Educator Resources

ACADEMIC LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

What is Academic Language?

Academic language is more than just the unfamiliar vocabulary that students encounter in their content area classes, or the texts that they are required to read. While academic vocabulary is a component of academic language, there are other aspects of the language of school that are crucial predictors for academic success ­– some of which are not easily defined. Academic language condenses large ideas into fewer words and links those ideas with unfamiliar connectives. Academic language also includes discourse patterns – an expectation that students are familiar with the structure of persuasive, argumentative, and informative texts. Additionally, students are expected to be able to speak and write in a more formal, yet undefined way; this language may not be the language that is spoken in their homes, and students are require to know when and how to code-switch in different settings.

Which students struggle with Academic Language?

Any student in your classroom may struggle with reading, writing, speaking and listening tasks that require academic language knowledge. Academic language is different from everyday language. Many students who are highly successful in communicating in informal contexts may struggle to communicate at school in instances where academic language is required (Halliday, 2004). Learning language forms valued in school is a challenge for all students, but it is especially challenging for those with minimal exposure to such language outside of school, such as English Language Learners (Schleppegrell, 2004). Research suggests that for these children, under-developed academic language skills undermine reading comprehension (Lesaux, Crosson, Kieffer & Pierce, 2010).

What is Academic Language Proficiency?

"Academic language proficiency is knowing and being able to use general and content-specific vocabulary, specialized or complex grammatical structures – all for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills, interacting about a topic, or imparting information to others," (Bailey, 2007). In sum, students who are proficient AL users are well-equipped to learn new knowledge through reading or listening, and to express their knowledge and ideas through oral discussions and writing.

In this video, Paola Uccelli explains how academic language differs from everyday language:

The WordGen TeamDevelopment of Word Generation was led by Catherine Snow (Harvard University) through a SERP collaboration with the Boston Public Schools and other districts in Massachusetts and Maryland. Support for Word Generation was provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Leon Lowenstein Foundation and the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education through grant numbers R305A090555 and R305F100026. The information provided does not represent views of the funders.
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ACADEMIC LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT

What is Academic Language?

Academic language is more than just the unfamiliar vocabulary that students encounter in their content area classes, or the texts that they are required to read. While academic vocabulary is a component of academic language, there are other aspects of the language of school that are crucial predictors for academic success ­– some of which are not easily defined. Academic language condenses large ideas into fewer words and links those ideas with unfamiliar connectives. Academic language also includes discourse patterns – an expectation that students are familiar with the structure of persuasive, argumentative, and informative texts. Additionally, students are expected to be able to speak and write in a more formal, yet undefined way; this language may not be the language that is spoken in their homes, and students are require to know when and how to code-switch in different settings.

Which students struggle with Academic Language?

Any student in your classroom may struggle with reading, writing, speaking and listening tasks that require academic language knowledge. Academic language is different from everyday language. Many students who are highly successful in communicating in informal contexts may struggle to communicate at school in instances where academic language is required (Halliday, 2004). Learning language forms valued in school is a challenge for all students, but it is especially challenging for those with minimal exposure to such language outside of school, such as English Language Learners (Schleppegrell, 2004). Research suggests that for these children, under-developed academic language skills undermine reading comprehension (Lesaux, Crosson, Kieffer & Pierce, 2010).

What is Academic Language Proficiency?

"Academic language proficiency is knowing and being able to use general and content-specific vocabulary, specialized or complex grammatical structures – all for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills, interacting about a topic, or imparting information to others," (Bailey, 2007). In sum, students who are proficient AL users are well-equipped to learn new knowledge through reading or listening, and to express their knowledge and ideas through oral discussions and writing.

In this video, Paola Uccelli explains how academic language differs from everyday language: