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Academic English

Being able to speak, listen and read English well will help reduce the time it takes to finish required readings, help you understand lectures, write papers, take exams, and complete group assignments. Becoming a fluent English speaker will take dedication, desire, and lots of practice. Learn about Academic English and the resources available for improving your English skills.

Academic English

You may be confident in using English in everyday situations, but the kind of English you need for study is rather different. It is what is known as 'academic English' and is the type of English you need for reading and understanding your study materials and writing about your subject.

Academic English is different from everyday spoken English. It may be used to describe an object or situation, describe a process or how something works, or explain something.

Much of academic English is about expressing the relationship between ideas. Although the language may be more complex than in everyday English, good academic writers aim to be as clear, precise and simple as possible. They think about what their readers know already, and aim to guide them towards less familiar areas and topics.

The ability to write in an academic style is something you develop as part of your university study. It is difficult to give overall 'rules' on the way to write for a university course, as academic subjects vary in their vocabulary and expressions and the types of text used (for instance essays, reports, research articles or summaries). Your area of study will also influence how these texts are structured and organised.

The main features of academic English are:

  • is usually formal in tone and impersonal in style
  • avoids contractions or shortened forms of verbs, such as won't, doesn't or it's
  • avoids using a linking word such as 'and' or 'but' at the beginning of a sentence
  • avoids personal pronouns such as I, me, you, your
  • may use the passive form of verbs
  • avoids verbs that are composed of multiple words, such as 'give up', 'put up with'
  • tends to employ a cautious way of explaining findings, using expressions such as 'may', 'it is possible that...', 'could'
  • may use specialised vocabulary.

(from The Open University)

Tools and Resources

The English Language Center
The ELC provides instruction to international students who need to improve their English language skills before beginning academic course work. The ELC also serves the international community by providing English language instruction against a backdrop of American life and academia. They have a number of different language and culture programs for students who want to improve their English skills by studying in an English speaking environment.

Duolingo is an easy-to-use online platform that includes a language-learning website and app, as well as a digital language proficiency assessment exam. Duolingo offers all its languagecourses (including English!) free of charge.

Coursera is a website that connects online learners with classes from universities around the world. Study ways to improve your communication skills, write professional emails, and practice your academic writing, all designed for non-native speakers.