The Alternative EFL Jargon Dictionary Part One

accuracy– Not making mistakes in a foreign language. A student who is obsessed about having every mistake corrected, usually Swiss, is called an accurist

advanced learner– a proficient user of a foreign language. One who can correct their teacher once or twice a term and still thinks it is clever to do so. A learner who could do so even more but has learnt that they are actually there to learn something and move up to the next level is defined as proficiency level.

affect– basically, emotional factors in the classroom, e.g. feelings towards L2, the teacher, native speakers etc. This noun is based on the first syllable, and correcting a teacher on this is a perfect example of producing negative affect with error correction.

affix– In a rare but not unique example of linguistic jargon being named after a childrens toy, affixes are named after the plastic model brand Airfix. This is due to sticking affixes onto the front of words (prefixes, mis- etc.) or end of words (suffixes, -ify etc.) being like a nerdy teenager sticks decals onto a badly painted model of a WWII Spitfire fighter plane.

agency– In linguistics, having agency means having control over your own language learning. How ironic then that agency is also the name for the companies that sell English courses in the UK etc. abroad by lying through their teeth about likely progress, extra charges, friendliness of host families etc. etc.

prefix and suffix– These affixes that go on the front (sub-, re- etc.) and back (-able, -ly etc.) of words are named after Asterix characters that always wandered into battle at the front of the phalanx not knowing how much trouble they were getting into (Prefix) or cowered at the back until Obelix found them (Suffix).

TBL– Task Based Learning- Although many of the details of this approach are still less clear than the (at least easy to understand) approach of PPP, the basic idea is to get students learning the vocab, grammar and functional language they need by basing the interactions and possibly the whole lesson and even syllabus on tasks (negotiating a menu, finding your way around the Hong Kong tube etc.) that students perform. As is clear from the random examples I gave, it is quite possible for such tasks to be nothing new and possibly totally unstimulating, and so it was to be in the first major TBL textbook series, Cutting Edge- which was pants. There are other theoretical and practical arguments against TBL, but the main point is that after 100s of books and research papers it has not changed the way English is taught in more than 1 percent of the classrooms of the world. More sensibly, recent textbooks seem to concentrate much more on what to teach rather than how to teach it.

TEFL– Teaching English as a Foreign Language. It was once quite ordinary to refer to the industry as TEFL and even say I am a TEFL teacher, but as the term has taken on a negative image of cowboy schools, underqualified teachers and all the other negative images people both inside and outside the industry might have. EFL teacher and the ELT industry are now much more generally used by people inside the industry, although of course the negative image rather than the word is the problem. I am therefore starting a campaign to reclaim the word TEFL, in the same way as the N word has become standard for rappers.

Complete list here.

This entry was posted in Linguistics, applied linguistics and SLA, TEFL, TESOL and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Alternative EFL Jargon Dictionary Part One

  1. I think some people want to stop us using the word TEFL because they think it draws attention to the new F-Word (Foreign) that such people do not want us to use. I think they see the word Foreign as negative, as in some sense representing “The Other”. Have they forgotten the magic of those first days of travel in a Foreign Land, with all the excitement and stimulation of difference? Also, I think that the present vogue for English as a Lingua Franca has something to do with the anti “Foreign” word trend. Some people see “native speakers” as a problem as I suppose we use the language in too much of a creative, somtimes slightly anarchic, fashion, that does not lend itself easily to the international business langauge that is a subset of any language as spoken on the streets. In my experience TEFL is still the word on the streets, just as it was when I first taught English in Spain, way back in the 1970’s. TEFL was good enough for us then, and I think it is good enough now!


  2. Alex Case says:

    Good point, never thought about the Foreign thing before. Still think there’s something else there though- EFL (English as a Foreign Language) is still much more acceptable than TEFL. There’s the similar sounds to ‘teflon’ and ‘Tefal’ going on, but I still say it is more to do with the general negative impression of the job sticking to the name.

    In conclusion, for whatever reason this situation has come about I totally agree- let’s reclaim the T word!

  3. Pingback: Alternative English Teaching Jargon From TEFLtastic - About TEFL,

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