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Spoken Academic English Formulas
Exercise: Functions (A)
Exercise: Functions (B)
Exercise: Listening (A)
Exercise: Listening (B)

What are "spoken academic English formulas"?

Spoken academic formulas are fixed multi-word phrases that function as a unit and are very frequently used in academic speech. You are probably familiar with many of these formulaic expressions from reading and writing academic English, but some of these formulas may be used less frequently in spoken academic English, and some that occur in spoken English are seldom seen in writing.

The following excerpt is from an actual lecture on introductory physics. The words in red are examples of academic formulas. Click to listen to the excerpt and see if you can deduce the meaning and function of the formulas.

“...and it turns out if you do the arithmetic here, this turns out to be five microseconds. So in other words, you know it takes five microseconds for the ship to go 200, uh 1200 meters going at 240 each microsecond. Okay but remember that the clock, here on the ground, is not running at the same rate as the clock on the ship. And in fact, what we know is that if this guy measured ∆-t, this guy up here with the moving clock moving with respect to him, is gonna measure some shorter time because this time is long.”

Notice the pronunciation of these formulas. Are the individual words in each expression pronounced clearly? Or do they “run together”? (Feel free to listen to the passage again, focusing on just the phrases in red.) You will hear that formulas are generally pronounced as if they are one word, or unit, or “chunk.”

Read through the passage again, but omit the phrases in red. Does this affect the meaning of the passage much? 

So what then is the purpose of the phrases if they do not affect the meaning much? These formulas are used to link segments or words and perform specific discourse functions, which are not easily determined by going to a dictionary and looking up individual words. In this passage the function of the phrase “it turns out” is to lead the listener to a result, and the phrase “in other words” is used to paraphrase or summarize the point.

Look at the table below to see some common academic speaking formulas, grouped by function.  Click to hear how they sound in authentic academic speech. The words in bold are stressed in these examples, but stress can vary depending on context. Repeat the phrases and remember to try to pronounce each one as a single word. (Note that a formula can serve more than one function.)

Spoken Academic Formulas
To focus the listener’s attention (on a key point or question)           

the thing is
the question is
the problem is

what happens is
and in fact
as a matter of fact
To soften or hedge an opinion or criticism
To make a comment more polite

in a sense
in some sense
in a way
more or less
kind of like

as far as I know
it seems to me
it seems like
I feel like
you could say
To generalize additional items of a kind (same as “etc.”) something like that/this
and stuff like that
and so on
and so forth
and so on, and so forth
To fill space or stall for time let me see let me think

To set up a contrast
To prepare listener for something surprising

(it) turns out (that)
as it turns out
all of a sudden
To paraphrase or summarize in other words
To solicit agreement or empathy
To check/confirm understanding
You know what I mean? You know what I'm saying?
To add background information or details
keep in mind  
To alert listeners to a change in topic or an off-topic remark by the way  
To structure an argument or information first of all for one thing