The Academic Word List

The Academic Word List (AWL) is a list of words which appear with high frequency in English-language academic texts. The list was compiled by Averil Coxhead at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

The list contains 570 word families and is divided into 10 sublists. Sublist 1 consists of the 60 most common words in the AWL. Sublist 2 contains the next most frequently used words and so on. Each sublist contains 60 word families, except for sublist 10, which contains 30.

The entire AWL is contained within the keywords in the regular database file of over 2,600 words in Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher.

To select these words, Coxhead did an analysis of academic journals, textbooks, course workbooks, lab manuals, and course notes. The list was compiled following an analysis of over 3,500,000 words of text.

The words selected for the AWL are words which occur frequently over a range of academic subjects. This means that the AWL is useful to students who wish to study in an English-speaking institution, no matter what their field of study. In addition, these words include vocabulary of everyday usage, equally useful to those who do not have academic goals. The AWL does not, however, include technical words which are specific to a given field. Nor does it contain words which are of general use and very high frequency.


Why Teach the AWL ?

Students will need to know this vocabulary if they hope to study in an English-speaking school environment, especially at the college or university level. In fact, because some of these words are very common, they are even useful to those who do not have academic goals of this kind. Many of these words are frequently encountered in newspapers, magazines, and novels, and can be heard on television, radio, and movies or in everyday conversation. The following words are examples of the vocabulary contained within the AWL. One can see that the vocabulary ranges from everyday language to words of a more academic nature.
Ex: area, energy, function, issue, similar, environment, capacity, vary, albeit, intrinsic, qualitative, hierarchy, equate

Research shows that if students know the General Service List, or GSL, which contains what are considered to be the 2,000 most important words of basic English, and then learn the AWL, understanding of academic texts increases by 10%. This is important, because research indicates that “If instead of learning the Academic Word List, the learner had moved on to the third 1,000 most frequent words, instead of an additional 10% coverage there would only have been 4.3% extra coverage.”
Nation, P. (2001). Learning Vocabulary in Another Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

The entire Academic Word List, 570 words divided into 10 sublists, is contained within the keywords of Gerry's Vocabulary Teacher.