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Academic English – Top Tools for International Students

There’s English, there’s Australian English and then…there’s academic English.

Just when you think you’ve mastered a language, you find there’s an entirely new kind of vocabulary and style used by textbooks and teachers.

But, you can easily improve your academic English by focusing on the two most important components: academic vocabulary and academic style.

Tools to improve your academic vocabulary

The number one place to start to improve your academic English vocabulary is the Academic Words List (AWL). This handy list compiles the words that appear with the highest frequency in English-language academic texts. In total, the AWL has ten sublists of words, but the most important is Sublist 1, which contains the top 60 most common academic words.  If you can familiarise yourself with Sublist 1, you’re well on your way.

Where to find the AWL

  • Vocabulary.com provides AWL Sublist 1, along with word definitions and spelling games.
  • All of the AWL sublists are available here.

Where to test yourself

Once you’ve familiarised yourself with the words themselves, you should test yourself with games and exercises.  Some of the best exercises can be found at:

Some apps for learning academic English (or just improving your general English vocabulary) are:

  • The Oxford Learners Dictionary of Academic English available on iPhone and Android.
  • A Word a Day on Android
  • Word of the Day on iPhone

Tools to improve your academic style

Once you have the vocabulary, you still need to figure out the right way to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.  Academic English has certain styles and conventions and is much more formal that conversational English. The following resources will help to break down and learn how to structure academic English.

  • Improving the Structure and Style of your Academic Writing from the University of Sydney.
  • Pointers and exercises from Using English for Academic Purposes.
  • Advice on Writing and Speaking Academically from The University of Melbourne (pdf)
  • This guide from UniLearning explains the differences between academic and other writing styles.
  • There’s a whole host of academic games and worksheets from the TEFLtastic blog.
  • For those students who have to write up research reports, The Academic Phrasebook from The University of Manchester is organised according to the main sections of a research paper eg. Reporting Results and Writing Conclusions.
  • And of course, there’s the IELTS Academic Writing Practice Tests.