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An Introduction to Studying English A Level

By Laura, published on 15/02/2019 Blog > Academia > School English > A Guide to A Level English Language

You may be asking yourself what the benefits of an English Language qualification are, especially if you are already a native speaker and long ago mastered the difference between your ‘to’s and your ‘too’s.

Being able to speak English fluently, or even being an excellent speller, does not make you an expert in language by any means.

In fact, it could be said that those who learn English as a foreign language get to know the language far better than an Englishman or woman, since they are more conscious of the finer details in grammar and vocabulary and have to become proficient in unfamiliar language trends. Not only will they have scrutinised the forensic make-up of the language as they’ve absorbed it, they will have been forced to grasp how individual tendencies impact on people’s communication too.

English lessons at A-level are valuable Learn English language at A level (Photo via Visualhunt)

An A Level in English Language will enable you to get to know your mother tongue better, like the ways it adapts according to who one’s audience is, in which context it is being spoken and the speaker or writer’s intended meaning. Being able to understand these complexities as well as identify them correctly can help you to become a better overall communicator.

One of the greatest advantages of strengthening your English language skills is perhaps the effect this can have on your career prospects. English is renowned for being the number one language in business, so a good command of this key language is a very valuable tool for those seeking to enter the international marketplace, as well as those who choose to work within the country.

And, it’s never too late to learn! Find out how you can join an A Level English class with your peers!

English Language A Level Course Content

You may find that your course differs slightly from one of your peers enrolled on a different examination board, however, your English Language course will incorporate a set of key themes. These might include, for example, Spoken English, Phonetics, Identity, Language and Gender, Early Child Acquisition, Language and Diversity, Reading and Writing, as well as many others.

Ultimately, the study of English Language at A Level will encourage you to discover language, the way in which we use it, the way in which it has changed over time and the variations and manipulations that have emerged due to cultural development.

As such, you will observe how language has evolved over the centuries and where different dialects and accents became prominent across the regions that make up this country. Moving forward from here, you will begin to develop your own identity and style of writing, making use of your newfound discoveries.

One of the most interesting parts of this course, however, is the exploration of how children learn to speak English. This fascinating module sets out the different processes involved in acquiring a mother-tongue language: influences from the mother and father, interaction with objects, surroundings, etc… This is a particularly eye-opening lesson and one that will surely contribute to your appreciation of language.

Differences Between English Language A Level And English Literature

Many students consider ‘English’ to be one subject, but there’s a good reason why English Literature and English Language are marked separately when it comes to GCSE and A Levels. Each branch of the subject is awarded an individual mark and some pupils may be much better in one than the other.

English Literature, as a subject, is more concerned with the thematic content of texts and the typical texts studied on this course are in the form of poetry and prose. During Lit lessons, you’ll no doubt consider the wider contextual issues surrounding the work and will analyse it critically.

English Language, on the other hand, is more scientific and factual in nature as it looks at language in segments, e.g. Syntax, Phonology, Grammar, etc… It studies how language works, with a focus on linguistics.

In English Language lessons, you can expect to encounter a larger range of texts for analysis, like those used for media or advertising purposes and how they influence and persuade the audience as opposed to how they make the reader feel.

Would you like to a list of good reasons to study English and literature at A Level? Or you already know that and would like some help for English exams preparation?

Typical Workload For English Language A Level

An English Language A Level naturally involves less reading than an English Literature one, but that does not mean that it is plain sailing when it comes to studying. Students are expected to process some advanced linguistic terminology, which they must understand inside-out if they are to be in with a chance of reaching a high grade.

Secondary reading is highly recommended, which can include novels, academic essays, revision guides and more, to help you to expand your glossary of language-related terminology and to make sure that you have the knowledge required for the course.

By reading around, you will put yourself in a great position to be able to participate confidently in discussions and debates, whether as part of an assessed oral examination or a simple classroom activity.

Be more influential by gaining a better understanding of language. Studying English Language can make you a stronger communicator in a debate. Photo credit: Southern Arkansas University via Visualhunt.com

How you cope with your workload is obviously down to your work ethics and attitude towards your studies, but also how easy or difficult you find specific tasks. Some students might be able to take in information much faster and may work well under pressure, whilst others might need more time to process the facts.

You can learn a lot from reviewing English A Level past papers, too!

The main thing to remember is that, if you find the subject interesting, then you will undoubtedly show more willingness to learn about it, and to go beyond what you simply need to know.

That said, everybody is capable of succeeding in this course, the only difference is that some might need some extra help in the form of English tuition or additional revision sessions.

In terms of how many hours of study will be required by your curriculum, this may vary. Yet, most two-year courses will propose around 4.5 hours of English Language tuition per week, during term-time.

This, however, does not include the extra work you should be putting into your studies in the evening (as homework or English A level revision) or during weekends and school holidays.

Not sure how long to spend on your A Level English Language revision outside of the classroom? There is no real answer to this question, but all we can say is that it is difficult to overdo your revision. So long as you aren’t neglecting your health or your other subjects, then put in as much time as you possibly can to reap the rewards later down the line.

Skills Acquired on an A Level English Language Course

During the course of your English Language studies, you will gain expertise in analysing language and applying theories and ideas to your critiques. Research is, therefore, key to surviving this course and is a great skill to have under your belt for future academic courses as well as any jobs you might do which require you to plan and research.

You will specifically be learning how to collect data and looking at ways to analyse statistics using IT packages (thus enhancing your IT skills too).

All the while focusing your awareness on interacting and communicating using language as a tool, you will find that your ability to problem-solve, your time management, your organisation, your team-working skills and your readiness to use your initiative are all improved as a result of studying this subject. These are described as transferable skills and are great assets to any professional, whatever their industry.

What’s more, the skills acquired as part of an English Language course are essential in many careers.

We will go into further detail about specific jobs you could end up working in, but just some of the businesses that may benefit the most from your skills are the publishing industry, marketing or financial sectors, as they often need staff to present products and services in a professional and attractive, not to mention a persuasive manner.

More and more businesses these days are increasing their online presence too and, as such, they need articulate individuals to help write about and promote their products and services to a global audience. This is where a great grasp of the English Language could be your biggest offering.

Exam Boards Assessing English Language

Edexcel, OCR and WJEC are once again the predominant exam boards chosen by mainstream schools and colleges in the UK for the English Language A Level.

Although, as previously noted, the syllabi will share many similarities, the main differences can be found in their approach to assessment. Passing assessments is pivotal for success at A Level, and the exam boards may place emphasis on differing question types which is why it is always good to know your board’s mark scheme in advance.

OCR’s website features a handy table which highlights the main differences between its own course and AQA’s, describing where the content differs and setting out the different methods used to asses students’ work. The table provides many details on the number of marks awarded for specific sections of assessments so should be scrutinised as part of your exam preparation.

You can, however, be sure of one thing: whichever exam you take, the questions will incorporate the knowledge you have accumulated at AS and A Level to assess how well you have grasped the numerous modules.

AQA Assessment Objectives

While you may be registered to take part in the OCR or WJEC courses, AQA is also an option for English Language students if their college opts for this curriculum.

On the AQA website, just like with the other exam boards, you can find details of the assessment objectives (or AOs) that are set by Ofqual and are the same across all AS and A-level English Language specifications and all exam boards. The website indicates that:

“The exams and non-exam assessment will measure to what extent students have achieved the following assessment objectives.

AO1: Apply appropriate methods of language analysis, using associated terminology and coherent written expression.
AO2: Demonstrate critical understanding of concepts and issues relevant to language use.
AO3: Analyse and evaluate how contextual factors and language features are associated with the construction of meaning.
AO4: Explore connections across texts, informed by linguistic concepts and methods.
AO5: Demonstrate expertise and creativity in the use of English to communicate in different ways.”

Be sure to realise the importance of keeping to the English A Level Exams’ schedule!

A Level English Revision

English Language alike, as well as any other A Level subject for that matter, require a reasonable amount of revision if you want to secure a grade to really boast about, hence why we confirmed that no hours are too many when it comes to dedicating your spare time to revision.

Revising must involve much more than just re-reading notes taken in class in the weeks before your exam, or reading through sample texts without applying any theory to them. Knowing your terminology is, of course, necessary, but good revision is all about being proactive and putting in the effort to go beyond what has been taught in class.

Useful Tips For Revision

  • Understand the course objectives: First of all, you should make it your mission to know your assessment objectives in advance. You can do this by checking out the marking schemes of previous exams, looking at English A level past papers and discussing revision tips with your teacher or tutor. Take an interest in examiners’ reports too, which are a good means to understanding where common student mistakes occur (either content-related or in regard to exam technique).
  • Know your texts and terminology: Though it might seem obvious, knowing your texts and terminology is absolutely vital for exam success. Expressing them concisely is also important, so try to rehearse constructing clear responses to convey your point and improve the way that you link facts in your answers.
  • Practice the act of writing: If you haven’t written an essay in a long while, practice writing with a pen! It is all too easy nowadays to complete coursework or essays on a computer, laptop or tablet, but you will need to spend roughly two-three hours manually writing your response in an exam. The quicker you can write (without impacting on legibility), the more points you can aim to achieve.
  • Set up revision groups: One great way of making revision more effective, whilst also being more fun, is setting up revision groups. Getting together with like-minded individuals who share a mutual interest in achieving top grades can really boost your self-esteem, not to mention allow you to learn from each other. Not only can you teach other facts about topics that you might not have discovered yourself, but you can also benefit from hearing other people’s opinions on subjects to enhance your existing viewpoint.
  • Use revision cards: Although flash cards now seem a bit dated, some students still find that noting down key information can help them to mentally prepare for an exam. Revision cards might be particularly useful for English Language students trying to retain a list of complicated terminology.
  • Use apps sensibly: Finally, you may not be all that surprised to hear that there are now apps which can be downloaded to help you prepare for exams. Gojimo, as an example, boasts that 1 in 3 GCSE or A Level students is signed up to receive help in the form of practice questions and quizzes covering a wide range of topics.

Career Opportunities For English Language Graduates

An A Level in English Language is an excellent choice for those looking to study English, or a language course, at university and/or hoping to pursue a career which involves Linguistics.

Popular jobs for English graduates include Journalist, Writer, Blogger, Editor, Translator, private English tutor, Linguist and Publisher. Furthermore, professions which are directly linked to an English Language qualification are Lexicographer, Speech and Language Therapist and Teacher of English as a Foreign Language (TEFL).

Lexicography allows you to study phonetics and the make-up of language. You could help give back someone’s voice by becoming a Speech Therapist. Photo credit: lynnefeatherstone via Visualhunt.com

On the other hand, the skills acquired will also benefit a range of jobs in other sectors, since language and communication skills are essential to many roles. Prospects, an academic website dedicated to informing students, confirms that just under a quarter of linguistic graduates undertake further study in the six months after completing their course.

Those who choose to study towards a Masters degree often enrol on courses related to language, such as English Language/Literature, Philosophy of Language, Forensic Linguistics, Creative Writing and Philosophy. Many more go down the line of teaching by selecting a PGCE course or similar.

When it comes to work, more than two thirds of Linguistics graduates work on home soil and the vast majority of these become Teaching Assistants, Marketing Associates, Authors, Translators or Writers.

With less than 6% of graduates said to be unemployed, Prospects’s figures reveal that English Language courses and the continued study of Linguistics provide sought after skills in UK workplaces. Far from limiting your choices to what some might think is a small niche sector, English Language offers you many opportunities to broaden your horizons.

Kim Bailey, a Careers Consultant and English graduate, spoke to Prospects about her experience of studying English and how it has influenced her chosen career path. She says:

“The content of my degree isn’t particularly relevant to my job, but the transferable skills I developed during my degree certainly are. I chose to study English at undergraduate level because I loved the subject, and I have no regrets choosing this course, as I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I think the most useful transferable skills I developed during my degree were organisation, analytical ability and written communication. In particular, my ability to write concisely, logically and persuasively is useful every day in my role.

As I work with humanities students, my degree does help as I can empathise with students and understand their mind-set.”

When asked what advice she might give to other students looking to study English as a higher subject, she stated:

“Students studying English have so many choices of potential future careers, which can be overwhelming as there are no direct careers paths. I would recommend building your skills outside the classroom, as English degrees don’t often have much opportunity to develop team working and leadership skills, which are crucial in the working world.

For example, I first learned about roles in HE and developed my leadership skills through my part-time work as a student ambassador. Without this experience I don’t think I would have been accepted onto Ambitious Futures. So if you’re interested in finding out more about a role get some work experience and have a go.

If you’re interested in a role as a career guidance practitioner, your first step should definitely be to access your careers service to speak to a career consultant/adviser. Talk to them about what they enjoy about their role, and the challenges. You could ask if there are any opportunities to shadow them for a day to see for yourself what the role entails and find out if you would enjoy it. You should also start researching postgraduate courses if you do want to become a careers adviser, as this is one of the main routes into the role.”

Common Student Misconceptions About Studying English

“I’m the top speller in my class so I’ll be good at English Language.”

Although having a natural ability for good use of grammar, vocabulary and punctuation will benefit your understanding of Linguistics, it is not enough alone to get you through this language course. You will be required to demonstrate critical thinking, the application of theories, the use of techniques and much, much more when studying towards an English Language A Level.

“If I study English Language it means I must become an English Teacher.”

Far from it. The study of English Language at A Level and beyond opens many doors to a very varied selection of career paths. You may choose to go down the writing route, to put your knowledge of speech and phonetics to good use or you may wish to apply your valuable new skill set to a career in Business or Marketing… the options are endless! Regardless of what you decide to do, an English qualification won’t hold you back.

“English Language is a bit dull.”

It will depend on your personal interests, but the majority of English Language students find the course fascinating and are compelled to learn more about the language they call their mother-tongue. Modules cover a broad range of subjects therefore there is always something new and exciting to learn.

Are you ready to get started with a step by step guide to English language revision?

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