school-2276269_1920This site is was created as a resource for teacher educators at the University of Minnesota. Here you will find information to support student understanding of academic language.

What is academic language? 

Academic language  is the oral, written, visual, and auditory language needed by students to understand and communicate within and across the disciplines. Academic language is the language used in classrooms, textbooks, and assignments and includes discipline-specific vocabulary, rhetorical conventions, syntax, symbols, grammar and punctuation. Some examples of academic language may include terms such as interpret, context, analyze, concept, critique and perspective. Read more


How is academic language related to disciplinary literacy

From O’Brien and Ortmann on the multiple theoretical perspectives:

Academic language and disciplinary literacy are both part of academic literacy and they intersect at the level of both oral and written discourse that occurs in and around learning in the disciplines. Disciplinary literacy has roots in comprehension research and focuses on reading processes important to understanding academic texts. Academic language has roots in language and linguistics and focuses on how learners, as language users, face challenges in encountering language and linguistic structures unique to disciplines. Both of these are brought to bear when learners engage in disciplinary thinking that students engage in to answer key questions posed in academic disciplines. Learn more

Why is academic language important for teachers to know? 

Academic language is an integral part of school culture. Students will hear it during in instruction, read it in textbooks, and write it in assignments and essays. It is essential they are given support and guidance on academic language in order to successfully navigate the content and skills of the specific discipline.

Isn’t the incorporation/teaching of academic language oppressive, especially for non-dominant student populations?

Jim Cummins, a leading authority on bilingual education and second language acquisition , believes that the goal of educators should be to empower students with an “additive” approach that incorporates students’ culture and linguistic identities rather than “subtractive,” replacing or subtracting.  Read more from Empowering ourselves as we empower our students from the TESOL newsletter.

Educators should consider pedagogies that honor students’ cultural backgrounds and languages as they work to help them navigate and master the language that supports them in academic settings.

Courses that include content on academic language (with related course resources)

  • HD 5017/5018: Academic Language and English Learners
  • CI 4602: English Learners and Academic Language
  • CI 5452: Reading in the Content Areas
  • CI 5985: Academic Language and English Learners in the Content Areas

How to use this site: 

This site is a resource for educators to learn more about academic language. You will find resources to support instruction and help pre-service teachers as they learn to help their own students successfully learn, use, and navigate academic language.

About Academic Language is a growing repository of definitions, research, journal articles and other related information on academic language.

Educator Resources contains carefully curated lists of resources that faculty and staff have found useful in supporting their instruction and helpful in guiding the work of pre-service teachers.  You will also find activities faculty and staff have used in their classrooms to support pre-service teachers understanding of academic language.

In the Classroom is currently under construction as we gather resources that have been successfully implemented in K-12 classrooms to support student learning of academic language.

This site includes academic language resources for educators. These resources have been carefully curated to provide support for teacher educators and pre-service teachers.

We would like to thank the following educators who have so graciously assisted with the creation of this resource:

Susan Ranney, PhD., University of Minnesota

David O’Brien, PhD., University of Minnesota