Differences between General English and Academic or Professional English

Having a good command of English will allow you to fulfil different everyday tasks, such as: understand your favourite song, read your favourite novel, watch and comprehend your favourite Netflix movies, communicate with other speakers in different contexts in and outside your country when travelling abroad. However, this may not be enough when encountering complex scenarios, particularly when one has to face academic or work contexts.

General or Academic English?

The previous argument is more valid when applying for a scholarship or a job so as to go abroad to pursue a formal career, sitting for a job interview, sitting for the IELTS academic exam, or working on a PhD proposal for a potential research study, just to mention a few examples in which your advanced general English command would not be sufficient.

The above has strong implications in the sense that some phrases or words may have one meaning in general contexts, but different ones in academic contexts. As a result, using a dictionary would not be enough or appropriate when it comes to checking the correct academic usages of some key impressions. 

According to EAP foundation, a few examples of words that differ from academic and general use in terms of meaning are:


  • general meaning:      training people to obey rules
  • academic meaning:  a subject of study


  • general meaning: the number of people living in a country/region
  • academic meaning:  all individuals who could possibly be included in a study/survey


  • general meaning:     power over sb/sth
  • academic meaning:  a group used in a scientific experiment to check results

Therefore, the more you get familiar with the use of general concepts and their meaning in academic contexts, the better results you will have when attempting a more elaborated piece of writing. Furthermore, mastering more complex structures and vocabulary will permit you to fulfill some of the following tasks:

  1. Manage and hold conferences.
  2. Present projects.
  3. Read and write technical passages. 
  4. Do business successfully
  5. Read complex texts related to your discipline.

Below, an example of a real attempt at transitioning from a general English text to a more academic one, involving 1) semantic and 2) grammatical changes.

In the previous example, the first section corresponds to a general and first draft. The second one involves a more profound decision-making process in which the writer had to add more complex words and passive voice to express the very same idea but in a more formal register.

Finally, if you want to expand your horizons, publish your work or accomplish more sophisticated tasks, basic English will not help much. The challenge is to have a broader and wide range of words and meanings both in academic and general contexts, and also get more acquainted with some of the discourse consensus in terms of expected grammar and layout for more complex scenarios.

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