What is Academic English?

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Academic English is the genre of English used in the world of research, study, teaching and universities. If you read an article in an academic journal or listen to someone giving a presentation or a talk about an academic subject in an academic environment, Academic English is probably being used. If you are studying in an English speaking university (or going to) you will need to learn this type of English. Native English speakers also have to learn Academic English too because it is not like the English that is used every day by English speakers. Academic English is different from other types of English and it often has features like these:

  • it uses formal academic language and avoids colloqualisms
  • it usually avoids ‘I’ and is written in the third person and often uses impersonal structures
  • it is objective and impartial
  • it often uses the passive voice
  • it is tentative and cautious
  • there are lots of references to other writers
  • the texts are well structured
  • there are well developed paragraphs which often start with a strong topic sentence
  • there are linking words which give the text cohesion

Here’s the introduction to a journal article written by the author which is an example of written Academic English. The article is called Chinese Voices: Chinese learners and their experiences of studying in the UK.  After the example I will point out some of the features of Academic English mentioned above:

 

Chinese students have an increasingly high profile in UK universities. In 2005 the number of Chinese students in UK universities was put at 50,000 (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2007). According to Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) (UCAS, 2008) nearly 5,000 Chinese students were accepted to start courses at British universities in autumn 2008, a rise of 14.7 per cent on 2007. However, demographic changes in China and increasing competition from other parts of the globe offering higher education courses mean that the number of students is expected to peak in 2011 (Gill, 2008). As more institutions seek to attract a dwindling number of students we can expect greater competition between universities and a resulting increase in the interest of the student experience. It is vital that institutions listen carefully to the experiences that their Chinese students are living through if they are to continue to attract students in the face of worldwide competition.

Finances aside, simply by virtue of the number of Chinese students in UK universities, the Chinese student voice needs to be heard so we can be sure they are receiving the same opportunities as other students in the university system. Indeed ‘understanding overseas’ students concerns and problems is essential for institutions in counselling, helping their overseas students, and in improving the quality of their services’, (Li & Kaye, 1998, p. 41).

This research employed qualitative research methodology to give a voice to Chinese students whose transcribed experiences are presented in this paper. Specifically the research attempted to answer these questions:

1. What are the main characteristics of the Chinese learner and the Chinese education system?

2. What experiences do Chinese students have of living in the UK?

3. What experiences do Chinese students have of studying in the UK?

(McMahon, P.  Chinese voices: Chinese learners and their experiences of living and studying in the United Kingdom, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol. 33, No. 4, August 2011, 401–414)

 

In this extract I hope you can see that …

  • it uses formal academic language and avoids colloqualisms
The phrase ‘Chinese students have an increasingly high profile in UK universities’ really means ‘there are more and more Chinese students in UK universities’ but it uses more formal and academic words.
  • it usually avoids ‘I’ and is written in the third person and often uses impersonal structures
The phrase ‘This research employed qualitative research methodology’ is instead of saying ‘I used qualitative research methodology’. Writers usually avoid using ‘I’ in Academic English. ‘Specifically the research attempted to answer these questions’ is another example of using impersonal language.
  • it is objective and impartial
Being objective and impartial means that you have to prove everything you say and you do not have fixed ideas before you start your research.
  • it often uses the passive voice
Here is an example of using the passive voice: ‘nearly 5,000 Chinese students were accepted to start courses at British universities’ whereas in everyday spoken English you might just say ‘5000 Chinese students study in the UK’.
  • it is tentative and cautious
A phrase like  ‘we can expect greater competition’ is cautious or tentative. If you are not cautious you might say something which later proves not to be true. If you are not cautious you might say ‘there will be definitely be greater competition’.
  • there are lots of references to other writers
You can see that there are lots of references to other writers. The writer tells you where he got his information from.
  • the texts are well structured
  • there are well developed paragraphs which often start with a strong topic sentence

These features are difficult to see in this short extract, but the introduction is well written and logical.

  • there are linking words which give the text cohesion
There are some examples of ‘cohesive devices’ such as ‘however’ and ‘indeed’.
The aim of this website is to help you become better at using Academic English. Good luck!