This glossary provides definitions of terms that are used in the literature of language pedagogy. Please add to the list!
Usually given in the classroom, an achievement test measures students’ acquisition of material presented in class in a particular course.
In Krashen’s Monitor Theory (1982), acquisition is the subconscious process whereby a learner studying a second language or a child learning his or her mother tongue develops linguistic competence. Learning, by contrast, refers to the conscious process of studying and knowing the rules of grammar of a second language. Acquisition therefore refers to a deeper kind of linguistic knowledge that leads to the production of second-language utterances, whereas learning serves as a monitor, or editor of these utterances.
ACTFL proficiency guidelines
“The ACTFL proficiency guidelines are a description of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context. For each skill, these guidelines identify five major levels of proficiency: Distinguished, Superior, Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice. The major levels Advanced, Intermediate, and Novice are subdivided into High, Mid, and Low sublevels. The levels of the ACTFL Guidelines describe the continuum of proficiency from that of the highly articulate, well-educated language user to a level of little or no functional ability.”
A pedagogical device composed of text, pictures, titles, questions, etc., the purpose of which is to activate useful background knowledge possessed by students prior to exposure to a new document (literary text, article, song, video, etc.) or the study of new material. Thus prepared, students will find it easier to comprehend and remember the new material. (Related terms: pre-listening activity, pre-reading activity, pre-viewing activity, Schema Theory, visual organizer)
According to the ACTFL proficiency guidelines, speakers at the advanced level are able to explain and narrate in all time frames, structure arguments to support their opinions, construct hypotheses, and discuss topics with which they are familiar abstractly, although they are more comfortable talking about most topics concretely. The advanced level is divided into low, mid, and high, depending on how easily and accurately the speakers can perform the tasks described above.
In Krashen’s Monitor Theory, the affective filter refers to the emotional factors that can have an impact on a student’s acquisition of a language, namely motivation, self-confidence, and anxiety. A low affective filter (high motivation and self-confidence and low anxiety) facilitates acquisition, whereas a high affective filter (low motivation and self-confidence, high anxiety) hinders it. (see Monitor Theory)
The Audiolingual Methodology, aka the Aural-Oral, Functional Skills, New Key, or American Method, dominated the teaching of foreign languages in the USA in the 1950’s and 60’s. Based on behaviorist psychology and structural linguistics, the theoretical principle behind the audiolingual methodology was that language learning was a form of conditioning and a language was a set of habits to be acquired through repetition and memorization. In the pure form of the Audiolingual Method, instruction is entirely in the target language, explanations about the ways the language works are kept to a minimum, and listening and oral skills are emphasized. Teaching techniques consist mostly of drills and practicing, memorizing and modifying idiomatic dialogs. The problem with this method is that passive memorization and mechanical drills alone usually fail to enable students to use the language creatively in real-life conditions, and are likely to cause frustration and loss of motivation. Furthermore, this method is not adapted to visual or analytical learners.
An approach to language teaching in which the language itself is the object of study, whereas in an experiential approach, language is learned through communication. Many educators consider that these two approaches are complementary. (see experiential approach and communicative approach)
A set of philosophical or theoretical principles about language teaching. (see method, methodology, strategy, technique)
The theory behind this method is that a second language should be learned in the same way that children learn their native tongue: by listening to large quantities of language, by speaking, and by directly associating words and phrases with objects and actions. In the Berlitz method, the instructor starts with objects in the classroom, and then uses pictures, mime and paraphrase to avoid resorting to translation. Correct pronunciation is emphasized, and students hear complete and meaningful, contextualized sentences from the start. Grammar rules are usually not explained and are supposed to be constructed inductively by students.
See entry for Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
See the entry on Communicative Language Teaching
Cognitivism or Cognitive Theory
Cognitivism, or Cognitive Theory, is a research approach, based on the findings of cognitive psychology, that focuses on the ways in which the learner’s mind receives, processes, stores, retrieves, and uses information. The focus is on internal learning mechanisms that are believed to be used for learning in general, not just language learning alone. (adapted from Lightbown and Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition)
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
Developed by the Council of Europe between 1989 and 1996, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is a set of guidelines providing a common basis for the explicit description of levels of proficiency, objectives, content and methods in second/foreign language education.
A clear presentation of the 6 levels of proficiency defined by the CEFR can be found in this document. Un résumé succint peut être trouvé ici.
See the entry on Communicative Language Teaching
Communicative Language Teaching
Communicative language teaching (CLT), the communicative approach: CLT is based on the premise that successful language learning involves not only a knowledge of the structures and forms of a language, but also the functions and purposes that a language serves in different communicative settings. This approach to teaching emphasizes the communication of meaning in interaction rather than the practice and manipulation of grammatical forms in isolation.(Adapted from Lightbown and Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition)
Developed in the 1970’s and 80’s, it is the dominant approach to language teaching today. The task-based approach is a more recent variant of CLT.
Competence and performance
Competence and performance: linguistic competence is the degree to which a person knows a language, whereas performance is the way in which a person uses a language when listening, speaking, reading and writing. Competence cannot be observed directly and has to be inferred from performance. (Adapted from Lightbown and Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition)
Comprehensible input (Krashen’s Monitor theory): language that a learner can understand, despite the fact that he or she does not know all the words or structures. Comprehension may be facilitated by gestures, contexts, familiarity with the topic etc. (Adapted from Lightbown and Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition)
A theory of knowledge as a complex system of units that become interconnected in the mind as they are encountered together. The more often units are heard or seen together, the more likely it is that the presence of one will lead to the activation of the other. (Adapted from Lightbown and Spada, How Languages are Learned, 3rd edition)
A diagnostic test is designed to determine the degree to which specific instructional objectives have already been accomplished (e.g. quizzes, midterm). These tests are aimed at fostering achievement by promoting the strengths and eliminating the weaknesses of individual students
Form-focused instruction: instruction that draws attention to forms and structures in a communicative situation. Communicative teaching, if it focuses mostly on interaction and communication, can lead to a neglect of accuracy (conjugation, agreement, etc.). Form-focused instruction addresses this problem by including explanations of forms and rules, corrective feedback, communicative exercises designed to highlight forms, etc.
Gamification for learning
Gamification for learning is the application of game elements, game mechanics, and digital game design techniques to teaching. Turning a task into a game-like activity makes it more engaging and fun, and resonates with many of today’s students who are familiar with video games. Related terms: game-based learning, serious games.
A pedagogical method inherited from the traditional teaching of Greek and Latin, based on the study of grammar rules and translation exercises.
Interlanguage: the personal and evolving knowledge of the second language that a learner develops as he or she studies it. It usually contains traits of the learner’s first language, as well as others that seem to be present in all interlanguages (simplification, fewer agreements, etc.).
See entry on acquisition.
Level of proficiency
Terms such as intermediate and advanced when used to describe the linguistic competence of an individual are obviously very subjective, which is why several official scales have been developed to propose clear criteria corresponding to different levels of proficiency. Such widely accepted scales are the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines in the United States of America and the Common European Framework in countries of the European Union and others that have adopted it. They propose definitions of language ability in speaking, listening, reading, and writing.
The Modern Language Association of America is the main professional association in the United States for scholars who teach or study English language and literature, comparative literature, and foreign languages and literatures. It was founded in 1883 and has nearly 30,000 members in 100 countries.
“In addition to hosting an annual convention and sustaining one of the finest publishing programs in the humanities, the MLA is a leading advocate for the study and teaching of language and literature and serves as a clearinghouse for professional resources for teachers and scholars.”
Modern Language Association of America
See entry on MLA
See the entry on Competence and Performance
See entry on MLA
Total Physical Response
Total Physical Response (TPR): A teaching method developed by Psychologist James Asher that systematically associates language with movement and gestures. Students respond to commands to get up, walk to the door, pick up a pen, open a book, etc., and by doing so form a connection between the language they hear and the reality it describes. With this method, suitable for beginners and especially for children, language is learned primarily through listening, grammar is not taught explicitly but inferred, and learning takes place in a stress-free environment.
See the entry on Total Physical Response