Glossary for ESL/EFL Teaching

ESL EFL terminologyGlossary of terms relevant to the English teaching profession. This glossary includes terms related to English, ESL, EFL ,TESOL, TEFL, and pedagogy.


The ability to produce grammatically correct sentences. Fluency is an other term often associated with accuracy. It refers to  the ability to produce  language appropriately, effortlessly, and efficiently without necessarily paying too much attention on accuracy.


Acquisition is the natural way, paralleling first language development in children. It refers to an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency. According to Krashen acquisition is possible only when acquirers are exposed to comprehensible input. Acquisition is contrasted with learning which is a conscious internalization of the rules of a language.

Acquisition learning hypothesis

According to Stephen Krashen there is a distinction between acquisition and learning. Acquisition is an unconscious process that involves the naturalistic development of language proficiency while learning is the conscious internalization of the rules of language. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of language and the ability to verbalize this knowledge. Learning according to Krashen can not lead to acquisition.

Affective filter

A high affective filter occurs when learners are highly anxious, have lo self esteem or are demotivated. A class with a highly stressful environment is unlikely to be successful in language learning.

Affective filter hypothesis

Stephen Krashen sees the learners emotional state or attitudes as adjustable filter that freely passes, impedes or blocks input necessary to language acquisition. A low affective filter is desirable since it impedes or blocks less of this necessary input. According to the theory there are three types of affective or attitudinal variables related to language acquisition.

  1. motivation,
  2. self esteem and
  3. anxiety

The Low Affective Filter states that acquirers with low affective filter seek and receive more input and interact with confidence.

Audiolingual Method

The audiolingual method assumes that language learning is a matter of habit formation. Audiolingualism is based on behaviorism. Errors are banned and must be corrected to prevent bad habits. A structural syllabus based on drills is used in class. The method also focuses on grammatical structures and neglects meaning.


This is a theory which contends that learning results from habit formation and conditioning. In other words, language become a habit when learners repeat language correctly they receive some positive feedback. This theory was criticized because it does not account for the child’s ability to learn an unlimited set of sentences that he/she has never heard before.

Bottom up

Language learning that takes minimal language elements such as letters, words and sentences  as a starting point to learn more complex language. In a bottom-up approach the individual base elements of language are first specified in great detail. These elements are then linked together to form larger subsystems, which then in turn are linked, sometimes in many levels, until a complete top-level system is formed.

Community Language learning

CLL differs from other methods by which languages are taught. It’s based on an approach  modeled on counseling techniques that alleviate anxiety, threat and the personal and language problems a person encounters in the learning of foreign languages. The method was originally developed by Charles Curran who was inspired by Carl Rogers view of education.

Content Based Instruction

Content based instruction (CBI) is a teaching approach that focuses on learning language through learning about something. Although CBI is not new, there has been an increased interest in it because  it has proven very effective in ESL and EFL  programs around the world.


Lexical phrases/collocations .  Words that commonly occur together in fixed phrases. Examples of these chunks are “by the way, upside down, community service, absolutely convinced…”Chunks are primary components in the lexical approach.

Direct Method:

The Direct Method, also called Natural Method, was established in Germany and France around 1900. It appeared as an answer to the shortcomings of the Grammar Translation Method. It is a method for teaching foreign languages that uses the target language, discarding any use of mother tongue in the classroom.


English for Academic Purposes.


English as a Foreign Language.This refers to non-native speakers who are learning English language in a non-native English environment.


English as a Second Language.  This refers to non-native speakers who are learning English in an English language environment.

Extrinsic motivation

Motivation that comes from the outside. It involves motivating students through rewards or punishment. Many educators have objections to this kind of motivation as it serves only short term objectives.


English for Speakers of Other Languages


English for Specific Purposes. For example: English for scientists, English for academic purposes, English for doctors/health care workers …

Functional Syllabus

Language programs which describes language as being primarily based on two kinds of meanings:

  • Notional categories: concepts such as time, sequence; quantity, location, frequency.
  • Functional categories: requests offers, complaints, invitation …

A “notion” is a particular context in which people communicate. A “function” is a specific purpose for a speaker in a given context. For example, the “notion,” of shopping requires numerous language “functions,” such as asking about prices or features of a product and bargaining.

Grammar Translation Method

The Grammar Translation Method is an old method which was originally used to teach dead languages which explains  why it focuses mainly on the written form at the expense of the oral form.

Input hypothesis

According to Stephen Krashen language is acquired when we get a comprehensible input that is just beyond our competence. This is one of the basic principles of the Natural Approach.

Instrumental motivation

Learning a language for a concrete purpose like getting a job, university requirement, graduation…

Intrinsic motivation

Intrinsic motivation occurs when people are internally motivated to do something. Intrinsically motivated learners find a certain pleasure in learning or  think it is important. They may feel that what they are learning is important for them.

Learner centered

The students/learners are the primary focus. The teacher plays only a secondary role.


Learning is the conscious internalization of the rules of language. It results in explicit knowledge about the forms of language and the ability to verbalize this knowledge. Learning according to Stephen Krashen can not lead to acquisition.

Lexical approach

First coined by Michael Lewis, the fundamental principle of the lexical approach is “language consists of grammaticalized lexis, not lexicalized grammar.” The lexical approach has a lot in common with the communicative approach. It highlights how lexical phrases, prefabricated chunks of language, play an important role in producing fluent speech. Justification for this theory comes from statistical analysis of language which shows that we do indeed speak in chunks and collocations.

Monitor hypothesis

Learning,according to krashen is a conscious study of form. It is responsible for monitoring our communication and correct minor errors but it will not help much in producing fluent communication. In order for a learned system to be effective as a monitor, a learner must have sufficient time, and knowledge of the rules.

Natural Order Hypothesis

This hypothesis states that there is a natural pre-determined order in which we can acquire language.

Silent Way

The Silent Way is a 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 facilitate learning through discovery.

Situational Language Teaching

The Oral Approach or Situational Language Teaching is  an approach developed by British applied linguists in the 1930s to the 1960s. It is little known by many language teachers although it had an impact on language courses. It presents a structural syllabus based on a behavioristic theory of learning.

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.


Suggestopedia is a language teaching method developed by the Bulgarian psychologist, Georgi Lozanov (see picture on the right.) Like Community Language Learning and the Silent Way Method, Suggestopedia is an innovative method that promises great effective language learning results. Lozanov claimed that by using this method one can teach languages approximately three to five times as quickly as conventional methods.

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.


Teaching English as a Second Language.


Teaching English for Speakers of Other languages Or Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.


Test of English for International Communication. A standardized test that is used to prove proficiency in English.


Test of English as a Foreign Language. TOEFL is supposed to test English proficiency for international students who want to study abroad.

Top down

a holistic approach to language teaching. It refers to studying language as a whole.

Total Physical Response

Total Physical Response is a language teaching method which is based on the assumption that the coordination of speech and action will boost language learning. It was developed by  James Asher in the 70s He drew from a variety of areas,  including psychology, learning theory and humanistic pedagogy.


Teacher Talking Time / Teacher Talking Ratio.


student Talking Time / Student Talking Ratio.


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.

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