Academic English and EAP: What Are They?

You keep seeing Academic English and EAP, right? I didn’t see the word ‘academic’ until I became a university student. Fast-forward a few years later when I became a lecturer, and then suddenly everything was academic.

I didn’t know much about Academic English when I was an undergraduate student. I never knew how to write academically when I was 18 years young and studying English literature!

But you’re at university, writing academic essays, completing academic projects and giving academic presentations.

So it’s probably best that you understand exactly what these two terms mean.

What’s Academic English?

Academic English is the kind of language that you’re going to use at university. You’ll use it whenever you communicate at university.

What would be classed as ‘Academic English’? Basically anything using the four skills (listening, reading, speaking writing), including:

  • Giving presentations
  • Emailing your tutors
  • Taking notes
  • Writing reports/ dissertations/ essays
  • Reading journal articles

When you think about it, you’ve probably experienced communicating in academic language in your own country.

Using academic language in an English speaking country will be a very different experience. This is because you’re using English and not your first language.

But one thing I tell my students is that academic language is no-one’s first language. All of your lecturers and classmates have had to learn academic language at some point.

Academic English

Being academic…

What’s EAP?

Good question. EAP means English for Academic Purposes, and it’s really similar to Academic English.

So, everything that we looked at earlier – writing essays, taking notes, giving presentations – can be included in EAP. It could also include more abstract features of university study, such as planning essays, thesis statements and conducting research.

The most significant difference between EAP and Academic English is that you’re more likely to enroll on an EAP (or PEAP) course than an Academic English course. This is probably because EAP sounds more professional than Academic English.

To summarise everything so far: Most of what you do at university can be classed as Academic English or EAP, and they are basically the same thing.

What are the differences between General English and Academic English?

If you read an academic journal or text book, or watch an academic presentation, you’ll see what the difference is.

The main differences are:

  • Formality: Academic English is more formal than general English. You wouldn’t usually call your lecturer ‘bro’.
  • Language choice: Academic English uses more technical and specific words than general English. You probably wouldn’t swear in an academic presentation.
  • Topic: Academic English focuses on subject areas of study whereas General English is usually used for everyday chatting. Unless your essay is specifically about pop culture, you probably wouldn’t write about Kim Kardashian or another celebrity.
  • Audience: In an academic setting, your lecturers, peers, and other experts in the subject are your audience. In General English, your friends and family are usually your audience. Even if you practice a presentation in front of your friends, you’d probably pretend that they were your examiners.

This collection of differences is one reason why you might have to do a PEAP (Pre-sessional English for Academic Purposes) course before you start your university degree.

Final Words

Academic English and EAP are really just different ways to talk about the kind of work that you will be doing at university. As we’ve seen, there are a few significant differences between Academic English and General English, which will mean that you will have to change the way that you communicate.

One of these changes might be the way that you express your opinion. Do you use ‘I think’ and ‘in my opinion’ a lot now? If you do, your writing might be too informal (oh no!).

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About the Author Sam

Sam is the founder and creator of English For Study. He's also lecturer in EAP/Academic English. Apart from making Academic English easy, he likes learning languages, lifting weights and eating good food.

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