Academic Language: Definition, Examples & Functions

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  • 0:01 What Is Academic Language?
  • 0:36 Know the Basics
  • 2:00 Why Teach Academic Language?
  • 3:04 Six Steps to Success
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sharon Linde
In this lesson, you'll be able to learn about academic language, and how it fits into a school's curriculum. Check out some various examples and functions of this way of writing and then test your knowledge with a quiz!

What is Academic Language?

In education, academic language refers to the words we use mostly in schools in places like text books, lessons, assignments and tests. It's the vocabulary students need to learn and is necessary for their success in school. Compared to social language, or the words we use every day, academic language is more demanding and complex. Learning, using, and applying academic language is constantly ongoing as new concepts are taught on a regular basis. All students need direct, explicit instruction of academic language. Before diving in, let's take a closer look at different definitions of language.

Know the Basics

When we use the word 'vocabulary', we mean the words we hear, use, and understand. They can be divided into two categories: receptive vocabulary, which are words we hear and read, and expressive vocabulary, which are words we speak and write. How many vocabulary words we have in our heads depends on how much diverse language we're exposed to.

Vocabulary can also be broken down into tiers. Tier 1 consists of basic vocabulary words that usually don't have more than one meaning. These words are easy to understand and don't need specific instruction for most students. Examples include words like dog, girl, sad, pencil, or tree.

Tier 2 words are used more often and have more than one meaning. They can appear in differing situations but are not often present in social conversations for children. Examples include predict, summarize, infer, or determine.

Finally, Tier 3 are words that are not used often and are subject-specific, such as isotope, Industrial Age, or indigenous.

Most academic language falls into Tiers 2 and 3. Understanding the difference between receptive and expressive vocabulary and the three tiers will help you develop strong instruction for academic language. But to be truly effective, you should know why teaching academic language is important.

Why Teach Academic Language?

As educators, we attempt to determine if children understand a concept by asking them to perform a task, such as comparing or inferring. A student may understand the process of the concept but not be familiar with the wording of the task question. Therefore, direct instruction of academic language insures an accurate assessment.

Additionally, instruction of academic language is necessary for higher-level skills, which are increasingly necessary with curricula in today's schools. Children are being asked to apply their basic understanding of skills, like recall and memory, and perform more complex tasks, such as defend or summarize. Being fluent with these high-level vocabulary words increases a student's ability to express knowledge about a subject.

Finally, the recent adoption of more rigorous standards, or educational objectives, specifically requires students to determine the meanings of academic language in both their everyday school work and on end of year assessments. Embedding the use of academic language in your classroom is a good start, but direct instruction will be necessary as well.

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