TEFL terminology and definitions for teaching English

TEFL terminology and definitions for teaching English

Here is a list of TEFL terminology and definitions. In addition, the list contains some of the key English language learning and teaching technical terms. Our list of TEFL terminology and definitions will help you when you take our accredited TESOL and TEFL certificate course and when you start work as a TEFL teacher.

TEFL terminology and definitions list



Action verbs For example, a verb to express action, “Drive”, as in “We often drive past their house.”
Active voice The form of a phrase or sentence where the subject is doing something, e.g. “John rode his bicycle.”
Adjective A word that modifies a noun to highlight qualities, quantity or extent, e.g. “That is a red car.” “There are five birds in the tree.” “That is a big cake.” red, five, and big are adjectives.
Adjunct A word or word group that qualifies or completes the meaning of another word or word group but is not a primary structural element in a sentence, e.g. “I have never met Dave before.” Before is an adjunct because you could remove it, and the sentence would still be valid.
Adverbial phrase A group of words performing the task of an adverb, e.g. “Children grow up quickly.” grow up is an adverbial phrase.
Adverb A word that sets the scope of verbs, adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, and sentences. Adverbs answer When? Where? How? How much? How long? How often? E.g. “He walked slowly.” “I leave for Spain tomorrow.” Slowly and tomorrow are adverbs.
Affirmative A sentence or statement that is positive, e.g. “I am a teacher.”
Antonym Words that mean the opposite of something, e.g. hot and cold, tall and short
Article A word that describes specific or unspecific nouns and noun equivalents. There are three articles in English ‘a’, ‘an’ and ‘the’. “The” is referred to as a definite article. “A” and “an” are referred to as indefinite articles, e.g. “I read the report.” “I will have an interview next week.”
Auxiliary verb The “helping verb” is used with a main verb to help express the main verb’s tense, mood, or voice. The main auxiliary verbs are to be, to have, and to do, e.g. “She was waiting for an hour.”, “The phone has been disconnected.”, “Don’t forget your wallet.”
Collocation How words go together or form fixed relationships, e.g. “heavy rain”, “high temperature”, “winding road”.
Comparative Compares a person or object with another and indicates which has more or less of a certain quality, e.g. “John runs faster than Dave.”
Complement Adds more information about the subject or the object, e.g. “Sheila is a nurse.” and “He made me very angry.” a nurse and very angry are complements.
Conjunction Connects words, phrases, clauses, or sentences, e.g. and, because, but, neither, so, etc.
Contraction A shortened version of a word or phrase, e.g. I am = I’m, will = ‘ll as in I’ll, she’ll, etc.
Contrastive analysis The study and comparison of two languages looking at structural similarities and differences. There are two central aims 1) establish the inter-relationships of the languages and 2) aid second language acquisition.
Coordinate conjunction Seven words that connect two words. The seven are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Examples slowly but surely, they ran and jumped, would you like tea or coffee?
Countable noun A noun that can be counted, e.g. rooms, fingers and shoes. Uncountable nouns like money, coffee and salt, cannot be counted.
Derivation Creating a new word from a word, usually by adding a prefix or a suffix, e.g. use = usable, infect = disinfect.
Determiner A word that introduces or precedes a noun, e.g. three boys, the door. Three and the are determiners.
Direct object The verb directly influences the object in the sentence, e.g. “He is playing the guitar.” Playing refers to the guitar, so the guitar is the direct object.
Elision Combining more than one sound into one, e.g. “do not” becomes the elision “don’t
ELL English Language Learner.
Extensive listening and reading Extensive listening and reading are long listening and reading activities and may vary from a few minutes to several hours.
Hyponyms A subclass of words under a class, e.g. vehicle is a class and bus, car, taxi are subclasses of vehicle. Bus, car and taxi are hyponyms of vehicle.
Indirect object An indirect object is a secondary object in a sentence that must contain a direct object, e.g. “Jane bought a present for her friend.” “Jane bought a present” is a direct object form, so the indirect object is “her friend”. Alternatively, you could ask “For whom did Jane buy a present?” answer, her friend (the indirect object).
Infinitive verb A verb prefixed with “to”. For example, “to run”, “to sit”.
Inflexions Letters added to nouns, adjectives, and verbs to show their different grammatical forms, e.g. flower – flowers, run – running, jump – jumped.
Intensive listening and reading Extensive listening and reading are short listening and reading activities, usually no more than a few minutes.
Interlingual interference The effect of language forms when two languages cross or overlap, e.g. a beginner level ELL from Spain may write “the tree green” because, in Spanish, the adjective follows the noun.
International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) An academic standard created by the International Phonetic Association. The IPA is a phonetic notation system using symbols to represent spoken language sounds in all languages spoken on earth.
Interrogative A sentence or statement that asks a question, e.g. “Are you a teacher?”
L1 A language learner’s first language, aka mother tongue.
Language acquisition The process of learning a language.
Language decoding The mental process of converting what you read into speech, i.e. reading and speaking.
Language encoding The mental process of converting what you hear into text, i.e. listening and writing.
Lesson planning The process of designing and writing a list of tasks and supporting material to teach a class.
Lexis Lexis is a synonym for vocabulary, the words that make up a language.
Linguistic form A meaningful unit of speech, e.g. a word or a sentence
Linguistic function The different ways that language is used, e.g. to converse, inform, direct, etc.
Linguistic profile An analysis of someone’s language skills usually to find areas that need improvement.
Main verb The primary focus in a sentence, e.g. “John kicked the ball “ To kick is the main verb. There could be more than one if there are conjunctions, e.g. “John kicked the ball and ran towards the goal.” To kick and to run are the main verbs.
Modal auxiliary verbs Modal auxiliary verbs (aka modal verbs and modals) are used to change the meaning of other verbs by expressing modality, i.e. asserting or denying possibility, likelihood, ability, permission, obligation, or future intention, e.g. “I might go to Paris tomorrow.”
Needs analysis An analysis of the learning needs of one or more learners.
Negative A sentence or statement that is negative, e.g. “I am not a teacher.”
Noun phrases These are word combinations acting like a noun and can be replaced by a pronoun, e.g. “This sentence contains two noun phrases.” – “It contains them.” “The subject noun phrase that is present in this sentence is long.” – “It is long.” – “Noun phrases can be embedded in other noun phrases.” – “They can be embedded in them.”
Nouns Words representing a specific object or set of objects, such as living creatures, places, actions, qualities, states of existence, or ideas.
Object See Direct and Indirect objects.
Orthographic transcription The conversion of the spoken word to text using standard spelling and punctuation conventions.
Paralinguistic devices Non-language expressions, e.g. body language, gestures, facial expressions, tone and pitch of voice.
Passive voice A language construct where the verb’s subject is the recipient (not the source) of the action denoted by the verb. For example, “The ball was kicked by John.” is passive; John kicked the ball is active.
Phoneme The smallest phonetic unit in a language capable of conveying a distinction in meaning, e.g. the letter m in mat.
Phonemic symbols Symbols representing individual phoneme sounds, e.g. /p/ in pet and /ei/ as in pay.
Phonemic transcription A system used for writing down sounds in speech using letters or symbols usually taken from the IPA.
Phonics A method of teaching elementary reading and spelling based on the phonetic interpretation of ordinary spelling.
Phonology The study of language speech sounds regarding their distribution and patterning and to rules governing pronunciation.
Phrasal verbs Verbs comprising more than one word, e.g. to take off, throw out, put in, etc.
Predicate The part of a sentence that tells you what the subject did, e.g. “Dave rode his bicycle.” – rode his bicycle is the predicate.
Prepositional phrase A group of words consisting of a preposition, its object, and any words that modify the object, e.g. “He arrived on time.”, “Is she really going out with him?”
Prepositions Usually, a common word showing direction, location, time, or that introduces an object that is usually followed by an object. Common prepositions are at, by, for, from, in, of, on, to, and with. Other common prepositions are about, above, across, after, against, along, among, around, because of, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, close to, down, during, except, inside, instead of, into, like, near, off, on top of, onto, out of, outside, over, past, since, through, toward, under, until, up, upon, within, without.
Productive skills Collective term for speaking and writing.
Pronoun A word that substitutes for a noun or noun phrase, e.g. he, she, it, them, they.
Quantifier Indicates the quantity of an object, e.g. five people, ten fingers, a lot of money, plenty of food.
Rationale A rational explanation or statement of reasons for doing something that answers a question like “Why did you do it?”
Receptive skills Collective term for listening and reading.
Reported speech A form of speech that expresses what someone said, but does not use the person’s actual words, e.g. “Your partner said you don’t like tripe.”, “The customers complained about the person who was smoking.”
Scanning Reading a text to find specific information, e.g. figures, dates or names.
Segmental phonology See phoneme.
Skimming Reading a text quickly to get a general idea of meaning.
Stative verb Expresses a state usually related to thoughts, emotions, relationships, senses, states of being, and measurements, e.g. believe, like, disagree, need, promise, understand.
Strong form Describes words in a sentence that are stressed or emphasised when spoken.
Subject The part of a sentence or clause that indicates a) what it is about, or b) who or what acts, e.g. “John kicked the ball.” – John is the subject, “The report is accurate.” – The report id the subject.
Subordinate conjunctions Create a link to show cause and effect or time and place relationships, e.g. “He was injured because he did not wear a seatbelt.”, “After I found the key, I opened the door.”
Superlative Expresses that someone or something is at the top of its class, e.g. “He is the tallest in his family.”, “That is the fastest car in the world.”
Suprasegmental phonology Intonation patterns, stress placement and rhythm in spoken language.
Synonyms Different words that have equivalence, e.g. synonym = equivalent, hot = tropical
Syntactical elements Words, phrases, sentences and other elements associated with created well-formed language statements.
Syntax The study of rules for forming grammatical sentences in a language and the study of patterns to form sentences and phrases from words.
Tenses Indicates when the action in a sentence is happening, e.g. “I ran last week.” – past. “I will run next week.” – future. “I am watching the television.” – present.
Verb A language component that expresses existence, action, or occurrence.
Verb phrase A verb phrase has a main verb alone or the main verb plus a modal and/or auxiliary verbs. The main verb always comes last. “Your house is beautiful.”, “You may have met him before.”
Weak form Describes words in a sentence that are not stressed or emphasised when spoken.
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