DBA (Death by Acronym) on CELTA

There can be so many different acronyms used on the CELTA course, uttered and echoed so many times. The entire affair is slathered in them. Its something trainees often struggle with, comment on, and joke about. Is this AOK? Or should I be asking WTF? IMO, it’s something that’s worth a WCSL (well-considered second look).

[*NOTE: Before going any further, I want to say  that I’m well aware of the difference between an acronym and an initialism. What I call “acronyms” in this post are, in fact, initialisms according to the very straightforward dictionary definition (acronyms are said as words, like NASA – initialisms like FBI aren’t). Here’s the thing: people these days brazenly, even gleefully, ignore this fact. I’m people. Hence, I ignore it too. I apologize if this bothers you. I also pity you.]

These endless acronyms include:

CCQ (Concept Checking Question)

ICQ (Instruction Checking Question)

TTT (Teacher Talk Time)

STT (Student Talk Time)

TTT (Test-Teach-Test)

FB (Feedback)

WC (Whole-Class)

WCFB (Whole-Class Feedback)

S (Student)

Ss (Students)

T (Teacher)

IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet)

EFL/ESL/ESOL (you know…)

YLs (Young Learners)

TL (Target Language)

TPR (Total Physical Resonse)

WB (Whiteboard)

PPP (Present Practice Produce)

TP (Teaching Practice)

MFP (Meaning, Pronunciation, Form)

DEC (Delayed Error Correction)

LSA, FOL, LRT, LFC (Assignments)

TBL (Task-Based Learning)

LA (Language Analysis)

LP (Lesson Plan)

CP (Course Participant)

Etc., etc.

Now, I’ve found myself defending DBA (Death by Acronym) during the CELTA on the grounds that we need efficiencies. We need the quick n’ dirtiest referencing tools because we refer to lots of these things so often. It’s a shorthand, and it’s a good thing.


But I think I’ll stop. I mean, I’ll stop defending it. But more importantly, I think I’ll also stop acronym-ing my trainees to death’s doorstep in the first place. This would be based on a handful of interrelated considerations:

  • acronyms are technical and lifeless

I don’t want the CELTA courses I work on to be technical or lifeless…and I don’t want the vibrant, organic, vital act of teaching to be referred to in overly technical or lifeless terms. I might write this on a CP’s LP: BTW, good FB in your DEC on the F an P of the TL! No, I really don’t think e.e. cummings would like it, not at all. And I want to be able to imagine that e.e. cummings wouldn’t hate the teacher training course I work on.

There’s good reason trainees often joke about, sometimes mock, CELTA acronyms – they become like flotsam and jetsam, good for tossing around as you float along together. But they aren’t what’s keeping you afloat, and it’s definitely not all affectionate teasing. If “STT” is really so important, I’d rather the language I used to insist you account for it not suggest a TPS report. My least favorite is ‘TTT’ and I’m happy to say that I’ve already all but erased it from my vocabulary. To take something as central and consequential as the teacher’s speech in a lesson and cram it down into the bluntly quantitative, one-dimensional ‘teacher talk time’…uggg. This is what you get, even when you DON’T repeat it with unreasonable frequency: “but…wouldn’t that be teacher talk time though?” when you suggest someone tell a wonderful and humorous personal anecdote to their students.

  • acronyms are frozen solid

As we explore teaching and learning on the course (and this exploratory side is the best side of the whole endeavor), we move, like spelunkers, into deeper caverns, seeing different formations and noticing more patterns in the rock. What all these acronyms may do, rather unhelpfully, is force us to use the exact same language to talk about quite different things. Acronyms pin something down in a very final way. NML (me no like). Sure, I can – as I remember doing just the other day – make one simple rubik’s twist and use ‘FCQ’ (form checking question) when I notice a candidate using student-directed questions to confirm and consolidate their understanding of the form of the structure his lesson was focused on…but then why fossilize the C into CCQ so thoroughly in the first place, unless, like a slot machine, we wanted even more acronyms with exponential substitutions.

  • they can make things that “get an acronym” seem equally important

Take ‘CCQ’ and ‘ICQ’. My co-tutor and I recently promised each other never to utter ‘ICQ’ on the course again after witnessing an IC-Coup, a near-total takeover of our trainee’s entire sphere of concern in their lessons as they carpet-bombed the students with questions like “are you going to work alone, or with a partner?” three point five seconds after clearly announcing to the class “you are going to work alone on this”. We decided that the trainees had only recently been introduced to the essential notion of ‘checking understanding’, along with the famous CCQ, and were, bless their hearts, treating the relative trifle of checking task instructions using similarly straightforward yes/no questions as a similarly profound mandate.

  • acronyms are too efficient

It’s true that the CELTA course is very busy and very full. Busier and fullier than pretty much every other thing in the known universe. So it makes sense, what I do when I rationalize the need for so many acronyms. Doesn’t it? Actually, not really. Not really, because things like the meaning, pronunciation, and form of a piece of language or the way we check and consolidate the understanding of a concept are NOT, in fact, the places we should be trimming seconds off our run time. Instead, aren’t these the very things we want to speak of in whole and patient prose, sonorously, with soul, even perhaps with a pinch of panache?  Maybe it should take up some time to make a reference to ‘teacher talking time’. Being too efficient, acronyms simply fly forward, allowing nobody to bring their own language into play. When I think about it, I’d rather have different trainees potentially refer to X with their own most salient term. With an ‘official’ (sounding) acronym on the scene, however, that door is more tightly closed.


Well…I’m pretty sure there’s a fifth and likely a sixth reason why I should take a critically reflective look at how I use and potentially misuse acronyms on the courses I work on. I think I could continue, but it might just be TMI. I think what I’ve already got is enough to help me be able to say, to myself, FTFY. Also, I’d like it not to be TL;DR.

Thanks for reading and don’t hesitate to ask a question or add a comment (as short and basic as you like – it’s just always nice to see even the quickest of check-ins!) in the place below.


12 thoughts on “DBA (Death by Acronym) on CELTA

  1. Hi there

    Great post! Just a couple of thought in reply:

    1) it is not just CELTA that is over-using acronyms (SIT TESOL Cert Course, for example, offers quite a few to the participants!)
    2) acronyms might limit the way participants/trainees understand something. Example: the ‘Q’ in CCQ does not include any other ways of checking meaning, only questions, etc.
    3) using acronyms in written observation notes saves trainer writing/typing time
    4) using the same acronyms (and less often, creating new ones) creates a special common language for the group of participants; this sometimes means that once they are joining a language school where there are people with other certificates, they might find out that WCFB might also look like OCFB (open class feedback) – meaning essentially the same thing!

    I am thinking of re-considering the way acronyms are utilized on the courses I run. Not ready to refuse from them completely (yet?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely agree – no need to go cold turkey. Your point about written notes while observing is unassailable (screams my fingers, wrist). It’s a bit of a ‘devils Advocate’ type post in its one sidedness.

      My favorite acronym (and actually an acronym!) from the SIT course was ‘FUMP’ (Form, Use, Meaning, Pron). When used as a verb, it had an almost onomatopoeic quality – “you FUMPed the vocabulary nicely!” 😉

      We do the same thing with MPF and other acronyms, of course, but ‘to fump language’…just works! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Your #2: “acronyms might limit the way participants/trainees understand something. Example: the ‘Q’ in CCQ does not include any other ways of checking meaning, only questions, etc.” is super crucial and closely related to my #1. Perhaps it’s not a tyranny of the acronym itself; perhaps in specific cases new letters are called for that would better ‘open’ an acronym, increase its functionality, and ease the pain.

        CCT (Concept Checking Technique), anyone? CCM (Concept Checking Move)?

        I’d also like something to carry the idea that a CCQ not only checks understanding but also consolidates learned language, echoing the kinds of elicitation questions that might have already been asked.

        Perhaps, simply, CCC (acronym-ized as “see! see! see!): concept checking & consolidation.


        Liked by 2 people

      2. Hm, I like the CCC idea: works really well for the stage of the lesson where students are getting clear and (more) comfortable with the target structure or vocab. I would also feel good about using CC (concept checking) and thus reducing the ‘extra’ part in the acronym.
        Read Sandy’s comment and your reply and learned a new one (PTV) 🙂
        Keep sharing these posts – I like how this blog is becoming a place for trainers to share thoughts and examples!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ll also add that I recently got some (wonderful) feedback on some recent blog posts in which the constant use of these acronyms was the main focus. Essentially, it asked: what’s up with all this unpacked ‘insider’ language? Why must this read like an impenetrable code to the reader? And it made me realize how unmindful of this I’d been – though I’m clearly not writing for a general audience on this blog, as I rotate my voice outwards from the course I do need to by conscious of what language actually translates back into a more common parlance.

    Like a soldier coming home and saying I’ll like you for dinner at ‘nineteen-hundred hours’.


  3. Hi Matt,
    You mentioned at the end something about trainees letting in their own language. One of my favourites was ‘The Chair Technique’. ‘Good use of the chair technique’ or ‘You need to use the chair technique more’ were regularly heard between trainees during feedback. What were they referring to? Sitting down, of course!
    I’ve been CELTA tutoring for 18 months now in many places and with many trainers, all of whom come with their own favourite acronyms. Despite that, one of the teachers at my school threw out a new one about a week ago which I’d never heard before: PTV. Pre-teach vocab anyone? It completely threw me! Then it turned out my co-tutor on the course I’m working on now also uses it 🙂 So even us humble tutors can be over-acronymed at times!
    Definitely something I shall think more about. Keep writing these posts Matt!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. PTV? I use that! I shoulda added that to my acronyms list but I think it gave me a headache before I could ;). Isn’t it interesting, all the shades of a common shorthand different trainers bring to it? Don’t get me wrong; I like it, too. I love “The Chair Technique” as a tongue-in-cheek description of sitting down. But doesn’t it show how, at the same time those trainees were critiquing the discourse, they were exploiting it to suggest the idea that little things can mean a lot? Love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A brilliant post! Fun to read and I also agree with you about the overuse of acronyms/initialisms.
    I think another problem is that many CELTA-graduates (if we can call them that?) falsely believe that these acronyms and abbreviations are some sort of ‘standard’ teacher-speak, that all English teachers around the world use consistently … whilst for some this is probably true (EFL, TESOL, etc), as the other comments above illustrate, a lot of them are just gobbledygook to teachers in other contexts!! But to some extent I suppose us trainers are also to blame, if we present the acronyms int this kind of light….

    Liked by 1 person

  5. And let’s not get started on the acronyms and other terminology that you have to be at least au fait with when you move to other ELT areas like materials writing. WOL, FPO, leader, and I could go on (I won’t!)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Agreed…it’s all gone too far. All of those acronyms take the life out of teaching. I had thought English Language Arts was bad enough until I joined the EFL world and started hearing TPR and TTT all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s