Cambridge Academic English: Upper Intermediate

Book Writer & Publisher: 
Martin Hewings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012
Robert Taferner, Hiroshima University, Department of Integrated Global Studies

[Martin Hewings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. (Includes CD, DVD, Teacher’s Book and access to online lectures.) pp. 176. ¥3,449. ISBN: 978-0-521-16520-4.]

Cambridge Academic English: Upper Intermediate is part of a series of textbooks (Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and Advanced) and supporting materials focusing on English for Academic Purposes (EAP) for second language (L2) learners of English. The Upper Intermediate level of this series targets CEFR B2 level students preparing for university content courses with English-medium instruction (EMI) which requires general academic language support, and listening and note-taking skills.

The textbook is organized into an Academic orientation and 10 units that integrate the four-skills (reading, listening, speaking, and writing) in academic contexts, starting with textual analysis of readings, and continues through to genre-specific writing tasks. Each unit finishes with Grammar and vocabulary reinforcement (developed with support from the Academic Word List & Cambridge English Corpus). At the back of the textbook, Audioscripts, as well as a summary of key features for each unit that include examples of in-text references and a references list, a Glossary of grammar terms, and a Wordlist. In addition, five extensive Lecture skills exercises (supported by the textbook, DVD, and online multimedia) positioned after every two units give students experience in preparing for lectures, allowing for speech analysis of various academic genres, listening practice, language focus on grammar and pronunciation, and follow-up note-taking activities. The overall content of the textbook units cover academic culture, study habits, and a variety of current events and social issues found in internationally-orientated liberal arts programs.

Without a doubt, students are in great need of academic support in terms of critical thinking and specific academic language skills in their EAP programmes (Huang, 2013) for success in their academic courses in English. While the focus of this support may vary across academic levels, discipline-specific contexts, four-skill domains, and language proficiencies, defining and understanding how to approach EAP or EMI is still under debate (e.g., Coleman, Hultgren, Li, Tsui & Shaw, 2018; Pecorari & Malmström, 2018; Uchihara & Harada, 2018). Within EAP, content knowledge and skill development are inclusive in its pedagogical approach. The emphasis on what content to deliver and how to address this subject matter by material writers and teachers relies on their perceptions and empirically motivated choices. Selecting, modifying, and scaffolding the right combination of exercises may lead to a successful classroom encounter elevating students’ academic skills.

To evaluate Cambridge Academic English: Upper Intermediate in a classroom context, two consecutive Communication Seminar courses over a period of two terms (16 three-hour classes) with approximately 40 1st-year university students preparing for their 2nd- and 3rd-year academic content courses were used for this review. Each class attempted to cover one unit or one lecture from the textbook. Due to the large number of exercises and depth of each activity, homework was assigned after each class to ensure students adequately covered the content of each textbook lesson. After the course was completed, students were surveyed about the utilization of the textbook and pedagogical approach. Students found the textbook very thorough, sufficiently challenging, and perceived the materials provided the necessary activities for academic knowledge and skill development for success in their future EMI courses. The most difficult sections of the text were the activities within Lecture Skills. In particular, students had a very difficult time understanding the lecturers’ presentations. This may be due to a combination of lecture styles, topic knowledge and transitions, and students’ ability to follow the presenters’ rate of speech (i.e., sentence-level fluency). This made the transcripts especially important for comprehension and content analysis while completing the activities in the textbook.

While students indicated that they were satisfied with the textbook, they found more time was needed to assimilate what they learned, and suggested that the textbook materials could be extended to cover a full academic year. Another insightful comment related to the textbook alerted me to the fact that students wanted to systematically do all of the exercises without skipping any parts as they felt the necessity to learn and practice as much as they could to be successful in their academic courses. This conflicted at times with what I perceived as a more important priority—adjusting learning tasks to future EMI objectives. This slight criticism of Cambridge Academic English: Upper Intermediate points to the necessity for classroom materials to allow more freedom for the instructor to facilitate the management of activities according to personal beliefs and objectives. In addition, in future versions of this textbook it may be feasible to include more in-depth text analysis of discipline-specific content, providing students a deeper insight into discourse features across academic genres.

In summary, Cambridge Academic English: Upper Intermediate helped me provide my students an exceptional learning experience covering academic language support, listening and note-taking skills, general academic study skills, and content covering a range of current social issues.


Coleman, J., Hultgren, K., Li, W., Tsui, C.C., & Shaw, P. (2018). Forum on English-medium instruction. TESOL Quarterly, 52(3), 701-720. doi: 10.1002/tesq.469

Huang, L. (2013). Academic English is no one’s mother tongue: Graduate and undergraduate students’ academic English language-learning needs from students’ and instructors’ perspectives. Journal of Perspectives in Applied Academic Practice, 1(2), 17-29. doi: 10.14297/jpaap.v1i2.67

Pecorari, D., & Malmström, H. (2018). At the crossroads of TESOL and English medium instruction. TESOL Quarterly, 52(3), 497-515. doi: 10.1002/tesq.470

Uchihara, T., & Harada, T. (2018). Roles of vocabulary knowledge for success in English-medium instruction: Self-perceptions and academic outcomes of Japanese undergraduates. TESOL Quarterly, 52(3), 564-587. doi: 10.1002/tesq.453