What Is Academic Language?

Academic language is the specialized vocabulary and syntax that is needed for building content knowledge, engaging deeply with reading and writing, and expressing ideas in academic settings. Academic language includes grammatical rules (such as subject-verb agreement, pronoun usage and word order), specialized linguistic systems (like the metric system or mathematical terms) and contextual language (words that have multiple meanings in different contexts).

Helping students master academic language requires many authentic opportunities to practice using it. It is best introduced dynamically within a relevant topic.


Academic language is a set of vocabulary, grammar, and writing features that are used in reading, listening, and speaking. It differs from conversational English in that it is formal, objective (impersonal) and technical. It avoids colloquial expressions and slang and uses complete sentences and follows all grammar rules. It also requires knowledge of various disciplines and subject matter, including specific vocabulary.

Specialist language is important for academic writing, because it conveys information more precisely than non-specialist terminology. It is important to familiarize yourself with the terminology used in your discipline by paying attention to papers written by other researchers and by asking your lecturer about the terms you are unfamiliar with.

Developing academic language skills can be challenging for students because it involves learning new concepts and writing in a different style than what they are used to. Some students may feel conflicted about learning this academic language because it contradicts their cultural identities and they may be uncomfortable with their writing being corrected or scrutinized.


Writing concisely is not a matter of clipping sentences to a certain length or eliminating all detail. It’s about saying what is important and avoiding unnecessary words that can confuse or distract the reader.

Academic writing is analytical, and this should be reflected in the language used. This means that you should avoid using subjective terms like “I think” or “in my opinion” and instead focus on the evidence of your argument. You should also avoid expressing your own feelings about the subject matter or making value judgments.

Wordiness is one of the biggest obstacles to effective academic writing. You can reduce your word count by removing excessive coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, yet, so), eliminating redundancies and replacing cliches with more descriptive language. You can also use grammar checks to identify tautologies and eliminate unnecessary phrases. The more concise your writing is, the more impactful it will be. The best way to accomplish this is to write multiple drafts of your essay and read it with fresh eyes.


Academic language consists of the subject-specific conventions for expressing knowledge and understanding. This includes subject-specific vocabulary, grammatical structures, and discourse patterns. Academic language proficiency allows students to acquire new knowledge through reading, interacting with topics, and expressing their ideas in academic settings.

Students who struggle with academic language can develop a strong foundation in subject-specific vocabulary by beginning instruction with Tier 2 words. These are general academic words that may show up on assessments across subjects, such as generate and analyze. It’s also helpful to start instruction with word families, including Latin and Greek roots, prefixes and suffixes. This helps students learn to break down unfamiliar vocabulary into meaningful parts that fit with their existing schema.

Academic vocabulary can be difficult to master, especially when it is introduced in a short amount of time. Studies have shown that short, focused practice is the best way to develop mastery of new vocabulary. That’s why our 10-minute per day format and a single new word-a-week supports student retention.


Unlike the informal English that is used in many homes, academic language is more complex and formal. It often includes abstract information packed into fewer words, the use of stand-alone language, and the ability to form complex sentences using the function of connectives (such as ‘and’ or “so that”).

Academic writing requires clarity and structure and uses a variety of text features, including signposting, which helps readers understand what a writer is trying to communicate. Academic writing also tends to be more grammatically precise, avoiding wordiness and grammatical errors such as tense shifts or misplaced modifiers.

The development of academic language is necessary for students to engage in cognitively demanding learning tasks. Students need to be able to explain concepts, participate in discussions, summarize texts, write research reports and papers, and make inferences about their own knowledge of subject-area topics. Teachers can help students develop academic language through explicit instruction in the content areas. They can also model the appropriate use of language in classroom settings and provide opportunities for students to practice academic vocabulary and grammar skills in the context of school-relevant genres.

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