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  Home > TEFL Clinic > Teaching Knowledge > Glossary

Background to Language Learning

Achievable target, goal: An aim that is not too difficult for the learner to reach.

Acquisition noun, acquire verb: To learn a language without studying it, just by hearing and/or reading and then using it. This is the way we all learn our first language.

Attention span: How long a student is able to concentrate at any one time.

Auditory learner: see learning style.

Cognitive (processes): The mental processes involved in thinking, understanding or learning.

Confidence: The feeling someone has when they are sure of their ability to do something well. Teachers often do activities that help students to feel more confident about their own ability.

Conscious (of): To know that something exists or is happening, or to have knowledge or experience of something; to be aware.

Deductive learning: An approach to learning in which students are first taught the rules and given all the information they need about the language. Then they use these rules in language activities. See inductive learning.

Demotivate: see motivation.

Developmental error: see error.

Error: A mistake that a learner makes when trying to say something above their level of language or language processing. A developmental error is an error made by a second language learner which could also be made by a young person learning their mother tongue as part of their normal development, e.g. I goed there last week. (I went there last week). See slip.

Expectation noun: A belief that something will happen, e.g. He has an expectation that he will win.

Exposure noun, expose verb: When learners listen to or read language without being consciously aware of it.

Factor: A fact or situation which influences the result of something, e.g. the factors which decide whether someone learns a language successfully or not.

First language: see mother tongue, L1.

Focus on form: To pay attention to language by identifying and practising it.

Goals: Aims that a student or teacher may have.

Guidance: Help given by a teacher with learning, or with doing a task.

Ignore (errors): To choose not to pay attention to something such as an error made by a student. A teacher may do this if they want to help the student with fluency, not accuracy.

Independent study: Studying without a teacher present. This can be done at home, in a library etc.

Inductive learning: An approach to learning in which students are not first taught the rules of grammar. They work out the rules for themselves by using the language. See deductive learning.

Interference: When the learner’s mother tongue influences their performance in the target language. A learner may make a mistake because they use the same grammatical pattern in the target language as they use in their mother tongue. The L1 grammatical pattern is not appropriate in L2.

Interlanguage: Learners own version of the second language which they speak as they learn. Interlanguage is constantly changing and developing as learners learn more of the second language.

Kinaesthetic learner: see learning style.

L1/L2: L1 is the learners mother tongue or first language; L2 is the learners second or other language.

Language awareness: Understanding the rules of how language works.

Learner autonomy noun, autonomous adj, learner independence: When a student does not need a teacher to learn, but can set their own aims and organise their own study they are autonomous and independent. Many activities in coursebooks help students to be more independent by developing learning strategies and learner training.

Learner characteristics: The typical things about a learner or learners that influence their learning, e.g. age, L1, past learning experience, learning style.

Learner independence: see learner autonomy.

Learner training: The use of activities to help students understand how they learn and help them to become independent learners.

Learning resources: The materials or tools which help students learn, e.g. books, computers, cassettes etc.

Learning strategies: The techniques which a student consciously uses when learning or using language, e.g. deducing the meaning of words from context; predicting content before reading.

Learning style: The way in which an individual learner naturally prefers to learn something.

Auditory learner: A learner who remembers things more easily when they hear them spoken aloud. This type of learner likes the teacher to say a new word aloud as well as writing it on the board.

Kinaesthetic learner: A learner who learns more easily by physically doing things. This type of learner likes to move around or move objects while learning.

Visual learner: A learner who finds it easier to learn when they can see things written down or in a picture. This type of learner likes the teacher to write a new word on the board as well as saying it aloud.

Linguistic: Connected with language or the study of language.

Maturity noun, mature adj.: Fully grown or developed. If a learner is mature in attitude, they behave in an adult way. A learners maturity (physical, emotional and mental) influences a teachers approaches and/or decisions.

Memorable: Describes something which is easy to remember.

Memorise: To learn something so that you can remember it later.

Mother tongue: The very first language that you learn as a baby, which is usually the language spoken to you by your parents. Also called L1 or first language.

Motivation noun, motivate verb: Motivation is the thoughts and feelings which make us want to do something and help us continue doing it.

Demotivate verb demotivated adj.: To make someone lose motivation. Unmotivated adj - Without motivation; having no motivation.

Natural order: The order in which learners naturally learn some items in their first or other languages. Some language items are learnt before others and it can be difficult for teachers to influence this order.

Needs: The language, language skills or learning strategies a student still has to learn, or the conditions they need to help them learn.

Participation noun, participate verb: To take part in something, e.g. a lesson or classroom activity.

Personalisation noun, personalise verb: When a teacher helps a student to connect new words, topics, texts or grammar to their own life.

Pick up: see acquisition.

Processing language: The way in which the brain works on language, consciously or unconsciously, in order to learn or understand it.

Proficient: To be very good at something because of training and practice, e.g. speaking English.

Silent period: The time when students who are beginning to learn a first or second language prefer to listen (or read) for some time before producing the language.

Slip: When a student makes a language mistake that they are able to correct themselves without help from the teacher. See error.

Target language culture: The traditions and culture of the country whose language is being studied.

Work language out: When students try to understand how and why particular language is used. See inductive learning.

Unmotivated: see motivation.

Visual learner: see learning style.

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