Are you planning to go to college soon?
Are you already a student, and having some trouble with your college-level English?
It might be time to improve your academic English skills.
Academic English is a bit different from everyday English. It’s more formal and often uses more advanced vocabulary.
You need to know academic English to write college essays, create a lab report or literature analysis, read and understand college texts and get by in many other areas of college life.
Luckily, you don’t have to go anywhere to improve your college English.
You can just take an online academic English course.
You can learn without leaving your home, and there are many options available.
Let’s find the best online course for you!
What Is an Academic English Course?
As mentioned above, an academic English course isn’t the same as a standard English course, so be prepared.
Let’s start by answering this question: “What is academic English?”
In a regular English course, you’ll probably learn grammar, helpful vocabulary, writing and reading, how to speak and pronounce things correctly and other important parts of the English language. In one lesson, you might do spelling drills, practice grammar points or speak with your classmates.
These skills are all taught so that you can use English in your life and communicate with others in the language.
An academic English course is different.
While you might still learn these essential skills in an academic English course, courses will focus more on the world of academics—universities, colleges and other institutions of higher learning. Because of this, academic English courses are usually more formal and advanced.
For example, you might learn how to write a journal entry or a short story in a regular English class, but an academic course might ask you to write a research paper or an essay.
The most common reason to study academic English is to prepare for study at an English-speaking university or college. Another reason is to improve existing academic English skills for a career in education, science or any other industry that requires knowledge of formal, structured writing and language.
Some additional examples of skills you may learn in an academic English course are:
- writing formal papers such as case studies and reports
- reading a text to form an opinion (not just to understand it)
- learning vocabulary specific to your area of study
- debating an idea (not just asking and answering questions)
- listening and note taking to summarize ideas (an activity known as a “dictogloss”)
These are just a few examples to give you an idea of how an academic English course may differ from a standard English course.
In most academic courses, you’ll be expected to talk openly about ideas and explain your opinion and thoughts about topics. Because of this, academic English courses aren’t recommended for complete beginners to the language.
So how do you know if an academic course is right for you? Keep reading to learn more!
Should You Take an Academic English Course?
College English involves reading, speaking and—most of all—writing. Online English courses may seem like a great and easy way to learn, and a lot of times they are. But you’ll need to make sure this method of learning is right for you before you begin.
Take an online English course if…
- You’re an intermediate to advanced English learner. Most courses assume you know basic English grammar, sentence structure and vocabulary.
- You have the time for it. Online courses require you to dedicate your own free time to studying. Do you have the time for extra lessons in your schedule?
- You’re planning to go to college soon (or are already in college). Academic English isn’t something you’ll need to know for writing a Facebook post, for example. It’s rarely used outside an academic environment like colleges, institutes, some jobs and a few other places. If you’re not planning to go to any of those places, you might want to study a different kind of English.
- You learn well on your own. Some online courses have instructors, but students don’t usually receive one-on-one help. Some other courses let you take the course at your own pace, completely on your own. If you have a tutor, or if you study well on your own, then an online course is a good idea.
If all (or most) of these points describe you, then you’ll do well with an online course. If you’re not sure, then give it a try anyway! Many of the courses on this list are free, so you have nothing to lose.
Before You Begin: Tips on Learning Academic English
Whether you take a course on your own, or study along with the instructors and other students, here are some tips that’ll help you make the most of your online course:
- Create a schedule. Some courses require two hours a week; some require much more. See how much time you’ll need for your course, and create a schedule around your daily life to make sure you actually have time to complete the course.
- Use FluentU. We’ll talk more about this program later, but FluentU is an excellent way to reinforce the skills that you learn in class.
FluentU will give you the necessary knowledge to start learning advanced academic topics in English. Give it a free try and see for yourself.
- Decide on a pace. Will you follow along with the course schedule, or work on your own?
- Choose a course based on your style of learning. If you learn best from watching videos, choose a course that uses videos to teach. If you learn best through writing, reading or anything else, find a course that fits your needs.
- Choose a course based on your English skill level. Not all courses are for the same level of English. You won’t get as much out of a course if you’re struggling to understand the materials. Find a course that challenges you, but doesn’t frustrate you.
- Choose a focus. Do you want to learn more about how to read, write or speak in an academic English environment? Keep in mind that some courses only cover writing.
Once you understand what you want from an online academic English course, and you know how you plan to study, you’re ready to begin looking for the right course for you.
The 11 Best Academic English Courses You Can Take Online
1. A Beginner’s Guide to Writing in English for University Study at University of Reading
Restrictions: Minimum level of IELTS 4.5 (recommended).
This short course is a great way to become familiar with academic English writing. You’ll learn everything from choosing the right topic for your essay to how to edit and assess your own text.
I like the course because it also teaches specific parts of writing an essay in English, such as the key to writing longer sentences, how to use linking words and subordinators (that, although, because, etc.) and other elements of writing which make your academic writing look more polished.
By the end of this five-week course, you’ll be able to write the first draft of an essay in English. This will leave you with the skills you’ll need to move forward in your studies!
The course currently has 4.9/5 star reviews from over 200 students, so you know many learners found it helpful. The course requires a weekly commitment of about three hours of study on top of the course content, but you can study at your own pace.
2. IELTS Academic Test Preparation The University of Queensland, Australia
This course is specially designed to help prepare students for the IELTS academic exam. The IELTS is an English exam that’s taken by non-native English speakers who want to study and sometimes immigrate to an English-speaking country. Common countries that require IELTS qualifications for migration include New Zealand, Australia and Canada.
In fact, many foreign universities also require international students to have a particular level in an IELTS exam before enrolling in a course. Because of this, the IELTS Academic test preparation course is very thorough and goes over every topic you’ll need to know.
In this course, you can expect to improve your English skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening) in a way that’ll help you do well on the exam. Plus, because the focus of the course is on exam preparation, you’ll be able to test your skills with lots of practice exams, quizzes and interactive videos.
This course will take about eight weeks and is entirely self-paced, so you can take your time or speed things up if you’re feeling confident.
3. Master Communication Skills for Business Video Calls in English with Creativa
Price: Varies—check website for details.
Being able to communicate effectively in video calls is becoming more and more important for those in the academic and the business world, especially as virtual and remote learning and working are evolving.
For that, the best available resource might be Creativa.
Creativa is a new platform from the FluentU team that offers entertaining video courses for learning English and business communication skills. It goes way beyond basic English lessons to teach body language, intonation and specific pronunciation tips to help you sound more natural.
Here’s a sample video with tips for expressing yourself effectively, from Creativa’s Mastering Business Video Calls in English course:
4. English for Academic Study Coventry University
Restrictions: No restrictions.
If you’re a beginner-level learner and you want to develop the very basics of academic English, then this is the course for you! The course prepares you for working or studying in an academic English setting by focusing on building, pronouncing and understanding key vocabulary.
The course will even teach you how to use the pronunciation guides in a dictionary effectively, which is something even native speakers struggle with!
What I especially like about the course is the fact that it also explores aspects of academic culture in the United Kingdom. This means you’ll learn what to expect in a UK academic space, and British English pronunciation and vocabulary.
Remember how we said most academic courses aren’t for beginners? Well, this one is! This class is for students who are (or are planning on) using English in their studies, but also for students who are still learning English as a second language.
It may also be a useful academic English course to take if you’re overseas and want to learn a bit more about what study in an English-speaking country is like. In that case, it would supplement a regular English learner course quite well.
Please note that the course is only four weeks long, which makes it great for a quick introduction!
5. Academic English Online at MacMillan English
Price: £5-£17 BGP (about $7-$24 USD) per course.
You might recognize the name MacMillan for their textbooks, and their online course stays true to the textbook format: This “course” is actually a collection of textbook-style material that you can access from any mobile device. The textbooks are designed to be used by teachers and students, but they can also be used for independent study.
This course isn’t as easy to get as the others on this list, since you need to contact a person to buy it. Because this is a well-known and much-respected company, though, it’s worth your time to do so.
Restrictions: No restrictions.
Price: Monthly rate at different price points, free trial here.
I believe that one of the top ways to study more academic English is to see it used in real-world situations. That’s why I recommend matching your academic English studies with a FluentU English account.
The FluentU program is a self-guided one that uses real-world videos to help you speak English like a native. While it’s not specifically for academic purposes, the library is full of great educational English videos to help you understand academic English and college life.
Below are three ways I’d recommend using the FluentU program to help your academic English.
Focus on grammar and English writing-related video
The first step is to watch videos that specifically focus on study and high-level formal English. For example, the video below highlights how it’s sometimes possible to end a sentence with a preposition.
These videos will help give you a deeper understanding of English grammar and writing, which are important for academic English. Plus, you’ll also be learning advanced vocabulary at the same time.
Enjoy study-related clips
With study-related clips such as this one on the science of better learning, you’ll learn academic English and some insightful ways to help your study. It’s a way to kill two birds with one stone (to achieve two goals or outcomes with one action).
Have some fun with university-related comedy series and clips
It’s also important to take some time to relax when studying academic English. You can enjoy some fun comedy clips such as “College Ain’t Like the Movies” or “What College Tours Are Really Like.” Don’t forget that there might be cultural differences between study in your home country and abroad, which you’ll pick up from these videos (even if they’re exaggerated).
With these clips, you’ll still learn some college and academic vocabulary and have a laugh at the same time!
7. Academic English at Open Learning
Restrictions: Anyone can join a course, but if you’re having problems seeing the website, try changing your browser’s location to “Unspecified” or “US” (here’s how).
This free course focuses on academic English writing, but it also teaches speaking, reading and even how to organize and plan your studies. It’s perfect for English learners planning to enter college soon, or for those already taking courses but struggling with them.
Make use of the community as well—with over 10,000 students taking the course, it’s a good place to meet other English learners.
8. Academic English: Writing at Coursera
Price: A monthly subscription to Coursera is required to access this course, but you can apply for financial aid.
Coursera has gathered five courses that, together, will teach you how to write a fantastic research paper for a college course. Do the full five-course program, or select any individual courses you’re interested in.
9. English for Academic Purposes Online at The Open University
Restrictions: The course takes place once a year every year in October.
Price: £1584 GBP (About $2244 USD). The high price reflects the fact that participants can get credits to use towards their own university completion. (Check with your university to make sure they accept the credits before beginning.)
This course is a combination of independent study and tutor-led study. Each student will have a tutor to help them through the course. Expect lots of reading and writing, and some speaking and listening. The course covers different aspects of an academic English environment, from writing papers to communicating with others in the university.
10. How to Write an Essay at UC Berkeley
Price: Free, with the option to get a certificate of completion for a fee.
Learn what it’s like to study at a US university by taking this online course, brought to you by the University of Berkeley in California.
This course (and the second half, found here) teaches how to compose a great essay for an academic purpose and how to edit it through many interactive assignments (on topics that you care about!). You’ll learn all the terms and parts of academic essay writing, how to write good sentences and paragraphs, how to edit your own work and more. There’s also a digital workbook you can use for your assignments.
11. Academic Writing at the University of Edinburgh (Advanced)
In this course, you’ll find material about writing a first-year report (an analysis of your first year at university), or an advanced research paper. The course is intended for students with an advanced level of English, so it’s a good resource if you’re applying for a higher education position where you’ll need to write a thesis in English.
You don’t have to go anywhere to prepare for college-level English.
Just take one of the courses above from the comfort of your own home, and you’ll be ready to use your college-level English writing and reading!
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.