Sunday, April 28, 2013

Finding language in context - 'academic' words

King's College, Cambridge - photo by Andrew Dunn at Wikimedia Commons
This post helps you find collocations and examples in context of the most common so-called academic words, based on The Academic Word List (see below). You can:
  • look up the words in a selection of dictionaries
  • look for collocations and real life example sentences with Just the Word
  • look for real life examples on a variety of websites using Google Site Search.

But I'm not interested in academic English!

These words don't only appear in academic texts. They are more generally used in 'educated' English, and so appear frequently in newspaper and magazine articles, etc, and in TV news and documentary broadcasts. They are therefore useful for any advanced students wishing to increase their vocabulary, and especially useful if they are considering doing any advanced exams.

What is the Academic Word List?

The Academic Word List (AWL) is a list of 570 word families which were selected from a computerised collection of academic texts according to certain principles: the words had to appear relatively frequently in a variety of texts covering a comprehensive range of academic subjects. These are not specialised words belonging to one particular area, but general academic words that are useful for any student to know.

What are the sublists?

The AWL is divided into ten sublists, each of which has 60 word families (apart from sublist 10, which has 30). Sublist 1 has the sixty most common, Sublist 2 has the next sixty most common, and so on. The general idea is that students try and master the words of each subgroup before moving on to the next.

What are the word families?

These are groups of related words, both different word classes (parts of speech) and different forms of the same word class. For example under the headword "analyse", the AWL lists:
  • analysed, analyser, analysers, analyses, analysing, analysis, analyst, analysts, analytic, analytical, analytically, analyze, analyzed, analyzes, analyzing
Most groups however are a lot smaller. The AWL also tells us which word in the family occurs most frequently; in this case it is "analysis".

What can I do here?

In this post I list the headwords and the most frequent words, but not the whole word family. The main purpose here is to find collocations and examples in context. First select which sublist to look at, and a table will appear showing you the headword of each word family, and where a another member of the word family occurs more frequently than the headword, it will show you that as well. You can then:
  • look up the word in a selection of dictionaries
  • look for collocations and real life example sentences with Just the Word
  • look for real life examples on a variety of websites using Google Site Search.
Each sublist is randomised by default. If you want to see them in alphabetical order, just uncheck the randomised box.

How does Just the Word work?

Clicking on the JTW button will bring up a page showing you collocations in different grammatical contexts; the longer the green line, the more common the collocation. It also gives a number in brackets, which refers to the number of occurrences in its version of the British National Corpus.
When you click on one of the collocations on the JTW page, you will see a page of real life examples from the British National Corpus, a computerised collection of over 100 million words taken from various written and spoken sources.

And the site search?

Select one of the media websites and you will see a Google search page for the target word on the website you've chosen.

What about exercises and quizzes using the Academic Word List?

There are several websites where you can do quizzes and test yourself, or analyse texts for AWL words, etc. I've listed a selection below.
Select a sublist Words Randomised

Who developed the Academic Word List?

The AWL was developed by Averil Coxhead as her MA thesis at the School of Linguistics and Applied Language Studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand and was made for use by teachers and students working alone.

Links - exercises, quizzes etc

  • English Vocab Exercises - over two hundred interactive gap-fill exercises "to review and recycle the general word families contained within the AWL". The exercises are divided by frequency (sublist), and there are five exercises for each subword.
  • Nottingham University - Enter any text, and this website will highlight AWL words, or make a gapfill exercise from the text, gapping words from a selected AWL sublist. You can also download lists of example sentences
  • Using English for Academic Purposes - This site specialising in academic language includes a range of exercises based on the AWL, with texts on various topics (for example, motor cars) followed by gapfill exercises. It also lists words by word class from the Academic Keyword list of 930 words and phrases, and there are some word lists for particular academic areas, such as Environmental science
  • University of Plymouth - various exercises and tests based on the AWL.
  • Dominic Cole's IELTS and Beyond - various exercises, by topic, and by by word family - concentrating on different forms from the same word family.
  • Academic English Podcast - podcasts about academic words (but not necessarily based only on the AWL). With a short test at the end.
  • Exam English - Multiple choice questions, by sublist. Each sublist appears to have 40 questions.
  • IELTS buddy - multiple choice definition quizzes
  • Time 4 English - various quizzes
  • OpenUniversity of Israel - exercises on individual words, including some collocations
  • ESL Gold - academic vocabulary matching exercises (not necessarily based on the AWL)

Links - reference


Chris Pell said...


I noticed you have a list of useful websites on your site.

I think your students would really benefit from this one-

It offers free IELTS advice including lessons and sample answers.


Warsaw Will said...

Looks interesting.