My Hispanic Civilization course has a very strong written component. The first essay students have to write is usually based on their personal impressions of the course. The second essay always has a much more academic topic. After teaching this course a few times, I have noticed that the students write the "personal" essay a lot better than the "academic" one. The essays look like two completely different groups of students wrote them. The grade for the second essay usually drops at least 20% in comparison with the first.
The problem that almost all of my students have (with very few exceptions) is that, as soon as the more academic topic is mentioned, they immediately switch to this extremely pompous, tortured and stiff style of writing. For them, the words "academic writing" and pomposity are somehow synonymous.
Does anybody know when the students acquire this habit of writing academic essays in such an affected tone? Is this something they are taught to do in high school? Since almost everybody does it, I have to assume that the phenomenon is widespread.