The Meaning of English for Academic Purposes

One way to explain the meaning of English for Academic Purposes is to say that it is the kind of English that is used in the fields of academic research, study and teaching in universities across the globe. EAP has evolved out of a broader area of English Language teaching known as English for Special Purposes (ESP). English for Academic Purposes (EAP), therefore, is a course of study, in many institutions of higher learning.

In this post, I will explain the meaning of English for Academic Purposes (EAP). In so doing, we shall identify the following aspects of the subject without necessarily following that order.

  • Examples of English for Academic Purposes
  • Native-Speaker English vs Academic English
  • English for Academic Purposes as Compared to English for Professional Purposes
  • Major Characteristics of Academic English
  • The Uses of English for Academic Purposes
  • Skills Taught under English for Academic Purposes

At the end of this article, I will clarify my view that, to a very large extent, English for Academic Purposes forms part of the curriculum in most high schools in the world. This is despite the fact that whatever is being taught may not go by that specific name.

Top 20 Topics in the English for Academic Purposes Course

So this is an all-inclusive article that defines English for Academic Purposes. It attempts to explain almost every aspect of the question. Are you ready to know the full meaning of English for Academic Purposes? Then let’s get going.

Examples of English for Academic Purposes

As I said before, English for Academic Purposes refers to English Language courses that provide language instruction for academic study usually in a higher education context.

Examples of English for Academic purposes include topics like listening comprehension, reading and writing, effective grammar usage and vocabulary development. They constitute the components of the Academic English course.

In American universities, for example, the English for Academic Purposes course for freshmen contains the below topics.

  • listening comprehension
  • fluency development
  • vocabulary development
  • grammar
  • reading
  • writing
  • oral intelligibility

An English for Academic Purposes (EAP) course, therefore, is an English Language course that develops in students the linguistic and related practices that they need to effectively study or work in an educational institution where English is the main language of instruction and communication.

Communication Skills

In some other universities, a course in English for Academic Purposes is referred to as Communication Skills. This is the case in some universities in Ghana, for example. I personally studied a Communication Skills course as an undergraduate at the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.

Is Native-Speaker English the Same As Academic English?

The answer is simply NO. The conventions of Academic English usage are quite different from the English that is used in homes and other social settings, even in native English-speaking societies. This is why people intending to study in a university where English is the language of instruction are obliged to take a course in English for Academic Purposes. That is irrespective of whether they are native English speakers or not.

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English for Academic Purposes vs English Language Admission Requirements

Does English for Academic Purposes mean the same as other well-known international English courses like IELTS and TOEFL? Definitely not. Each course serves a completely different purpose.

Foreign students from countries where English is either a second language or a foreign language are required to have a certain level of proficiency in English in order to be admitted to any course of study.

These applicants need to do the IELTS registration by paying the required IELTS fee to qualify to take part in the exam. The same goes for the TOEFL registration fee and the subsequent exam.

The above should not be confused with the English for Academic Purposes course.

Here is a simple difference.

While most universities require foreign applicants to pass IELTS or TOEFL as a condition for gaining admission, English for Academic Purposes courses are taken after a student (native or foreign speaker) had successfully gained admission to the university.

At the University of Portsmouth in the UK, for example, there is an English Language requirement for all foreign applicants. They must pass such tests as the International English Language Test System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

So you will expect foreign applicants from much of Africa and Asia who intend to study for either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in places like the UK, US and Canada to meet the above English Language requirements.

Also, other European nationals from places like Romania, Bulgaria, Poland and Estonia may have to get their TOEFL or IELTS certificates (or their equivalents) in place.


While EAP stands for English for Academic Purposes, ESP, on the other hand, is an abbreviation for English for Professional Purposes. Unlike EAP, English for Professional Purposes is meant for use in the workplace, to put it simply.

For that matter, a typical EPP course will address broader communication demands on the job market or the specific demands of the profession in question.

Workers in such industries as international travel and tourism, finance and insurance, media and journalism among others may be required to take an EPP course from time to time.

A pass in an examination in English for Professional Purposes could even be a condition for job placement in a particular profession.

The University of Manitoba, for example, offers a course in English for Professional Purposes.

The next stage of this article about the meaning of English for Academic Purposes will address the issue of the characteristics of Academic English.

The Main Characteristics of Academic English

Here is a brief outline of the major features of Academic English. They should further explain the real meaning of English for Academic Purposes.

  • It is mostly taught and studied in universities as a compulsory subject for all new entrants.
  • Academic English is mostly written English.
  • It relies heavily on formal structures and avoids colloquial language
  • But it is also spoken on such occasions as university seminars, lectures, presentations and other formal settings.
  • It is well-structured.
  • Paragraphs are carefully developed, beginning with a strong topic sentence and ending in a convincing clincher sentence.
  • It places much emphasis on logical reasoning and coherence.
  • In Academic English writing, references to other written sources are a must.
  • It may sound impersonal, using the passive voice in some instances.
  • Clarity of thought and expression are central to English for Academic Purposes.
  • It places a high premium on grammar.
  • Most writers and speakers in academia try hard to be objective in any academic discourse.
  • Detail and illustrations are the hallmarks of academic writing.
  • Vocabulary tends to be specialized or technical.

Importance of English for Academic Purposes

Another important question to answer is this. Why do we need to study English for Academic Purposes?

In fact, the uses of English for Academic Purposes are varied. For the university student, the need to take a course in EAP is of utmost importance.

You can even infer its importance from the term itself. Typically, an English for Academic Purposes course tries to equip university students with skills that will allow them to go through their academic studies with relative ease.

Whether you call it English for Academic Purposes or Communication Skills, this course is available in most universities for the purpose of achieving the following goals.

  • To facilitate learners’ study and research work through the medium of the English language.
  • Help students develop the appropriate test-taking skills
  • To enable learners to apply effective note-taking skills during lectures.
  • Ensure that graduating students are able to use acceptable procedures in research work for their term papers or dissertations.
  • To make it possible for students to find their studies relatively easy in universities where the medium of communication is English.

In order to fully understand the meaning of English for Academic Purposes and its uses, one needs to know the skills that students of this course acquire in the process. So this is our next destination in our attempt to unravel the true meaning of English for Academic Purposes.

Skills Taught in English for Academic Purposes

There are some vital topics that one can find in a typical English for Academic Purposes syllabus. These learning points in any EAP syllabus serve a singular purpose. They train undergraduate or graduate students to be able to effectively undertake their respective degree courses.

Among the major communication skills that students learn in English for Academic Purposes program are the following.

  • Note-taking skills
  • Test-taking
  • Academic vocabulary usage
  • Critical reading and writing
  • Understanding academic lectures
  • Research and library skills
  • Formal essay writing forms and development
  • Paragraph development
  • Advanced writing skills
  • Summary writing

Academic English at the High School Level

Let’s end our discussion on the meaning of English for Academic Purposes with an answer to the question below.

Do learners study Academic English at the high school level or other pre-tertiary educational institutions?

Yes, they do. In many African and Asian countries where English is a second or foreign language, high school students must study English as a core or compulsory subject.

The English Language syllabus introduces learners to the fundamentals of effective English communication skills.

Grammar and Vocabulary (also known as Lexis and Structure), oral English, composition, reading comprehension and summary writing are the key components of English meant for academic purposes taught in most secondary schools in the world.

The formal English usage skills high school students acquire at this level of education lay the foundation for further studies at the university.


At Cegast Academy, much of what we learn is English for Academic Purposes. After all, our primary goal here is to acquire the relevant skills that will enable us to achieve our academic and career goals. This is why you need to take seriously this post and related ones.

Funnily, for most of us in non-native English countries, the difference between academic English and informal English is blurred. In fact, what we speak is, by and large, academic English.

There is a common saying in my home country that Ghanaians speak like your typical English textbook. The flexibility and colloquialisms associated with the English spoken by a native speaker in England, Australia or the United States are almost absent in our speech.

But you can’t blame us now. We do not normally learn our English at home or in the playground. We copy it directly from the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary or the Cambridge Dictionary.

The Ministry of Education and other stakeholders supply our schools with English textbooks which serve as our other key source for learning English. So what else can you expect?

That was just by the way. Do you wish to learn more about Communication Skills or English for Academic Purposes? What difficulties do you encounter during your English lessons? And, finally, what are your favourite English Language topics? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Ralph Nyadzi is the Director of Studies at Cegast Academy. He is a qualified English tutor with decades of experience behind him. Since 2001, he has successfully coached thousands of High School General Arts WASSCE candidates in English, Literature and related subjects. He combines his expertise with a passion for lifelong learning to guide learners from varying backgrounds to achieve their educational goals. Ralph shares lessons from his blogging journey on BloggingtotheMax. He lives with River, his pet cat, in the Central Region of Ghana.

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