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Why you need academic English for university

Leaving home to study in an English-speaking country is fun but can also be challenging. Whether your goal is to earn a degree, expand what you know or have a great time, being able to express yourself in English is a crucial first step that enriches your study abroad journey.

You may notice that while you are studying at university, the way English is used is different from your daily life. Although you may have gone to a school that followed an international English curriculum, university comes with a different set of rules. You will have to use what’s known as “academic English.” If you can learn how to use and understand academic English, it’ll be much easier to master the content of your university course and set you one step further for your academic performance.

So, what is academic English? It is different from everyday English. It refers to a style of reading, speaking, listening, and writing that is objective, more formal and often more structured. It requires accurate presentation of facts, with a clear structure and flow of ideas. The vocabulary, or words, you use are also likely to contain subject-specific phrases.

Here are some practical tips for you to get ready to study abroad using academic English.

Pearson PTE

Source: Pearson PTE


Most courses require students to read journal articles. While they may look daunting, they are essentially stories about a piece of research. Start with the title and the abstract (think of like an elevator pitch) — these will help you to understand the main point of the article so that can keep yourself on the right track when reading the rest.

Active reading is the best way to stay focused. Having in mind some questions that you want answered by the text and make notes about the content and vocabulary. After reading each section, check whether you have understood the contents by quickly reviewing and summarising what you just read.

Keep in mind that most people can’t understand everything the first time and that active reading is a skill that takes time to build. Finally, don’t forget to take breaks! Taking a moment to look back and celebrate how much you have read will keep you motivated to read more!

Listening and speaking

At university, you’ll join lectures, discussions, and projects where you’ll hear many kinds of people speak. Professors will talk about ideas while your classmates will give their opinions on how to plan an assigned project. You may be the one sharing ideas or giving a presentation.

The first step is to understand that spoken and written English are different. Do not expect people to speak as they write. Look out for stresses – these signal the key content of what they’re sharing. Cues help – these help you predict what comes next when you listen to someone speaking.

To get yourself prepared to listen at lectures, seminars, or workshops, review the agenda, reading list and relevant materials. This will help familiarise you with the topics that will be covered and terminology that will be used.

Watching or listening to news in your field, documentaries and online open classes without subtitles can improve your academic English. It creates a professional and formal context setting outside of the lecture hall for you to get used to the way university lecturers speak in class.

Your professor may say something like: “Please look at page 37 where you’ll find the reading list and assignment to summarise what you have read. I expect to see the first draft of your essay in my inbox by close of business next Friday.” What this means: Email your summary of the reading list to the professor by next Friday, 5pm.

When it comes to speaking, you may notice that spoken academic English is more structured and accurate. The same principles apply to you. Before talking, try to think through the points you want to communicate and ensure there’s a logic flow behind your speech. When talking, select precise vocabulary when you express your opinions and avoid slang and colloquialisms that are used in daily conversations.

Before presenting, you need to understand your materials well. Then, focus on creating structure, logic and signposts.

Instead of saying “The author talks about China a lot. He also liked to talk about his personal stories. I did not like the ending.” Try saying, “I would like to start my discussion of the book today by focusing on the introduction and key themes, before giving my opinions about the ending.”

But don’t forget, humour is appreciated at appropriate times! Who doesn’t mind a good laugh after a long day of study? Finally, practice will improve your academic spoken English, boost your confidence and let you shine on the presentation stage!

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Source: Pearson PTE


From reports and essays through to final exams and dissertations, academic English writing skills are critical. Even though the requirements for each specific assignment vary, the goal is to express your opinions, ideas or insights based on what you read and researched. There are some general principles that university students need to follow.

The number one rule is to always write in your own words – copying someone else’s work without giving them credit is known as plagiarism. It is an offence that can get you suspended or kicked out of university. Therefore, learning how to reference supporting materials is a must at university.

Before writing, ensure you understand the assignment requirements, do your own research and come up with a writing plan. Remember that you’re always welcome to talk with your professors or tutors about your plan and hear their feedback so that you’ll be on the right track.

When writing the assignment, it may be easier to outline the structure first. Consider the main argument for the whole assignment, the main point for each section and the evidence that supports the main point. Most of the time, the writing is expected to be objective and the first person (I, we, me, my) should be avoided, unless you are writing a reflective piece which refers to your own thoughts and experiences.

Your assignment may ask you to argue why all countries should make learning English mandatory in schools in 1,000 words. Talking about this with friends, you may say something like: “I’ll make all children in Vietnam learn English because they’ll totally need it when they apply for jobs abroad.”

In your essay, however, you should write: “All countries should enact laws that require children to start learning English in school from age six until 16 for the following reasons …”

Finally, and just as importantly, be sure to proofread and format your work before you submit it.

Pearson PTE

Source: Pearson PTE

Put your English skills to the test

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PTE is a globally accepted English test with test questions based on real-life university lectures and reading materials. There are plenty of resources to help you prepare so when you take a PTE test, not only you will prove your English skills, but you can also improve your academic English along the way.

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