You may have recently heard your child’s teachers mention “Academic language.” What does that really mean? Whether we are aware of it, we all speak several languages. For example, you may talk with your best friend in a way that is different from your banker or clergy. With friends we speak a social language. If you are writing a cover letter for a job application, or delivering a presentation in front of your co-workers, these situations call for a more formal style of speaking and writing.

The style of language used in school, higher education, and fields of study is called “Academic Language”. It has its own structure, phrases and vocabulary.

As the variety of language styles increases, due to cultural diversity, technology and other factors, it is important to explain these differences to our students. Students need to study the rules of “academic language” in order to learn and grow academically, beginning in kindergarten, so they are ready to continue their learning and have access to life’s opportunities after high school. Explicit teaching of academic language has long been a tool for teaching English language learners. Educators now realize these lessons greatly benefit all students.

Here are a few ways to think about these differences:

what academic language is and is not

Recognizing social vs. academic language

When comparing social and academic language, students should look for the following differences:

social vs academic language

Here are a few ways parents can help their children build academic language and expand their understanding of language:

  • Talk with your child’s teacher about the strategies used in your child’s classroom to teach academic language.
  • Point out to your child when you “code-switch,” or use different language styles for different situations.
  • When reading together, ask, “How might the character say that if she were talking to her doctor instead of her friend?”
  • Help your child construct and reconstruct sentences using academic and everyday language.

In our next newsletter we will look at the differences between academic language and academic vocabulary.

Source: A Primer on Academic Language for Art Teachers, Jennifer Childress, Assoc. Professor, Art Education, The College Of Saint Rose