SLA Glossary

A glossary of abbreviations and terms related to language learning and teaching.

extent to which a (foreign) language learner produces language without errors (grammatical, lexical or stylistic errors).
Accuracy is often contrasted with fluency.
computer-assisted language learning.
(See Computer-assisted language learning on Wikipedia.)
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: a framework to describe language proficiency in six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). The levels are descibed by means of “can do” scenarios.
See Wikipedia and the Council of Europe.
ceiling effect
(in language tests) inadequacy of a test to measure the proficiency level of a language learner because the test is too limited at the higher end in the range of abilities it can examine.
The ceiling effect can play a role when comparing the progress made by “weak” and “good” students over a period of time: in a post-test, weak learners may be able to double their test score from the pre-test, but learners who scored high in the pre-test may not be able to double their score because they were already near the top of the range that the test was designed for. This affects the reliability of comparisons between learners over time.
See also ceiling effect (in statistics) on Wikipedia, What is ceiling effect in the Psychology Dictionary, and What criteria must be met in order to conclude a 'ceiling effect' is occurring? on Cross Validated Stack Exchange.
See also floor effect, below.
Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages: teacher training qualification for teaching English as a foreign language.
See CELTA on the website of Cambridge English Language Assessment.
Chinese as a foreign language.
cross-linguistic influence: occurs when learners of a foreign language use skills from their native language (or another foreign language they have learn) when using a foreign language.
(See Wikipedia.)
content and language integrated learning: umbrella term for approaches for learning non-linguistic subjects (e.g. science or history) through a foreign language, thereby teaching both the subject and the language.
See also CLIL on TeachinEnglish, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at school in Europe (European Commission, 2006), Improving the effectiveness of language learning: CLIL and computer assisted language learning (June 2014), Why CLIL is Education for the 21st century (30-minute videoconference by David Marsh, who coined the term CLIL) and International CLIL Research Journal
communicative language teaching (CLT)
a language teaching approach that emphasises communicative competence (as opposed to, for example, grammatical competence).
constructed language (conlang, planned language)
a language that has been consciously devised, instead of having developed naturally. Some constructed languages were designed to be easy to learn, for example, Esperanto and Ido.
See Wikipedia and Esperanto on this website.
computer-mediated communication.
Critical Period Hypothesis.
Critical Period Hypothesis
hypothesis that states that foreign languages cannot be learnt successfully after a certain age, e.g. puberty or an even earlier age.
Deutsch als Fremdsprache: German as a foreign language.
Diplôme approfondi de langue française (Diploma in Advanced French): a certification of French-language abilities for non-native speakers administered by France's Centre international d'études pédagogiques, or CIEP (Wikipedia)
Diplôme d'études en langue française (Diploma in French Studies): a certification of French-language abilities for non-native speakers of French administered by the International Centre for French Studies (Centre international d'études pédagogiques, or CIEP) for France's Ministry of Education (Wikipedia)
English as a additional language.
elaborate encoding
encoding of a word or other lexical unit in memory by memorising it together with other non-redundant information that is meant to facilitate reproduction or retrieval from memory later on.
See the definition of “elaboration coding” in the article “Memory and Verbal Learning” by T. Tulving and S. A. Madigan, Annual Review of Psychology, 1970.
See also elaborative encoding on Wikipedia.
English as a foreign language.
English as an international language.
See also International English on Wikipedia.
English as a lingua franca, i.e. for international communication, especially between people who don't share another common language.
The study of ELF focuses on the use of English as a contact language or for intercultural communication, not on a specific variety of English that is tied to a specific location, e.g. Indian English or Nigerian English.
the first stage of the memory process, during which stimuli (received through the senses) are transformed into a form that allows them to be stored in memory.
See also encoding on Wikipedia and the questions about encoding on Cognitive Sciences Stack Exchange and elaborate encoding (above).
English as a second language.
English for specific purposes, e.g. business English, academic English, English for tourism.
ESP is a specific example of LSP or language for specific purposes.
first language attrition (FLA)
the partial or complete decay of language skills one's native tongue, which is sometimes observed among migrants.
See also Language attrition on Wikipedia.
Français langue étrangère: French as a foreign language
floor effect
(in language tests) inadequacy of a test to measure the proficiency level of a language learner because the test is too limited at the lower end in the range of abilities it can examine.
The floor effect can play a role when a language test is too difficult for many learners to obtain a score higher then zero. As a consequence, the results will be skewed towards low scores, and there will be no reliable data on the proficiency level of the weaker test takers.
See also floor effect on Wikipedia, Floor Effect in Encyclopedia of Autism Spectrum Disorders (Springer, 2013) and floor effect in Oxford Reference.
See also ceiling effect, above.
extent to which a (foreign) language learner produces the target language smoothly and quickly (i.e. not halting, with an impression of ease).
Fluency is often contrasted with accuracy.
It is not to be confused with proficiency. For example, people with Broca's aphasia speak haltingly (i.e. not fluently) although they still retain their overall language proficiency.
See also Scott Thornbury: F is for Fluency, An A-Z of ELT, 17.12.2009.
foreign language acquisition
the process of learning a foreign language in an environment where that language is not spoken (typically in an environment where one's native language is spoken, especially in a classroom).
The term is used to differentiate between this type of learning, and language learning in an environment where the target language is spoken. The term second language acquisition normally covers both types of language learning.
forgetting curve
a curve on a diagram that represents how memorised items disappear from memory (or become inaccessible to recall) over time.
The forgetting curve represents Hermann Ebbinghaus' hypothesis of the exponential nature of forgetting. See forgetting curve on Wikipedia.
heritage language
a language that is mainly used in immigrant communities who live in a context where a different language dominates, and that children often learn as their native language (possibly, though not always, as bilinguals).
See also: Heritage Speakers of Spanish (Napa Valley College, Napa, California), What is Heritage Language (IGI Global) Heritage language on Wikipedia and The Heritage Language Journal published by the National Heritage Language Resource Center (NHLRC at the University of California.
Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (Hànyǔ shuǐpíng kǎoshì, 汉语水平考试): standardised proficiency test of standard Chinese for non-native speakers administered by Hanban, an agency of the Ministry of Education of the People's Republic of China.
See Wikipedia and 汉语考试服务网.
the distinctive type of language developed by a learner of a foreign language who has not yet reached proficiency
(term introduced by Larry Selinker in 1972)
See also Overview on Interlanguage by the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA).
interlanguage fossilisation
the process of stagnation or “freezing” of the transition from L1 to proficiency in a foreign language
International Phonetic Alphabet: a system of phonetic notation based on the Latin alphabet (with a few additions) created by the International Phonetic Association.
See also International Phonetic Alphabet on Wikipedia.
Japanese-Language Proficiency Test: standardised proficiency test of Japanese for non-native speakers.
See also 日本語能力試験  JLPT: the official JLPT website, in Japanese.
native language, mother tongue (“first language”).
second language.
third language.
Language Acquisition Device
Language Acquisition Device
hypothetical module of the human mind posited by the linguist Noam Chomsky to explain why children rapidly learn language; the linguistic input that children get is (supposedly) insufficient to account for this.
See also Universal Grammar (below) and What is Language Acquisition Device (LAD)? in the Psychology Dictionary.
language attrition
the partial or complete decay of language skills (in a specific foreign language or even one's native tongue), typically due to lack of use.
See also Language attrition on Wikipedia.
language transfer
the application of knowledge of one language (usually one's native language) to another language.
Also known as linguistic interference or crosslinguistic influence. See also “negative transfer” and “positive transfer”.
See Language Transfer (PDF, 5 pages) by Li-Shih Huang (2012).
cognitive process in which language learners use language in order to create meaningful and comprehensible output.
The concept was formulated by the Canadian linguist Merrill Swain, who also developed the output hypothesis.
language for specific purposes: the learning or teaching of languages, especially a foreign language, for specific contexts, e.g. business, tourism or academia.
Example: English for specific purposes (ESP).
long-term memory (see long-term memory in Wikipedia).
mobile-assisted language learning. (See Mobile-assisted language learning on Wikipedia.)
mastery learning
group instruction approach where learners must achieve a specific level of mastery of specific knowledge or skills before moving on to the next “lession”. The theory was first formulated by the American psychologist Benjamin Bloom.
the type of simplified language that adults use to talk to children who are still learning their native language.
Synonyms: caretaker speech, infant-directed speech (IDS), child-directed speech (CDS) or baby talk.
natural language
any language that has evolved naturally in humans through use and repetition without conscious planning or premeditation. (Wikipedia)
the phenomenon where language learners “notice” or identify grammatical features or vocabulary in the target language that they may integrate into their own communication, or where they identify gaps in their own knowledge of the target language.
The noticing hypothesis (i.e. that noticing enhances language acquisition) was proposed by the American linguist Richard Schmitt in 1990.
See also: Truscott, John (1998). Noticing in second language acquisition: a critical review, (PDF), Second Language Research, 14 (2): 103–135.
Cross, Jeremy: 'Noticing' in SLA: Is it a valid concept?, Teaching English as a Second or Foreign Language (TESL-EJ), Vol. 6. No. 3 (December 2002).
Open Proficiency Interview (OPI)
a standardized, global assessment of functional speaking ability (Wikipedia, 08.11.2016)
personal learning network (PLN)
a network in which a learner (informally) interacts with other people or learners and through which the learner gains new knowledge. The type of learning that takes place in this way plays an important role in connectivist learning.
See also What are Personal Learning Networks? by Karla Gutierrez (21.06.2016) and Personal Learning Networks on Education 2020.
a method of teaching English-speaking children to read and write (English) by connecting the phonemes or sounds of the spoken language with letters (or letter groups) in the written language.
National Literacy Trust: Phonics - a definition and Phonics - methods of teaching.
Wikipedia: Phonics.
École normale supérieure de Lyon : Dossier d'actualité n° 31 – novembre 2007: Méthodes de lecture et difficultés d'apprentissage.
plateau period
temporary interlanguage fossilisation
See interlanguage fossilisation (above).
extent to which a foreign language learner approaches the language competence of an educated native speaker in fluency, accuracy, complexity, and breadth of subjects that they can communicate about.
type of error feedback in which a teacher reformulates an incorrect sentence or phrase in the target language.
sequential bilingualism
the acquisition of a second language after one's native.
This term is often contrasted with simultaneous bilingualism.
simultaneous bilingualism
the acquistion of two languages from birth (or sometimes from very early childhood).
second language acquisition: the process of learning a second language or a foreign language after learning one's first language.
The term is also used to refer to the scientific discipline that studies this process.
See also foreign language acquisition.
spaced repetition software: a type of software program that serves as a digital flahscard system.
substractive bilingualism
the partial or complete loss of one's native language before one has acquired an age-appropriate level of a second language.
See also sequential bilingualism.
task-based language teaching (or task-based instruction), a communicative language teaching approach that involves asking students to perform meaningful tasks using the target language.
See also A Task-Based Approach on TeachingEnglish and task-based language learning on Wikipedia.
Teaching English to speakers of other languages; the teaching of English as a second language (ESL) or as a foreign language (EFL).
Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache: a standardised proficiency test for non-native speakers of German who want to study at or work in a German university.
TL / target language
the language being taught or learned.
third language acquisition.
Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (Huáyǔwén Nénglì Cèyàn, 華語文能力測驗): Chinese proficiency test for non-native speakers of Chinese administered by the Steering Committee for the Test Of Proficiency-Huayu (SC-TOP) of the Republic of China's (i.e. Taiwan's) Ministry of Education.
Test of English as a Foreign Language: a standardized test to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers wishing to enroll in English-speaking universities. (Wikipedia)
Test of Proficiency in Korean: an official Korean proficiency test for non-native speakers of Korean.
See also: TOPIK: official website.
Universal Grammar (UG
the hypothetical set of linguistic or grammatical categories (such as definiteness, the noun category, the verb category, the difference between singular and plural, past versus present, questions) that all languages have in common and that all humans are born with (i.e. this knowledge is innate); Noam Chomsky posited the concept of Universal Grammar explain child language acquisition.
See also Language Acquisition Device (above), What is Universal Grammar (UG)? in the Psychology Dictionary and Universal Grammar in Psychology Concepts.
two-way immersion (TWI)
a language teaching approach (used in schools) where two native languages (typically a migrant language and the dominant national language) are taught in partnership
See also Elizabeth Howard, Julie Sugarman, Marleny Perdomo, Carolyn Temple Adger: The Two-Way Immersion Toolkit (Brown University, 2005); Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL, USA): Resources for Two-Way Immersion and Dual Language Practitioners; Bilingual Immersion Education Network (BIEN, UK): Two-way immersion education; Two-Way Immersion Teaching in Biel/Bienne: Multilingual Schooling at the Filière Bilingue (FiBi) State School (2013 report).

Other Glossaries

Printed reference works: