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Concourse 2

Methodology: an abbreviated and exemplified glossary


Methodology: a way of getting from here to there

Methodology does not only concern how something is done, it also encompasses the principles on which practice is based.

Four guides on this site concern the fundamentals of methodology in English Language teaching:

What is methodology? this is the basic guide which explains what counts as a methodology and what constitutes one.
Methodology essentials this is a guide to three important sets of teaching methodologies.
The in-service methodology glossary this is a much longer glossary containing terms you probably do not yet need.  It is not exemplified but contains links to guides on this site.
Glossaries index here you will find a list of all the glossaries on this site with some idea of what they contain.
Methodology refined this is an in-service guide which is more sophisticated but may be of interest.
History of ELT this guide reviews the ways in which methodologies in English Language Teaching have developed over the years.
Some alternative methodologies this is a guide to some popular but less mainstream approaches to language teaching which have some of the characteristics of methodologies.

Guides also have lists of related topics at the end to which you can refer for more detail.  The following does not add to any of the above.

This is intended as a glossary of the most important concepts concerning English Language Teaching methodology and background concepts which you are likely to encounter on an initial training course in English Language Teaching and give you examples of each area.
A shorter version of this forms part of A Candidate's Guide to CELTA which is available free on this site from this link.

Items in black bold are cross referenced
Term Gloss Example
Acceptability A judgement concerning the appropriateness or accuracy of a language item If a learner produces
He go tomorrow, yes?
it would be unacceptable in terms of accuracy of grammar and in terms of appropriateness because this is not how we form the verb phrase or make a question in English
If a learner produces
Excuse me, sir, may I borrow your pencil
when talking to a classmate, this would also be unacceptable stylistically.
Achievement test A test designed to measure how well something has been learned Tests like these can be quite simple and occur at the end of a short teaching slot intending to show the learners and the teacher that something has been learnt to an acceptable level.
These tests can also be longer and more sophisticated and occur at the end of a whole course to see what has and has not been acceptably learned.
Compare proficiency test
Acquisition A term contrasted with learning referring to the unconscious acquiring of a language Some people have learned a language simply by being exposed to it, either by living in the culture where it is spoken or via electronic media.
These people have simply picked up the language with no formal training or access to reference books intended for learners.
Active vocabulary The vocabulary a learner can use as well as understand Contrasted with passive vocabulary which the learner can understand but is not yet able to use in free production.
Even in our first languages, we all have an understanding of some items but are unable to use them accurately especially when the terms are used in a professional context such as science or law with precise definitions.
Adjacency pair Two utterances related by function and often co-occurring For example in the dialogues:
A: Oops.  Sorry!
B: That's OK, no problem
We have an apology (a speech act) and another function realised by B's language of forgiving.
The two speech acts, apologising and forgiving, form an adjacency pair.  Other examples include:
accusing and apologising
asking for and giving information
offering and accepting
offering and declining

and so on.
Affective factors
The emotional effect of something If the topic of a lesson is perceived, for example, as challenging or offensive to a learner, then it is unlikely that he or she will take much benefit from it.
If learners feel emotionally uncomfortable, stressed or otherwise unhappy, this may change how much they are able to learn.
Both these examples concern affective factors.
Affective filter A hindrance to learning caused by stress or uncertainty See above.  The filter refers to the fact that negative emotional factors will negatively affect how much or how quickly people can learn.
Approach A term often used instead of methodology to describe a theory of language and a theory of learning A teacher or institution may state that, e.g., a communicative approach is being taken and this implies a theory of language and a social theory of learning are being applied in tandem.
The term is also applied, more loosely, to a technique or way of designing a lesson A teacher may say, for example, I am taking a deductive approach to teaching this grammar point or I am taking a Test–Teach–Test approach to this lesson plan.
Appropriateness Descriptive of the social acceptability of a language item If a speaker of English as a second or additional language says to a waiter:
You will give me the menu
it will be negatively received although comprehensible.
Stylistically, the statement is inappropriate.
See acceptability
Audio-visual aid Any chart, diagram, video sequence or audio recording etc. used in a classroom Examples include flashcards, pictures pinned to the board, a video clip, an audio recording, a Power-Point presentation and so on.
Aural Referring to hearing / listening An aural exercise is one in which the learners pay attention to what they listen to.
Compare oral
Authenticity The degree to which teaching materials come from the ‘real world’ There are two sorts:
Materials may be authentic in terms of not having been designed for use in a classroom but inauthentic in terms of how they are used.
A TV listing is not meant to be used to gain an understanding of terms such as drama, documentary, romance, thriller, investigation and so on but an authentic listing may be used that way.
Full authenticity is achieved if the material is not designed for a pedagogical purpose and is used in the way it was intended by its producer.
Behaviourism A theory of learning based around the acquisition of habit and reinforcement of learning By a process of reward (or its lack) a rat or bird may be taught quite complex behaviours such as finding food in a maze or opening particularly coloured boxes in a special order.
In language teaching, similar principles apply and learners are rewarded (by teacher congratulation, for example) when they produce accurate language and discouraged from error by non-reinforcement or negative responses.
See cognitivism
Cloze test Technically, removing, e.g., every fifth or seventh word from a passage and asking test takers to guess the missing words.
Informally, a gap-fill test
Such a test might target, for example, prepositions as in:
He went ________ the station and got ______ the train _____ London.
or any other language area including lexis and grammatical forms.
A variation is to ask learners to select from a list of the items to use making the test a form of multiple choice test.
Cognate A word which has the same derivation and is similar in form in more than one language (meaning may or may not vary) Some cognate words are obvious, many less so because meaning has drifted apart over time.  For example,
The Spanish word habitación is clearly a cognate of the English habitation although the sense is not quite the same.
The German word Stube (meaning a room) is cognate with the English word stove but the English now refers to something in the room to warm it.
Cognition Mental processes Thinking, remembering, recognising, inferencing, deducing and classifying are all cognitive processes which some believe lie at the heart of learning opposed to those who believe learning happens by the adjustment and reinforcement of behaviour.
Compare behaviourism
Communicative To do with the exchange of information, feelings, attitudes etc. between a Sender (the speaker / writer) and the Receiver (the listener / reader) Any adjacency pair is an example of language used for communicative purposes.
Communicative Language Teaching A methodology which has as its aim the ability to communicate effectively and which uses simulated or real communicative situations in teaching Included with Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) are techniques such as role play, simulations, information-gap activities (in which both sides have to contribute what they know to get the whole picture) and so on.
Communicative competence The ability to:
a) form accurate language
b) understand the rules of speaking
c) know how to make and understand speech acts and perform identifiable functions in language
d) know where and when to use the language (i.e., understand what is appropriate)
a) this ability includes knowledge and application of the grammar, the vocabulary of the language as well as mechanical issues of spelling and pronunciation
b) includes knowing how to respond to a question or offer etc.
c) includes knowing what the communicative effect of what is said may be so, e.g.,
Is this your hat
could mean
You have forgotten it
I want to talk about it
Is it yours or his?

d) includes issues of style and appropriacy and cultural sensitivity.
Competence A person’s internalised grammar Knowing, for example, that in English the simple present tense of a main verb carries the -s inflexion for he, she and it (3rd person forms).
This competence is not always reflected in performance.
Comprehensible input Language which can be understood and form the basis of learning This often refers to language which is just above the learner's current knowledge but still comprehensible.
Computer assisted language learning (CALL) Using computers as a major element in the teaching-learning process Many learning and resources centres contain exercises and other forms of language input which are stored and used electronically.  This site contains many examples in the learners' section.
Concept checking question A display question intended to ascertain whether an idea has been understood For example, when teaching a use of should as in
You should see a doctor about that cough
the teacher might ask:
Must she see a doctor?
Is the speaker giving advice or information?

Context The social situation in which language is set
The term is often used loosely to refer to co-text
For example, an imperative such as
Try this
will be an order from someone in authority such as a doctor speaking to a patient but simply encouragement between equals referring to a piece of cake or whatever.
Co-operative / Collaborative learning An approach in which learners work together Learners may be organised into groups or pairs to carry out a task or do an exercise.  The theory is that explaining to each other and pooling their knowledge will help the learning process and be interesting and motivating.
Co-text The language surrounding an item to be learned For example,
He had a rifle
is impossible to understand if one does not know the word rifle but
The hunter took his rifle and aimed at the bear
is comprehensible if one knows what hunters do and what aim means.
Deductive learning Learning based on being given the rule and from that to produce acceptable language If you are told that the words should, must, would and will are all followed by a bare infinitive form, you will be able to correct the following:
I should to go
She must going
He would did have it

Compare inductive learning
Delayed correction A technique which avoids the interruption of an activity and leaves correction of language until its completion A teacher may, for example, simply make some notes during a communicative activity concerning the use of the target language and wait until the end of the activity before displaying the errors and eliciting the correct forms.
Descriptive grammar A grammar reference which describes what native speakers do rather than attempting to say what is right or wrong A text which explains that native speakers often say
None of my friends are here
instead of the formally correct
None of my friends is here
is attempting to describe rather than prescribe
Compare prescriptive and pedagogic grammar
Direct method Teaching a language in the language Many methodologies prohibit the use of the learners' first language(s) in an effort to get people to think in English rather than translate because translation is seen as unreliable and inhibits fluency.
Discourse analysis Analysing language above the level of the sentence Discourse analysis refers to the analysis of longer multi-sentence texts and to exchanges between speakers where links, such as responses to questions like:
A: Where is John
B: In the garden
are comprehensible although the response has no grammatical subject or verb.
Discourse analysis also involves the study of items such as pronouns and other forms which stand for other items as in the use of it and there in.
He searched the house for the money but didn't find it there
Discovery learning Learning through being led to the rules by observation and noticing For example, teachers may give learners a text with a range of infinitive and -ing forms contained within it and the learners are asked to identify them and see if they can arrive at a rule for their use as in, e.g.:
We wanted to come and help with clearing the garden but she said she preferred to manage on her own.  Later, she regretted saying that because it was such hard work
Display question A question to which the teacher knows the answer and is intended as a check on a learner's understanding and knowledge What is the past tense of begin?
How does the woman sound?
Drill Any technique based on repetition or cueing Drills can be oral or written.  For example:
Convert the following sentences to the passive voice
Repeat after me ...
I speak Spanish.  She ...?
Drills can be meaningful or meaningless.
EAP English for Academic Purposes (i.e., studying in the language) This refers to the types of language and skills that learners who wish to study in an English-speaking institution will need.  It includes structural items like reporting verbs:
Smith asserts but Jones suggests and Robinson warns us that ...
as well as particular skills such as giving presentations, taking part in seminars, note-taking from lectures and so on.
Elicitation Drawing out information and good guesses from learners rather than simply informing them The construction of good elicitation routines is a key skill which requires some practice.  Getting the level of challenge right between simply requiring guesswork and leading learners to discover meaning for themselves is important.
See discovery learning
Extensive Reading or listening in quantity rather than to limited amounts of language We use extensive reading skills when trying to understand the main elements of a story or a television broadcast without focusing on the details of the language.
Extensive reading is what we do when reading a novel or short story for pleasure and extensive listening is what we do when watching a film or listening to a radio play for pleasure.  We are not concerned to hear or understand everything.
FLA First Language Acquisition Some theorists assert that we can best learn a foreign language by simulating the way in which we acquired our first language (often considered to be a combination of imitation and cognitive processing).
Function a) The social purpose for which language is produced These are the communicative reasons for speech acts so, for example,
Have you got a minute?
is grammatically a question but functionally probably a request for some time.
b) The grammatical role of an item For example, in
He is playing golf
the grammatical function of playing is a verb but in
He likes playing golf
its grammatical function is a noun.
Gap-fill test See Cloze test
Grammar translation An approach to teaching which focuses on accessing the culture and literature of the target language using translation and grammatical study In this approach, now considered rather old fashioned, learners were typically given a short text and a list of translated items along with a grammatical rule or two.
Their tasks were to understand the text, learn the translations of the terms and apply the grammatical rules in a set of written exercises.
Humanism A term referring to the importance of human values, self-awareness, sensitivity and cultural appropriateness in teaching methodologies Examples include making positive statements about others in the room, using the language by applying it to personal experiences and other techniques and exercises designed to lower the learners' affective filter.
I to M
Inductive learning A learning theory which assumes that people can arrive at a language rule by being given access to sufficient examples of it in action If a learner is given, for example, a group of words such as:

he or she may be able to arrive at the rule that we change the 'y' to an 'i' before a suffix beginning with 'n'.
Compare deductive
Inferencing Deducing the meaning of structures and lexemes by using the context, the co-text and other clues This is a key language skill because nobody will ever know all the vocabulary and structure they encounter in a second language.  The ability to come to logical conclusions about meaning is important.
Information gap A communicative task based around a difference of information provided to the task doers Learners may for example, be given two maps with differing information and need to fill in the gaps by asking and answering questions, like this:
A: Can you tell me where the hospital is?
B: Yes, it's directly opposite the station
thus practising polite questions and prepositional phrases of place.
Interaction The use of language to maintain social relationships Good morning
How are you?
Fine thanks, you?
And the family?

Compare transaction
Interlanguage A learner’s current ability on a scale of knowing none of the language to full mastery At mid-levels, a learner's interlanguage may include , for example, knowledge of
If it rained, we'd need our coats
but not
If it'd rained we would've needed our coats
so the learner's interlanguage does not yet include the second structure.
Lexicon a) A learner’s total knowledge of words in a language This includes both active and passive vocabulary.
b) the complete set of all the lexemes in a language The English lexicon is reckoned to contain many hundreds of thousands of words as well as prefixes and suffixes.
Meaningless drill
Meaningful drill
The former refers to drill in which the learner can get the right answer without understanding the language at all, the latter to those in which some understanding is necessary.
A meaningless drill is sometimes called a mechanical drill
Repeat please ...
Give the past tense of smoke, hope, like ...

A: I'm going to London tomorrow so I am going to the station to buy a ticket = Cue: broken my laptop
B: I've broken my laptop so I'm going to the computer repair shop
Modelling Providing an example to imitate This often involves a spoken example for a drill or a written example of a target form on the board as a permanent reminder of the form.
It is designed for the learners to imitate.
Motivation The willingness to expend effort in doing something There are many theories.  A popular one is to distinguish between:
a) extrinsic motivation in which the impetus to learn comes from outside the learner (e.g., being told by your company to learn English)
b) intrinsic motivation which comes from the pleasure a learner may take in communicating successfully in a foreign language
c) integrative motivation which comes from the learner's need to become part of the language culture (e.g., immigrants or temporary residents)
d) instrumental motivation in which the language is seen as a tool to help in doing something else, such as studying at an English-speaking institution or taking part in an on-line community.
Multiple choice test A kind of test which requires the taker to select from a range of possibilities for the right answer (usually more than two). Choose the right answer:
How _______ milk do we have?
A: many
B: much
C: few
D: a little
Noticing Actively comparing what you see and hear with what you produce and making yourself aware of language form and function Noticing comes in two forms:
a) noticing the gap between what you say as a learner and what you hear as a model
b) noticing how native speakers use forms to realise functions in the language
There are a number of techniques to encourage active noticing including highlighting in texts, setting tasks which require noticing and so on.
Oral Concerned with speaking An oral drill requires learners to speak their answers and an oral exercise does not require reading or writing.
Oral is often combined or assumed to include aural skills.
Passive vocabulary The vocabulary a learner can understand but not use One aim of many lessons is to activate knowledge and convert passive to active vocabulary use
Pedagogic grammar A grammar designed for learners and for teachers to use Such grammars are often simplified (sometimes to the point of being inaccurate) but are seen as way stages between beginner and more advanced levels.
Compare descriptive and prescriptive grammar
Performance What people actually say in a language Performance may exceed or lag behind competence.
By a process of noticing and imitation, some learners have acquired the ability to use quite advanced language forms without knowing the grammar.  Other learners may be able to say more about the grammar than they can actually put into practice in their production.
Phonemics The study of the sound units of a particular language English, for example, has 24 consonant sounds and does not have some sounds which are common in other languages, such as taps and trills.  Taps and trills are not considered in the study of English phonemics.
Phonetics The study of all speech sounds This is a much more technical area than phonemics and concerns all the possible sounds of any language.  The International Phonetic Alphabet contains, for example, 107 symbols or letters for consonant sounds.
Compare phonemics
PPP Presentation, Practice, Production This refers to how a lesson is constructed (not to a methodology).  The language is presented in context and then practised in a controlled or semi-controlled way before learners are expected to produce it to achieve a communicative outcome.
Compare TTT
Pragmatics The study of the use of language to communicate Pragmatics concerns how language is used to make social meanings and why, for example, we use question forms and imperatives to make offers or more complex forms to appear more polite and deferential.
It is often contrasted with semantics with which it overlaps but which essentially is concerned with the face-value meaning of language items.
Prefabricated language Language learned and used as a single concept or chunk A learner may be able to produce, e.g.,
What’s the matter?
as a language chunk without considering its structure or the actual meaning of matter.
Prescriptive grammar Grammar which sets out what is considered right and wrong rather than describing what people say Many earlier grammars and those used in school are of this sort and may include, for example:
It is wrong to use a preposition with which to end a sentence
Compare pedagogic and descriptive grammar
Process approach An approach to teaching (especially of writing) which focuses on writing subskills rather than the end product The subskills most usually in question are brainstorming, drafting, proofing, expanding, polishing and so on.
Compare product approach
Product approach An approach to teaching (especially of writing) which focuses on producing a text The approach often includes the analysis and dissection of a model text which serves as a target exemplar for the learners' writing.
Compare process approach
Proficiency test A test aimed at assessing a learner's abilities in English Tests like this differ from achievement tests because the content is independent of what teaching has been done.  Public examinations such as those administered by The University of Cambridge are good examples.
R to W
Redundancy Describing the fact that a message will contain more information than is required for comprehension For example, in
He says
the -s ending is redundant because the pronoun, he, already carries the third person singular information.
Register The field in which language occurs There are restrictions and particular lexis and structural items which occur in particular fields of concern such as business English, scientific English, hobbies, sports, the law, politics and so on.
Register should not be confused with style but often is.
Role play A communicative activity in which the learners play out a role Learners may be playing themselves in an imaginary encounter (shopping, arguing with neighbours etc.) or may be asked to take on a persona that is not themselves such as being irate, impatient or very tolerant etc.
Scanning Looking through a written text to locate specific information A typical scanning task may be, e.g., to find the significance of four numbers in a text or to discover a person's role in a conversation.
Compare skimming
Schema (plural schemata) A mental framework in which information is ordered and classified If learners are asked, at the beginning of a teaching routine to think about all the times they have been late for an appointment and what they said when they finally arrived, the purpose of the exercise is to activate their schemata concerning such situations and, hopefully, some of the language they feel they will need in English.
Semantics The study of meaning This field covers the considerations of relationships between words (synonyms, antonyms etc.) as well as the meaning transmitted by language structures such as, for example, the fact that
She has arrived
is a tense form closely related to present time.
Compare pragmatics
Simulation A kind of extended role play in which learners take on a variety of roles In teaching business English simulations are widely used (interview boards, crisis meetings, planning meetings etc.).
Situational Language Teaching An oral approach to teaching popularised in Britain The approach seeks to set language in a social context (at a party, talking to neighbours, meeting new friends etc.) and focuses on function words (such as prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns and determiners) in particular.
Skimming Reading quickly to get the gist of a text Skimming is a key reading subskill and requires rapid perusal of a text to understand its topic and the outline of its content only.
Compare scanning
SLA Second-Language Acquisition This concerns theories of how people learn a second or additional language and is often compared to FLA
Structural linguistics The study of language from a structural point of view involving phonemes, morphemes, words, phrases, clauses, sentences and texts as a hierarchy Language is built bottom-up in this tradition but analysed top down in familiar branching tree structures starting at the top with sentences, then clauses, then phrases, then words, then morphemes and finally arriving at phonemes.
Style Variation in formality Three sorts are usually considered:
Informal: Give me the salt
Neutral: Please pass me the salt
Formal: Would you be good enough to pass the salt to me?
Style should not be confused with register but often is.
Topic sentence The sentence in a paragraph, usually the first, which sets out the theme of the paragraph A sentence such as:
Pelicans are large birds native to Africa
clearly sets out what the following paragraph will be about and will probably be followed by a little more detail concerning where and in what habitats the birds are found.
Transaction The use of language to get something done rather than simply oil social wheels A: I'd like to try on those shoes, please
B: Certainly.  Are you interested in the black or brown ones?
Compare interaction
TTT Test, Teach, Test A way of constructing a lesson (not a methodology) which first tests how much the learners can already achieve and alerts them and the teacher to what needs to be taught in the second phase and then re-tests the learners to assess how successful the teaching has been.
Compare PPP
Teacher Talking Time This is a measure of how much the teacher talks in comparison to how much talking the learners do in a lesson.
The concern is often to reduce TTT to a minimum in order to allow more space for learner production and practice.
Use / Usage The former refers to an utterance’s communicative value, the latter to its significance or form If in response to:
I like your jacket
we hear
It's half past three in Vancouver
we understand the meaning but there is no obvious communicative value in what is said.  That is language usage.
If the response is:
Thanks, it's new
then the exchange has communicative value and is language use.
Wait time The amount of time a teacher waits after asking a question before moving on This may be achieved by either asking a question and waiting until the question has been decoded by everyone before nominating someone to answer or by nominating someone, asking the question and waiting for the language to be decoded and a response encoded by the student.

Most of the concepts above are covered in dedicated guides or in guides considering a broader picture.
For more, consult the A-Z index or search the site.

If you would like to take a 20-item test of your knowledge of some of these terms, click here.

Some of these ideas are also covered in more detail from the guide in this section to key concepts which also has links to two short tests of your knowledge.  That link opens in a new tab.