How will learning the words on the Academic Word List help me?

Once you have a basic vocabulary in English, it is difficult to make much progress without learning a great number of words. A native speaker student has a very large vocabulary, perhaps 20,000+ words, compared to the average international student who may have a vocabulary of between 4,000 and 5,000 words (Coxhead, 2006). The good news is that it is not really necessary to learn all the words a native speaker knows – however, it is necessary to learn the words you will need for your studies.

You need to know three kinds of words:

          1. The most common words in English, which occur frequently in all texts
          2. The specialist vocabulary of your subject (e.g. the language of mathematics, business, architecture etc.)
          3. Common academic vocabulary (i.e. the Academic Word List)

If you are studying at an English speaking university you probably already know the most common words in English. You can see what these are by clicking here and going to Introduction then to the General Service List on The Using English for Academic Purposes website. If there are words on this list you do not know, you should study them.

You will naturally learn the specialised vocabulary of your subject while you are studying.

So, it is left for you to learn the academic vocabulary common to all subjects. If you do this, you should be able to understand most texts easily and express yourself clearly.

For an interesting and detailed explanation of how knowing the three areas of vocabulary listed above can help you, read an article by Tom Cobb .