Why Students Should Learn Academic Words


Method, analyze, Conversely. These words are more useful than you might think.

These words and other “academics” are used in writing and speech in school and in other educational contexts without being discipline specific. They can be used, among other things, to describe research (method, analyze) and to structure speech and writing (Conversely).

Moreover, knowing them can predict performance in elementary, secondary and university school. In other words, the level of knowledge of academic words by students can affect their academic performance. But although students are surrounded by academic words, they are usually not taught in school – so learning them can be difficult.

Difficult vocabulary

International university students in Hong Kong and New Zealand reported difficulty learning and understanding English academic vocabulary.

Unilingual native speakers of English also face issues with academic words, including frequently used vocabulary such as to summarize and to contribute. Despite the common view that native speakers have well-developed vocabulary knowledge, research suggests that a low socio-economic background can hamper language development, including vocabulary, both in elementary school and in school. secondary.

Some academic words also appear in everyday language, so they may go unnoticed. A student may easily not realize that reliable means “of consistent quality” in a scientific journal article if they already know that in common parlance this often means “reliable”. Research suggests that people find it difficult to correctly guess new meanings of words they encounter in a reading passage because they stick to meanings they already know.

With additional meanings come other things that students need to learn about a word. For example, when Random appears before sample Where sampling, this means that “all people or things involved have an equal chance of being chosen.”

As with all word learning, academic word learning is not just about understanding what a word looks like and what it sounds like and a definition of its meaning. It also includes understanding what other words tend to appear near him whenever he has a certain meaning.

Another reason why it is difficult to learn academic words is that some can also be jargon – a word with a special meaning in a particular context. For example, the name function is used with various meanings shared among scholarly disciplines, but it has a specialized meaning in mathematics and a more recent meaning in computer science.

Academic words are often not taught in schools.
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The way they are exposed to them is perhaps a more important reason for the difficulty students have in learning academic words. Unsurprisingly, words are learned faster when taught than when they are not. Unlike scientific jargon, academic words are generally not taught in school or university.

Pathways to follow

The teaching of academic vocabulary has been tested in primary and secondary schools. Most of these studies took place in the United States. They show that teaching academic vocabulary can lead to better knowledge of academic words.

It is important to note that any kind of instruction will not do. Unlike common practice in teaching vocabulary, these studies went beyond teaching the spelling and pronunciation of a word and its most common meaning. For example, in one study, students encountered the same word in different contexts, learned more than one meaning for each word, and did activities such as guessing the meaning and breaking words into meaningful parts.

Researching what makes certain academic words more difficult to learn than others for students with specific characteristics – age, level of English proficiency – can help make educated guesses about which words and aspects of those words should be taught to different students.

For example, my research suggests that bilingual college students are more likely to recognize an English academic word the more frequent it is, but they tend to recognize cognate words (words similar in form and meaning, such as English University and Spanish university) even when they are infrequent.

Woman looking in the dictionary.
The teaching of academic vocabulary should be tailored to the needs of each student.
PHENPHAYOM / Shutterstock

However, not all bilingual students recognize a related word when they see or hear one. Teachers can make bilingual students aware of related words by underlining equivalent parts of words between English and the students’ other language. They can also encourage them to use their knowledge of related words while reading or listening in English.

As with any word, knowing a lot about an academic word is more likely to help students understand it correctly while reading and listening, and using it appropriately while speaking and writing.

However, class time is precious. Not all academic words can be taught with such depth. The teaching of these words will be more effective if it is adapted to the needs of each student.


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