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ELC Blog | The Definitive Guide To Academic English Language

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The Definitive Guide To Academic English Language

Academic Language: Definition

Academic English language refers to the oral, written, auditory, and visual language used in Universities and other higher education establishments. It includes discipline-specific vocabulary, grammar, syntax and punctuation, and rhetorical conventions and devices used for specific work such as essays, papers and lab reports.

When you’re studying English for academic purposes, you’ll be learning academic English language for writing essays and papers, attending lectures and taking notes and taking part in tutorials and seminars. In higher education establishments you’ll also be more independent and need English language skills for dealing with everything from landlords to clubs and societies.

Proficiency in academic English language allows you to acquire knowledge and academic skills while also successfully navigating Establishment policies, assignments, expectations, and cultural norms.

In this definitive guide to academic English language, we’ll be covering the English writing and grammar skills you will need, as well as looking at some of the different situations you might find yourself in whilst studying in an academic English environment. 

Academic English Writing and English Grammar. What is it and why is it important?

Academic English writing is designed to be impersonal, formal, objective and uses a passive voice to get information across, also using references and citations throughout. It is the language of essays, reports, papers and theses. 

Knowing the requirements for academic English and what grammar to use helps you adopt the correct writing style for academic English language more easily. Here are some key points:

English Language Student in front of the Union Jack flag
  • Use arguments informed by research. These can be through other books and papers, first-person research or a combination of both. Referencing other sources is vital to support your work when using academic English language.
  • Use cautious language when explaining findings, using words such as 'may', 'it is possible that...', 'could' etc.
  • Use an impersonal, rather than a personal writing style, avoiding words like ‘I’ or ‘you’.
  • Use formal, not colloquial language, for example: ‘the participants were pleasantly surprised’ rather than ‘the guys were well pleased.’
  • Have an objective viewpoint and use factual rather than emotive language, for example, ‘the findings are significant’ as opposed to ‘the results are totally amazing!’
  • Use a passive, rather than an active voice. So ‘the dog was given some food’ rather than ‘I gave the dog some food.’
  • Use uncontracted verb forms: ‘do not’ rather than ‘don’t’, ‘they are’ rather than ‘they’re’ and ‘she is’ rather than’ she’s’, etc.
  • Use cohesive words like ‘she, he, it, this, that’ and other referencing expressions to make multiple references to people, things and events in order to avoid repetition. For example, ‘John Smith spent years on extensive research. He made it the sole focus of his work at the university’, rather than ‘John Smith spent years on extensive research. John Smith made the extensive research the sole focus of his work at the university.’
  • Employ co-ordination and subordination to join two or more pieces of information into a single sentence. So, with coordination, use words like ‘and, although, however, but, and or’ to join information. Subordination provides a transition between two ideas in a sentence, and can also indicate a place, time, cause or effect. So use words like ‘after, because, provided that, since or unless’.

Academic English Language Skills

Learning how to write an essay using academic English language is only one skill you will need in higher education. Let’s now look at some situations you might find yourself in at University and how you might use academic English language to negotiate them.

Attending lectures

You may not know the topic being covered in a lecture until you arrive and it can be difficult to follow the information, especially if new vocabulary is being used. Try to find out the subject of the lecture in advance and research the topic, making notes of specialist language. Maybe speak to the lecturer beforehand and ask for the handout or a list of key points so that you can prepare. Ask if you can record the lecture so you can listen back and take notes.

Attending seminar groups and discussions

To take part in debate and discussion you will need to use academic English language in the style described above. In seminars, don’t be shy about asking questions, expressing an opinion and taking an active part. Research different viewpoints so you can add to the discussion.

Seminar groups are part of academic life and also a great place to make friends whilst learning, so also learn some phrases you can use whilst meeting fellow students for the first time. ‘What A levels did you do?’, ‘Did you take a gap year?’ and ‘What other modules are you studying?’ are all common questions students ask each other when they first meet.

Writing reports and presentations

Speak to your tutor as soon as possible to understand their expectations for the presentation of your work. You may be writing up an experiment, a report, or a lecture on 19th century Flemish art. Each of these uses academic English language, but will be written up in a different way. By knowing the correct form expected, and looking at examples of similar work, you will quickly learn until writing in academic English language becomes second nature. 

Academic English Grammar

University life

At an English language school such as ELC, almost everything is organised for you. Your accommodation, most food, classes and excursions. In higher education however, you are more independent and will need English language skills in all areas of your new life. You’ll be using specific vocabulary around your accommodation and dealing with landlords, language for negotiating your first weeks around campus, and joining clubs, societies and other social events. Use the website of the establishment you are going to in order to get to know the layout and what social events you might like to take part in.

In order to enter University, you’ll need to pass the IELTS test. IELTS test results are on a scale between 1 to 9 where 1 is a non-English language user and 9 is an expert user. Most educational institutions set IELTS score requirements between 5.5 and 7. Let’s look this test and how you can prepare for it with the IELTS Academic Practice Test:

IELTS Academic Practice Test

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS), is an exam to assess your English language skills and is accepted as proof of your proficiency by over 2,000 educational establishments across the world. The IELTS test is designed to measure your communication skills across writing, speaking, reading and listening to English. Two tests are offered: Academic and General Training. 

If you’re planning on undergraduate or postgraduate study, or seeking professional registration, then the academic IELTS exam should be your choice. At ELC you will be studying the academic English course for this test and have the opportunity to sit past papers in your own time and also in exam conditions.

IELTS academic writing is a specific form of communication, as is the skill of academic reading, and so having access to the IELTS Academic Practice Test and the guidance of your experienced ELC tutors will enable you to be well prepared.

Where to study Academic English Language

Most English language schools offer courses designed to prepare you for study at English speaking Universities and taking the IELTS test.

When learning about academic English language and studying for the IELTS exam, ELC is one of the leaders in the field (many of the tutors are also IELTS examiners) and offers many options. The IELTS exam preparation course is an intensive 4-week course culminating in the academic IELTS exam on the Saturday after your course.

The IELTS Preparation Course can also be taken as part of the Study Year Programme at ELC so you can take your time and take the test when you are ready. Your tutors will give you guidance and practice in all 4 papers of the IELTS exam and regular tutorials to give you individual help and study advice. Check out our courses and start your journey with us today!

Students in class learning academic English

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