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About This Site


Click here for a virtual tour of the tools on the site.

How can this site help me?

This site gives you a set of tools that work together to help you read your own academic texts in English. If you don't understand the words in your text, reading can be slow and frustrating. Words you don't know are like rocks that block the road ahead - they slow you down and make you stop to move them out of the way.

Research shows that trying to learn all the words you don’t know is an almost impossible task. The main purpose of this site is to help you learn the words that you will meet most often in your own academic texts. It’s a simple and easy concept: if you know these high-frequency words, you will read faster and have more time to focus on text content.

So next time you stop to look up words you don't know, think about this:

  • 75 - 80% of the words in most academic texts come from a list of the 2000 most common words in English. These are words you may already know - most students learn these words before they leave high school.

OK, but what about the remaining 25%?

Many of the remaining 20% to 25% of words in your texts come from a list called the Academic Word List (AWL). This is a list of 570 general academic words. These words make up from 10% to 15% of the words in academic texts in many different disciplines.

The rest of the words in your text will be mostly names, places and words related to specific subjects or words that appear in only a few academic disciplines.

Now, do the math…

2000 most common words in English PLUS

570 words on the Academic Word List (AWL).

= 2570 words.

If you know these 2570 high-frequency words, you will know from 85% to 90% of the words in academic texts in English.

What! You expect me to learn 2570 words?

Before you hit the escape key, here's some good news…

It’s really less than that. Think about these 4 facts:

  1. You may already know many of the 2000 most common words in English. To see Nation's BNC-based lists of these 2000 words, go to: http://www.lextutor.ca/vp/bnc/nation_14/
  2. Almost half of the AWL words are already on the list of the 2000 most common words in English. For more information on words that appear on both Nation's 1-2000 BNC-based lists and the AWL, see Barth and Klein-Wohl (2011).
  3. The AWL is sorted into sublists to make learning new words more manageable. The 300 words on the first 5 sublists appear much more frequently in academic texts than words on the last 5 sublists. For more information on relative frequencies of sublists, see Nation ( 2001), p. 190.

Bottom line?

Learning vocabulary is not easy, and there are no magic solutions. To learn a word, you have to do much more than make a list of dictionary definitions. You have tie the new words down so that they stay in your memory instead of floating away. The best way to remember new words is by doing something with the new word: actively processing new information about new words by connecting them to other related words, identifying examples, completing sentences etc.

So how can all this help me?

Roads to Academic Reading gives you a set of tools that work together to help you understand and remember 300 of the 570 words on the AWL. These tools include a text-profiler, flashcards and sets of exercises.

What's on this site?

The text-profiler on this site will show you which words in your own texts are AWL words. These are the words you should focus on first.

Knowing which words in your texts are high-frequency academic words is only the first step. If you want to remember new words, you must do more than just see these words in your texts. You also need to practice these words, either before reading or after reading your texts.

Flashcards and exercises on this site will help you:

  • see how AWL words can be used in different contexts.
  • practice, reinforce and "recycle" words that you meet in your own texts.

Click here for a summary of tools on this site.

Summary of tools on this site:

Copy-paste your text into the Text Profiler's text-box to color-code words you should focus on first.

Click here to see how to make your own customized dictionary.

See relative frequencies of words on AWL sublists.

Words on the AWL are grouped according to frequencies. For example, words on sublist 1 are much more frequent than words on sublist 6.

Customize the AWL by building your own personal portfolio of words you need to learn.

We know long lists of words are not easy to work with. My AWL automatically removes words you have learned from your list of "words I need to learn".

Get the basic background information you need in order to "anchor" unfamiliar words into your memory.

Knowing a word means knowing much more than just a dictionary definition or translation: flashcards give you frequently-used academic and additional meanings, example sentences, parts of speech and pronunciations for 300 AWL words.

Practice AWL words at basic or advanced levels.

A set of 6 exercises show you how AWL words can be used in different contexts and which words go together with the target word. Exercises also provide feedback to help you learn from your mistakes.

Reinforce your learning by reviewing and recycling words you have learned.

After working through 5 flashcards or 5 sets of exercises, you receive an automatically generated self-test. The program will analyze your test score and give you possible options for improving your results.

Monitor your progress at any stage.

See how many AWL words you have practiced, how many words you have already learned and how well you are doing.

We're sorry - at this stage My Progress and My AWL tracking features are available only if you have registered for an OUI course.

Go to getting started to see how to start working with these tools.

Who is this site for?

  • English language learners (ELLs) who:
    • want to improve their academic English proficiency level.
    • study English on their own, without a teacher.
    • are preparing for English placement exams.
    • want to become more effective readers of English academic texts in their specific subject areas.
    • plan to study at university in an English-speaking country.
  • Students whose first language is English and want to learn more about the underlying ideas and concepts behind high-frequency academic words.

For information on how this site can help teachers, go to Information for Educators.

How do these tools work?

This site is easy to use. All you need is a Word document of the English text you want to read. Then follow these 4 easy steps:

  1. Copy your text and paste it into the text-profiler on this site.
  2. The text-profiler will show you which words in your own texts are high-frequency words. These are the words with the highest cost-benefit ratio: spending time and effort on learning these words will give you the highest returns on your investment.
  3. Send the words you don’t know to your own personal Word Bank. This will automatically generate a customized gloss or “translation table” for each text you read.
  4. Three hundred AWL words are hyperlinked to flashcards and exercises on this site. Use these tools for pre-reading preparation or post-reading revision of new words.

The text-profiler, flashcards and exercises work together with additional tools to form an integrated learning environment.

  • Barth, I. & Klein-Wohl, E. (2011). Teaching students to use text-profilers: A needs-based approach to tertiary level English vocabulary instruction. International Journal of Computer-Assisted Language Learning and Teaching, 1(3), 86-98.
  • Nation, I.S.P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge University Press.
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