by receiving comprehensible input. That is, we have to receive input that is just beyond our competence but not beyond our understanding. However, this hypothesis was later modified so that comprehensible input was a necessary but not sufficient condition for acquisition.  Learners have to also have the right environment and circumstances to allow comprehensible input to work. A learner's affective filter has to be low; they have to be free of stress and motivated.

Instrumental motivation: Wanting to learn a language for the purpose of obtaining some concrete goals such as a job, graduation, or the ability to read academic materials. This form of motivation is thought to be less likely to lead to success than integrative motivation.

IEP = Intensive English program

Interactionism: This is the theoretical view that children have some innate knowledge of the structures of language but also require meaningful interaction with others to acquire language structures. In the end, those structures which get acquired are exactly those that were able to convey meaning. This theory suggests that student-centered methods are important as they give more opportunity to interact.

Interlanguage: In the process of acquiring a second language, a language learner may acquire forms of language that are in between their first language and their target language.  This can happen when, for example, they incorrectly apply rules of their native language to the target language, or they have not completely learned the full extent or limitations of a rule's use and so misapply it systematically.

Integrative Motivation: When students want to learn a language to become part of a speech community (integrate). People who immigrate to new countries are some examples of people who may want to identify with the community around them. An important aspect of this form of language learning is using language for social interaction. This form of motivation is thought to produce success in language learners. This is often compared to instrumental motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation: Motivation in learning that comes from a sense of empowerment in being able to do something. Doing something for the sake of doing it without thought of rewards such as praise, grades,  candy, or money.  Intrinsic motivation can be contrasted with extrinsic motivation where the learner performs a task in order to receive some kind of reward.

IPA = International Phonetic Alphabet (or Association)


Just listen: This is  a theoretical view to language teaching in the classroom, where learners are not required to produce language.  Instead, they just read and listen.  Given enough comprehensible input, language will be acquired and there is no need for error correction or formal instruction at all. The practical implication of this view is that a teacher's job is to find interesting sources of linguistic input for students. This view is controversial, however.



L1: L1 is an abbreviation for first language, or mother tongue. Sometimes it is used to refer to speakers who are speaking their mother tongue. Often contrasted with L2.

L2: L2 is an abbreviation for second language, or a language that is not the mother tongue. Sometimes, it is used to refer to speakers who are speaking a second language. Often contrasted with L1.

Learner-Centered/ Student-Centered: Language activities, techniques, methods where the students/learners are the focus and the teacher plays only a periphereal role. Students are allowed some control over the activity or some input into the curriculum. These activities encourage student creativity. Group work is one kind of student-centered activity. Having students design their own test is another learner-centered activity.  Individual styles and needs of the learners are taken into account.  Learner-centered education is thought to be intrinsically motivating and thus beneficial. This can be contrasted to teacher-centered learning.

Learning: This term presents some confusion because it has different uses in the ESL profession. One meaning is just development or gaining competence in area.The other meaning is much more specific: In Krashen's acquisition-learning hypothesis, learning involves a conscious study of the form of language. According to Krashen, learning will not lead to rapid, fluent, natural speech.

Learning by teaching: Learning by teaching is a method created by Jean-Pol Martin which is popular in Germany. The students take the teacher's role and teach their peers.

Lexical Approach: An approach to teaching languages that has a lot in common with the communicative approach, but also examines how lexical phrases, prefabricated chunks of language, play an important role in producing fluent speech. The lexical approach was first coined by Michael Lewis. The fundamental principle of the lexical approach is "language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar." What this means is that lexical phrases offer far more language generative power than grammatical structures. Accordingly, advocates of this kind of approach argue that lexis should move to the center of language syllabuses. Justification for this theory comes from statistical analysis of language which shows that we do indeed speak in chunks and collocations.

Lexis: A word in all its various relationships with other words. See also lexical phrases.

Limited Bilingualism: When a learner acquires conversational proficiency in both languages but does not attain native-like proficiency in either language.

LEP = Limited English Proficiency (or Proficient)

LL = Language Lab

LES = Limited English Speaker

LMS = Language Minority Student

LSP = Languages for Special Purposes


Method: How a language is taught, as opposed to the syllabus, which is what language is taught. Method is made up of a set of techniques that usually reflect a certain view of language teaching.

MLAT = The Modern Language Aptitude Test

Monitor Hypothesis:  According to Krashen's acquisition-learning hypothesis, there are two ways to approach language learning: acquisition and learning. Acquisition helps us produce natural, rapid, and fluent speech.  Learning, which is a conscious study of form, helps us edit this speech. In other words, when we learn something it won't help us produce fluent communication, but it will help us monitor our communication and correct minor errors.  However, in order for a learned system to be effective as a monitor, a learner must have sufficient time, and knowledge of the rules.

Monitor Model: A model of second language acquisition/learning developed by Krashen and based on several hypothesis: the acquisition-learning hypothesis, monitor hypothesis, input hypothesis, natural order hypothesis, and affective filter hypothesis. Essentially, adults have two ways to internalize a language. One is through a conscious effort called learning and the other is through a subconscious effort called acquisition. Fluency is a result of language acquisition, not any conscious effort to learn. Learning is only useful to 'monitor' our output and make some corrections. But because this is a only a minor benefit, acquisition is far more important to learning. Language acquisition will occur if comprehensible input is given to a learner and their affective filter is down. One controversial assertion of this model is that learning and acquisition are mutually exclusive; learning cannot become acquisition over time.


Natural Order Hypothesis:  This hypothesis states that there is a natural predetermined order in which we can acquire language. Evidence for this hypothesis comes from studies of grammatical morphemes. In these studies, students tend to acquire morphemes in about the same order.

NEP = Non English Proficient (or Proficiency)

NNS = Non-Native Speaker

NS = Native Speaker




Realia: Props or other physical items which are used to increase the realism of role-plays.  Some examples include, using fake money, menus, advertisements or costumes.


SLA = Second Language Acquisition

Sheltered Instruction: Using simplified English in a classroom for students who don't speak English as a first language.  Students do not specifically study English but receive content based instruction (such as math, science, or social studies) in simplified English. The language input from the teacher and textbooks is simplified to make it accessible to these students. There is some controversy about how long a student should remain in sheltered instruction.

Silent Way: A designer method whereby the teacher remains mostly silent to encourage students to solve their own problems. Originated by Caleb Gattegno in the 70s, this method was meant to fascillitate learning through discovery. Students were given cuisenaire rods and used these colored rods to figure out the patterns of language based on a few examples given by the teacher. However, The language taught is structural. And hence, the main criticism is that it lacks meaningful communication.  As well, it is difficult to do beyond the simplest early stages of language. But on the other hand, learning language through problem solving remained a valuable technique in later task-based language teaching.

Skimming: A top-down reading activity where a learner quickly reads some material to find the gist of the material.

Structural Syllabus: A syllabus in which grammatical structures form the central organizing feature. A structural syllabus proceeds from simple grammatical structure to more complex grammatical structure. An example might be something like: Present progressive -> Comparatives -> Simple past -> Past progressive. The main faults of structural syllabuses is that they tend to ignore meaning and a lot of really useful language is neglected at the beginning because it is viewed as structurally too complex (If I were you, I would). Structural syllabuses can be contrasted to functional syllabuses, which are organized according to the functions that language has (greeting, asking advice, disagreeing).

STT and TTT: Teacher Talking Time. The trend in ESL/EFL pedagogy has been to limit the amount of time that the teacher is talking and increase STT (Student Talking Time). TTT is often associated with a teacher-centered classroom and STT with a student-centered classroom.

Student-Centered, Learner-Centered: Language activities, techniques, methods where the students/learners are the focus and the teacher plays only a periphereal role. Students are allowed some control over the activity or some input into the curriculum. These activities encourage student creativity. Group work is one kind of student-centered activity. Having students design their own test is another learner-centered activity.  Individual styles and needs of the learners are taken into account.  Learner-centered education is thought to be intrinsically motivating and thus beneficial. This can be contrasted to teacher-centered learning.

Subtractive Bilingualism: When learning a second language interferes with the learning of a first language. The second language replaces the first language. This is commonly found in children who emigrate to a foreign country when they are young, especially in cases of orphans who are deprived of their first language input.  This can be contrasted to additive bilingualism.

Syllabus: A syllabus in the content of a language program and how it is organized. This can be contrasted to method, which is how a language program is taught.  Structural syllabuses and functional syllabuses are two different ways of organizing language material.


Task: An activity (or  technique) where students are urged to accomplish something or solve some problem using their language. Preferably, this activity is open ended; there is no set way to accomplish their goal.

Task-Based Learning: Teaching/learning a language by using language to accomplish open-ended tasks. Learners are given a problem or objective to accomplish, but are left with some freedom in approaching this problem or objective.

Teacher-Centered: Methods, activities, and techniques where the teacher decides what is to be learned, what is to be tested, and how the class is to be run.  Often the teacher is in the center of the classroom giving instruction with little input from students. The teacher decides the goals of the class based on some outside criteria.

Teacher Talk: The time when the teacher is speaking. H. Douglas Brown, in Teaching by Principles, recommends that teachers articulate their language, slow it down, use simpler vocabulary, and speak in structures just above the student's level. He warns against speaking loudly as the students have no problems hearing. Some authors think that teacher talk outside of discussing the lesson material may be the most effective input a teacher can give, as it is the most authentic and meaningful exchange between student and teacher.

TEP = Transitional English Proficiency

TESL: Teaching English as a Second Language.

TESOL,TESL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages or Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

TOEIC: Test of English for International Communication. A standardized test that is used to prove proficiency in English. The test is given several times a year on preannounced dates. This test has become a worldwide standard. However, in recent year, country specific organizations are gaining acceptance (TEPS in Korea for example).

TOEFL: Test of English as a Foreign Language. TOEFL is supposed to test English proficiency for international students who want to study abroad. Many academic programs require a high TOEFL score to be admitted. For more information visit the TOEFL organization homepage. TOEFL has come under criticism as being an inaccurate test of English communicative ability.

TL = Target Language

Top-Down: Studying language as a whole. Trying to understand the meaning of a reading or listening selection without worrying about the individual components of language. Listening for the gist and reading for the gist are two types of top-down activities. The learner is trying to understand using cues such as intonation, tone of voice or body language without focusing on specific words and structures. Top-down learning is thought to be important for producing automatic processing. Top-down techniques can be contrasted with bottom-up techniques.

Total Physical Response (TPR): A teaching technique whereby a learner (usually young learner) responds to language input with body motions. This could be, for example, the acting out a chant. This technique was devised by James Asher who noted that children listen and respond with gestures before they speak.  One benefit is that TPR allows for low anxiety learning since students don't have the stress of producing language. 'Robot' is an example of a TPR activity, where the teacher commands her robots to do some task in the classroom. Acting out stories and giving imperative commands are common TPR activities. Great for early stages but difficult to teach complex language.

TTT and STT: Teacher Talking Time. The trend in ESL/EFL pedagogy has been to limit the amount of time that the teacher is talking and increase STT (Student Talking Time). TTT is often associated with a teacher-centered classroom and STT with a student-centered classroom.


Universal Grammar: This is an innatist view that all people are born with some knowledge of language.  Linguists use this hypothesis to explain how it is we can acquire a language with a 'poverty of stimulus' or not enough input to account for the complexity of output. One example of a kind of principle proposed by universal grammar theorists is the innate parameter.  Essentially, we are born with parameters of language and minimal instances of input will allow us to figure out how to set the parameters for our own language (keep in mind this is a subconscious process). Evidence for this is found in the head-first or head-last parameter of language, which has been uncovered: In English, phrases are head-first: that means that a noun is at the head of a noun phrase, a preposition is at the head of a prepositional phrase, and verb is at the head of a verb phrase. Our innate parameter is such that if one of these phrases is head-first, they all will be. And hence a few utterances whereby a child understands that a preposition heads a prepositional phrase will allow the child to correctly construct other phrases too. In Korean and Japanese, prepositional phrases are head-last and accordingly, so are the other phrases.  This will resonate well with any English speaker who has studied Japanese or Korean and discovered that everything seems to be backwards. The Innatists claim that this is an example of the parameter having been set differently.

Use and Usage: Use is how the language is used in communication, or the function of language. This can be contrasted with usage, which is the grammatical explanation of some language.

Have you ever . . .

Have you ever eaten fried snake?

Use: To inquire about past experiences.

Usage: A present perfect question with ever placed in front of the past participle.

Although usage does have some part to play in adult education, use is more important. In meaningful communication, students are more concerned with the function of language.


VESL: Vocational English as a Second Language; Learning English to perform a job. Some examples include tourism English and business English.

Visual Learners: Learners who benefit more from right-brained activities. Visual learners learn best when they see as opposed to aural learners. The implication for ESL teaching is that visual stimulation accompanying lessons may have some benefit for some students.






ESL Glossary

TESL Acronyms


American TESOL Institute Glossary

Northern Virginia Dynamic English. Copyright 2011 NVDE Private Policy.

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