Using Academic Language to Improve English

There is a strong correlation between how well you know your native language and how well you can write in English – at least formally. In essence, being highly educated in one language will make it far easier to become proficient in the English language. The root of this is the academic language that is surprisingly common throughout the world languages.

Take the word “academic”:

In English it’s “academic”

In Spanish it’s “académico”

In French it’s “académique”

In Russian it’s “akademicheskih”

In German it’s “akademischen”

There is a significant overlap in many languages for many words in the academic, or formal, language. This gives you a good starting point for learning to translate your language into English, or at least improving your understanding of the of the English language.

The Trouble with Academic Language

The problems with academic language arises when you take your writing and translating skills out of the university (l'université, universidad, universitet, universität) and into conversations.

If you’re planning to write casual blog pieces and simple articles, you need to be able to target the everyday audience you’re trying to reach. These basic articles are, by far, the most common sort of writing advertised on webmaster forums and bidding sites, which makes them the most sought after work – that doesn’t mean they are the right work for you, however.

If you want to improve your English for these sorts of projects, you’ll need to use the skills built up by your grasp of academic English and then build a corresponding vocabulary of casual words and phrasing that native speakers tend to use on a daily basis.

You can do this by reading the more casual pieces and mimicking the style and tone of those authors. The trick is, of course, to be sure you’re mimicking the writing style of someone who writes well.

Read a sentence from a well-received author and then write a sentence of your own with similar words and phrasing. Ask native friends or those who can speak casual English well to listen to you read your work aloud and offer suggestions. You can listen to your own work aloud and likely hear things that sound a bit different than conversational English. Keep trying new phrasing and words until the piece flows smoothly.

Embracing Academic English

If you’re struggling with a conversational tone, start with the academic English that is easier to handle. Write formally using the words you already know well and create an academic piece. You then have two options.

1. You can find a market that looks for more formal, academic work – many forms of technical writing, education pieces, white papers and journals are interested in formal language use over casual English. By specializing in formal work, you don’t have to try and compete in a style you’re not comfortable with. You can build up a business centered on what you know well and the types of writing that are easier for you to handle. Not surprisingly, this market pays better than the casual throw-together-some-keywords-for-an-article market, too.

2. You can take your academic English and begin making substitutions. Look for some of the bigger, more elaborate words on your page and replace them with more casual synonyms. “Advantageous” would become “helpful” and so on. Shorten your sentences and use words that everyone knows and can read easily. This is, after all, the nature of casual writing.

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Rebecca is a full-time everything. She teaches English and reading to her much loved, if challenging, high school students during the day and is a freelance education writer in the evenings. With almost ten years in the classroom and advanced degrees in business and information science, Rebecca specializes in materials that inform, educate and entertain. Rebecca indulges herself by pretending to have spare time and writing about the ups and downs of being a freelancing mama whenever she gets a chance.

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3 thoughts on “Using Academic Language to Improve English”

  1. ” In essence, being highly educated in one language will make it far easier to become proficient in the English language. The root of this is the academic language that is surprisingly common throughout the world languages.”
    Something I doubt …

    • Why do you doubt it? Would you say the opposite is true — that those illiterate in their own language would have an easier time learning English? I bet you’d have a difficult time finding any professional in that area to back it up.

      Commenting just to say you doubt something is utterly useless. Next time please take the time to elaborate and give evidence to the contrary. Without the “why” to back it up, doubt adds absolutely nothing to the conversation.

    • The ESL research, at the least the part that is part of becoming a certified ESL teacher, states that the more a student knows in his own language, the more easily he can learn in another language. Academic language is the root of that transition. It’s especially common among the Romantic, or Latin based languages, but is true for Germanic and others as well.

      It’s the reason why when I went to Italy as a sophomore in high school, I was able to rattle off eight different ways to say bathroom while my eyes turned yellow in a McDonalds before I stumbled on “toilet?” The girl behind the counter (who was just as frustrated as me) lit up and said, “Ah! Toilette!” and pointed the way. *grins*


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