#ELTChat is a weekly Twitter chat held at either 12pm or 9pm GMT on alternate weeks. It’s a great opportunity for English language practitioners all over the world to discuss a topic, which gets selected by the moderators from topics proposed by teachers. Anybody can join in – just remember to use the #ELTChat hashtag. Summaries of previous ELT Chats are available on the website: eltchat.org

One of the first ELT chat’s of June 2015 was “How much metalanguage (terminology about language) do you use and how much is needed? ” Click here for the transcript of the discussion.

Key factors included: age, level/ability, type of learner, type of metalanguage, and context.

Examples of types of practice have also been included towards the end of this post, with some added philosophical comments from contributors, and a final thought from the end of the chat.

Please note, some of the tweets will appear in more than one section due to the relevance/sequence of it.

Continue reading to find out what was shared!


  • metalang not really appropriate for early years (patrickelt)
  • Re Young and very young learners – do they need to know VERB  or NOUN or Past perfect continuous as terms? (Marisa_C)
  • First two as in verb and noun – i would add adjective too myself 🙂 #eltchat but not sure it does anything (this knowledge) (Shaunwilden)
  • I taught my 2nd graders what verbs and adjectives were? (TheRedFellow)
  • I don’t think young learners can categorize language in this way  not in their cognitive make up (Marisa_C)
  • Abstract thought/terms after age of 11 or 12 (Marisa_C)


  • Perhaps older learners – can be useful when sts use dictionaries etc to understand resource books (patrickelt)
  • With older learners I think it is unavoidable  – CBs use it websites use them so pretending they dont exist ? (Marisa_C)
  • I think in most adult Cbs now some LA work where metalang inevitable – Ss need it to work out meaning, form, use, function, tenor (Marisa_C)


  • Not overcomplicate at any level, but ensure sts have lang. to talk abt lang. Writing a C1 TB right now, so…! (rapple18)
  • so C1 gives you carte blanche? (Shaunwilden)
  • Shouldn’t it depend on the students’ level of general education? Less educated, less metalanguage? (TheRedFellow)
  • so basically, we’re talking about using metalang AT sts’ level (none of this i+1) … – to describe what they can already use… (rapple18)
  • less literate Ss more difficulty understanding abstractions  (Marisa_C)
  • I would disagree. Illiteracy does not equate to a lack of critical/abstract thinking abilities. (kaurgibbons)
  • if S is educated, probably has system of dealing with lang.analysis in L1.If not,then new concept+vocab (TheRedFellow)
  • it does equate to lack of concepts to analyse language. (TheRedFellow)
  • I think you will find that survival ESOL classes for migrants in UK avoid metalang at all costs. (TheRedFellow)


  • helps them become savvy about their learning .. but perhaps not great for all st types… (rapple18)
  • learning another language requires one to think about why we say what we say when we say it, ie another level of thinking…. (pjgallantry)
  • I have students who want the metaL. Their brains work that way so why should I avoid it? (kaurgibbons)
  • In my experience, if the learner has used metalang. in L1,then easier to do so in L2 (TheRedFellow)
  • Depends on a students explicit grammar knowledge of1st lang. If it’s good, they want to know in Eng (TheRedFellow)
  • I think Ss’ knowledge of metalanguage has nothing to do with productive use esp speech – writing yes – more time  (Marisa_C)


  • verb and noun and adjective, YES! past/present/future, YES! (TheRedFellow)
  • First two as in verb and noun – i would add adjective too myself 🙂 #eltchat but not sure it does anything (this knowledge)  (Shaunwilden)
  • Past, Present sometimes. Future never. In “my” model of grammar no Future Tense (GlenysHanson)
  • why is Lang abt Lang considered ‘not Lang?’ As metacognition goes, so goes (some) metaL IMHO  (NewbieCELTA)


  • Except with trainee teacher, used only very basic terms: noun, adjective,verb, preposition (GlenysHanson)
  • from own experience, I only learned metalanguage of English when I did my CELTA! No need for it beforehand…. (pjgallantry)
  • WHY are they learning English is also key when thinking abt metaL (kaurgibbons)
  • I’m thinking of learners who want lang / functions 4survival. Learning terms puts extra weight on vocab load. (rapple18)
  • ESOL learners/migrants with little or no formal education in L1 do not need metalanguage (TheRedFellow)
  • I think you will find that survival ESOL classes for migrants in UK avoid metalang at all costs. (TheRedFellow)
  • I’m thinking of exam/EAP/Business/ESP students who also need to write and read (kaurgibbons)
  • If it’s required by an exam, that’s different. Doesn’t prove it aids LL (GlenysHanson)
  • Our kids schooling in Italy, meta language in Italian grammar from age 6 so were frustrated on return to UK in # MFL (clerotto)
  • Agreed. UK’s inability/reluctance to use grammatical terms in schools is a disaster, in my opinion.  (TheRedFellow)
  • GCSE no metalang. Daughter did 3 A level langs, some use but UK kids moaned (clerotto)
  • UK seems to think that forcing Ss to explicitly learn grammar infringes on creativity..   (TheRedFellow)


  • I think if it needs to be used it needs to be used, avoiding it can lead to overcomplicating and misunderstanding (Shaunwilden)
  • Often I think it needs to be used. Irrespective of age. Shows Ss we know what we’re talking about (kaurgibbons)
  • They don’t need to know it ALL to make it a useful part of their learning journey (kaurgibbons)
  • it’s a bit like using phon symbols: great if sts have learnt them bit by bit up the levels… (rapple18)
  • yes – gradually, inductively and IN USE/APPLICATION, in corr. feedback learning zone (NewbieCELTA)
  • helps them become savvy about their learning .. but perhaps not great for all st types… (rapple18)
  • Isn’t that part of our job? Help them become better learners? Having metaL does that I think (kaurgibbons)
  • In my experience, if the learner has used metalang. in L1,then easier to do so in L2 (TheRedFellow)
  • If everyone in the class agrees it’s fine. Not my experience in heterogeneous classes. (GlenysHanson)
  • I usually colour code words on the whiteboard when referring to different parts of speech. (malachyscullion)
  • Concept Qs and time lines attempt to clarify meaning w/o metalang. So perhaps it’s a case of not o’complicating .. (rapple18)
  • but I WOULD and HAVE used discourse terms like ‘turntaking’ rules, tonic stress, given vs new info and pronunction (Marisa_C)
  • For pron I think it is invaluable to use metaL. Def when Ss realise pron isn’t just about tongue twisters! (kaurgibbons)
  • some metaL is just great vocab & fantastic to teach both linguistic & other meanings, tenor for example  (NewbieCELTA)
  • Ss helped by sep. tense & aspect, I do that often. Not just metaL, it’s teaching Lang system: req. terms!(NewbieCELTA)
  • if we can make metaL ‘come alive’ and treat it richly, it loses its ‘boring/serious’ rep and is..activated!! (NewbieCELTA)
  • That’s the key I think. #metalanguage needs to be made engaging at times – depends on Ss too  (kaurgibbons)
  • Some knowledge of metalang useful as a prompt in error correction – on the spot or delayed  (Marisa_C)
  • Absolutely. So I use it  if and when students are keen to use it. Irrespective of those who don’t. (kaurgibbons)
  • Often this becomes a learning exchange between students in my experience (kaurgibbons)
  • I use it as a learning exchange moment. Or group students who want metaL and then they share findings  (kaurgibbons)


  • of course, learning and acquiring a language are very different things – prob no need for metalamguage in the latter (pjgallantry)
  • this could be true Paul if we actually knew if conscious & explicit knowledge of terms helps in lang acquitision (Marisa_C)
  • new thought: if we consider language as experiential, there is no need for metalanguage: if we consider it as a subject, we do….. (pjgallantry)
  • e.g., we experience our environment without needing to describe it, but if we study it in class, we need metalang to guide us.. (pjgallantry)
  • Absolutely. And in my context for the Ss it is often a subject that will become experiential. (kaurgibbons)
  • can’t agree w. dichotomy: lang abt language is too ‘exp. language’; quite close 2present experience if studying!  (NewbieCELTA)
  • so, can we say: experienced language doesn’t need describing, while language studied abstractly does?  (pjgallantry)

What next?

Thanks to clerotto for this final thought:

Could you organise a chat to discuss ways to introduce metalang? e.g. with cuisinaire rods?