A guide to studying English Language and Linguistics at university - including what to expect, application tips and careers after completing the course.
Why consider studying English Language and Linguistics at university?
Language is how we make sense of the world; it makes us who we are and is fundamental to society and the communities we live in. Through language we form relationships, teach our children and manage our day to day lives.
The study of language and linguistics explores many facets of language, including its history, diversity and structure and its use in a variety of contexts, for example everyday interaction (both online and offline), politics, humour and forensics. Linguistics is not about knowing many languages, rather it is about understanding the structure of language and how people use it and investigating how different forms of language shape our society.
Students will look at language in depth and how language helps humans understand things and the role it plays in different institutional, professional and social contexts, how we acquire language, the way it changes over time and how it forms an array of ways to communicate. Watch this section on the video from 00.52 to 02.55
What to expect if you study English Language and Linguistics at universityLanguage and Linguistics courses will commence with basic modules which give tools to analyse language, for example:
- Looking at morphemes which make up words and the grammar of phrases and longer structures.
- The accurate ways of writing the sounds of words known as phonemes and how these differ across accents and between formal and informal speech.
- Literature study, including poetry, drama and prose fiction, with introduction to a range of analytical tools for describing word meaning and effect.
- Language history from its earliest origins to its present-day status as a global language.
- How language is used across different forms of media, such as print and social media
- How communication functions between and within different cultures.
- How language affects the mind - how various disorders can have consequences for language production
- How children acquire first languages compared to adults acquiring a new language.
Modules chosen in second and third years will enable students to specialise in their area of interest, for example speech and language therapy, improving communication for business or teaching English to foreign learners. Further modules may include:
- Field linguistics which involves bringing in a speaker of a language that students have not encountered before, the students can ask any question, but the speaker is only able to answer in their native language – over the course of a term students develop an understanding of the syntax, grammar and morphology of that language.
- Audio-visual translation, which includes subtitling, audio description and dubbing for TV and film. The module aims to develop the understanding of the effects of the decisions made in the process of audio-visual translation and to use language insights to improve professional practice in this area.
- Exploring language issues in human rights – language has a close relationship with a person’s race, nationality, ethnicity, class, region of origin and gender and by understanding potential conflicts linguists can work towards avoiding them.
Linguistics is a hugely important and currently evolving discipline. Current growth areas include natural language processing, which explores the ways that technology can create, understand and translate language correctly and corpus analysis where huge data sets can be used to identify trends and changes in attitudes towards events and groups as well as patterns of things like slang or dialect use across a country or community.
Linguistics is a subject that pairs well with other disciplines and therefore has potential for a joint honours degree in subjects including psychology, drama, creative writing, politics and journalism.Watch this section on the video from 02:55 to 11:29
What careers can studying English Language and Linguistics lead to?
An English Language and Linguistics degree will provide students with many transferable skills such as being able to present and communicate complex ideas effectively, having understanding, insight and situational awareness of the behaviour of others, and being able to analyse data both qualitatively and quantitively.
Potential careers include speech and language therapy; improving communication for business; teaching English to foreign learners; dialect coaching; forensic linguistics – helping police analyse linguistic data such as texts or emails; conflict resolution; lexicography – researching and updating the dictionary definition of words. Watch this section on the video from 11:29 to 12:40
Application tips for English Language and Linguistics courses at university
Potential English Language and Linguistics students should look at the module content offered by different universities as course content will vary greatly, particularly during the second and third years, and check that any particular interests they have are covered. Students should ensure that they contact the admissions tutor in the department in which they are applying with any questions before application submission.
It is worth reading some introductory or popular books on linguistics or listening to TED talks or podcasts on the subject. Personal statements should discuss where a student’s enthusiasm for languages comes from, including any personal language experiences.
As with any course it will be beneficial for students to show their ability to work hard and participate, including extra-curricular activities and aspects of the student’s life which has led to them wanting to study Language and Linguistics. Students should show the experience and interests that they will bring to the course.
Watch this section on the video from 12:50 to 16:45
With thanks to the event speaker
Dr Liz Marsden, Lecturer in Linguistics at the University of Huddersfield
Jon Cheek, Founder and Director, UniTasterDays.com