Resources‎ > ‎Dictionary‎ > ‎A to M‎ > ‎


False Friends:  False friends look like cognates because they are similar in form but different in meaning.  For example the English word “gentle” looks like a cognate of the French word “gentil” but they have different meanings.  See also Cognate.

Feedback:  This is the response learners get when they communicate.  Feedback can involve correction, acknowledgement, requests for clarification, backchannel cues (e.g., "Mmm").  Feedback plays an important role in helping learners to test their ideas about the target language.
Field Dependence/Independence:  Language learners differ in the way they perceive, conceptualize, organize and recall information.  Learners who are 'field dependents' operate holistically:  they see the field as a whole.  Learners who are 'field independents' operate analytically:   they perceive the field in terms of its component parts.  This distinction helps in the understanding of how learners acquire a second language (L2).
Filter:  Learners do not attend to all the input they receive.  They attend to some features, and 'filter' other features out.  This often depends on affective factors such as motivation, attitude, emotions, and anxiety.
Fluency:  When we talk about ‘fluency’ we mean ‘getting the message across effectively, with ease and without hesitation’. 
Foreign Language:  A foreign language is one which is not normally used for communication in a particular society.  Thus English is a foreign language in France, and Spanish is a foreign language in Germany.
Form:  Language teachers often talk about form and function.  Form refers to grammar (grammatical form), pronunciation (phonological form), and spelling (graphological form).  Grammatical form can include word order (syntax), word formation (e.g., happy, unhappy, happiness, happily, etc), inflection (e.g., adding ‘-s’ to plural forms) or verb conjugation in different tenses.  Form can also refer to how tenses and verbs pattern. For example, the form of the ‘be going to’ future is ‘be going to + infinitive without to’ (e.g., ‘am/’s/’re going to have’) and one of several verb patterns used with the verb “warn” is subject + ‘warn’ + noun/pronoun + not + infinitive (e.g., ‘She warned me not to do that.’).  A grammatical form is sometimes referred to as ‘a grammatical structure’.  The phonological form of something refers to the sounds in the utterance, how they are said and how syllables are stressed.  See also Meaning and Use.


Format:  The format of a text is the physical organization of the different elements.  For example, in English letter format, the writer’s address is usually written at the top of the letter, sometimes on the left, sometimes in the center.  In other countries, the writer’s address might be at the bottom of the letter, or sometimes written only on the envelope. 


Formative Assessment:  Formative assessment is either formal or informal assessment that is carried out during a course (as opposed to at the end of a course).  The aim is to give students and teacher information about how well students are doing in the areas that have been taught and to highlight areas students need more help or practice in.  Formative assessments may or may not be graded.  See also Summative Assessment.

Form-focused Tasks:  These tasks have a linguistic focus.  They are intended to give students practice in grammar, vocabulary, etc. so that students can form especially tenses, words (spelling), phrases and sentences (word order) accurately.   See Meaning-focused Tasks.
Formulaic Speech:  This consists of phrases and expressions learned as wholes and used on particular occasions.  See Patterns and Routines.
Fossilization:  When an error becomes a habit of speech in a second language learner we say the error has fossilized.  It happens especially when the error does not interfere with communication, and hence, the speaker does not get corrective feedback.
Free Writing:  Students often write very slowly because they are focused on avoiding grammar or spelling mistakes from the beginning.  The technique of free writing encourages students to get all their ideas on paper first before letting them edit their writing.  Teachers ask students to write without stopping or making corrections for a certain period of time (e.g., three or five minutes).  Even if students can’t think of what to write, they must keep writing:  Some teachers ask their students to write the last word they wrote again and again, others ask students to write, “I don’t know”, “banana”, or any other nonsense word.  When students finish free writing, they usually read and edit their work, adding, deleting and organizing their ideas before editing for grammar mistakes.  Sometimes teachers ask students to read their free-writing aloud to another student who can give suggestions about what to add or include.   See:  for more on free writing.


Freer Practice:  One way to teach new language (grammar, lexis, or functional expressions) is to clarify it and then to give students opportunities to practice it in increasingly more challenging and authentic ways.  At the beginning, the teacher limits or controls the range of language that students need to use.  Once students have demonstrated their ability to produce the new language with increasing accuracy, teachers then give them more freedom to choose the lexis, grammar or functional expressions they want to use to communicate their meaning.  This is called semi-controlled practice.  When students have demonstrated that they are able to use the new language to communicate in limited ways, teachers give them opportunities to use all the other language they know, as well as the specific language they have been learning in the lesson.  This is called freer practice.  There are not necessarily distinct categories of practice activity, but rather a continuum between controlled and freer practice.  Controlled and semi-controlled practice activities are described at elsewhere in this glossary.  See Controlled and Semi-controlled practice activities.

Frequency:  Language that learners hear and read contains a range of linguistic forms which occur with varying frequency.  Learners’ output also contains a range of linguistic forms used with varying frequency.  Some of the most frequently occurring words are: and, was, with, I, be, on, to, and that. There is evidence to show that input frequency matches output frequency.
Function:  When teachers talk about linguistic form, they are thinking about how the words, grammar or expressions sound, are spelled, and what parts they are made up of.  When teachers talk about linguistic function, they are thinking of the speaker’s purpose, what the speaker wants to do or is doing with the language, what the speaker wants to convey in choosing to use those words, expressions or that grammatical structure.  For example, the present continuous tense in English has four distinct functions: to talk about activities in progress (e.g., “You’re reading this”); to talk about temporary habitual activities around now (e.g., “I’m eating a lot of salads because the weather is so hot”); to talk about planned future arrangements, (e.g., “I’m seeing the doctor tomorrow”); and to express annoyance at someone’s habitual behavior (e.g., “He’s always tapping his fingers on his desk.”).  The function of language describes the speaker’s purpose in using it: inviting, suggesting, advising, recounting events we’re excited about, expressing annoyance, describing a temporary situation, etc.  One function can usually be expressed in different ways.  A speaker who wants to request repetition can choose to say:  “Excuse me?”, “Pardon me?”, “Sorry?”, “Can you say that again?”, “What did you say?”, etc.  The speaker’s choice depends on who the other person is are, what their relationship is and where they are.  Each of these ways to express the function of requesting repetition is known as a ‘functional exponent’ or sometimes, ‘functional expression,’ and learners need to know that one form may have many different functions and one function may have many different forms.
Functional Approach:   A course based on a functional approach takes as its starting point for language development, what the learner wants to do through language.  Common functions include identifying oneself and giving personal facts about oneself; expressing moods and emotions.
Functional Competence:  Functional competence describes two things.  First, it describes a person’s ability to choose the most effective way to realize a specific function in a particular situation.  Functional competence also involves a person’s ability to recognize, interpret and understand the speaker or writer’s intention in choosing a particular functional expression, or exponent.  For example, person A has not heard what person B said.  Person A has a number of ways to ask for repetition.  The person chooses “What did you say?” (with significant stress on the word ‘what.’).  Person B understands that person A may feel annoyed or angry because s/he misheard or misinterpreted what was said, or person B may also realize that s/he said something inappropriate, hurtful or controversial. 


Functional expressions:  A functional expression (or ‘functional exponent’) is one possible way to realize a particular language function.  For example, “I’m very sorry” and “I do apologize” are two exponents, or functional expressions, that realize the function of apologizing. 


Function words:  In any sentence or phrase, there are two types of words, content words and function words.  Content words carry the main, important or new information and function words.  Function words are the grammatical words that join the content words together.  Function words are usually pronouns, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, etc.  For example, can, I and your in the question “Can I borrow your cellphone?” are all function words.  Content words are usually, but not always, nouns, main verbs, adjectives, or adverbs.  In the above question, borrow and cellphone are the content words and carry the main meaning.  In fact, if a speaker just said “Borrow cellphone?” the listener would probably understand the speaker’s meaning.  However, if the speaker asked “Can I your?” the listener wouldn’t understand what the speaker wanted.