An English language degree will not only equip you with a formidable knowledge of the language itself (including its grammar, punctuation and structure), but also its history, etymology and the way in which language is used in society as a whole. In this way, degrees in English language often cross over and intersect with other subjects such as sociology, linguistics, politics and history.
What A-Levels do you need?
As you may have guessed, your English skills will need to be up to scratch. Most English language-based courses will require an A-level in either English language or English literature (or a combined A-level in the two), and – although most will be flexible on other A-levels studied – other language and humanities subjects like history and politics tend to go down well. As usual, exact requirements will vary quite a bit between unis.
What are your study options?
As English language overlaps with so many other subjects, many universities offer the option of studying a joint honours degree (meaning you can combine English language with another subject, such as creative writing, English literature, or another language). This will enable you to gain an even broader set of skills, and could be a good option if you’re torn between two different choices, or you don’t want to focus on just one discipline.
If you do decide to do a straightforward English language degree, you’ll find most courses are the usual three years in length (but some unis may offer the option of doing a year abroad, which would bring your course up to a total of four years).
Why study English Language?
A degree in English language will not only give you a deep insight into how we communicate with one another, but it will also give you all the tools needed to inform, persuade and entertain others (all of which are really useful transferable skills to take with you in to the work place).
Language itself is a powerful tool, and the story of how a language develops over time, and how it is used to communicate with others, is a crucial part of understanding how all aspects of society operate.
If you have good English skills (or you studied humanities or social sciences subjects at A level), a degree in English language could be right up your street.
After your degree...
With most humanities subjects there are both good and bad points when it comes to finding a job, and English language is no exception. On the downside, you won’t have a specific career waiting for you after you graduate, and it can sometimes be hard to decide which area to go into. On a more positive note, though, you won’t be restricted by your choice of degree. As the study of language is so broad in its appeal, there are plenty of different careers you could consider going into once you’ve finished studying. While areas such as media, marketing, teaching, PR, HR and publishing are all popular options, jobs with big graduate employers such as PWC and Deloitte are also a possibility.
Ultimately, you shouldn’t be afraid to apply for anything. Plenty of employers will value the skills you’ll have picked up while studying, so if any graduate schemes appeal you should go just go for it.
If you decide you want to go into research (or if you want to re-train for a specific career such as teaching or law), you could also consider staying on at uni to complete a postgraduate course.
Q & A with an English Language student
Sam Hetherington is a final year English Language student at the University of Sussex...
What are you enjoying most about your course?
At my university, the staff take a linguistic approach to the English Language. This means that we get to analyse English on lots of different levels, from the word level (semantics), to the sentence level (grammar and syntax), and beyond (conversation and discourse analysis). Because of the linguistic approach, there is plenty of opportunity for original research – my dissertation is on elements of Cornish syntax, something that has never been studied before!
What key modules did you study in your first year?
Introductory courses in semantics, phonology, grammar, and discourse analysis.
What are you hoping to do after you’ve graduated?
I plan on continuing with my studies and hope to go into research and academia – in my second year I did a module on language acquisition which I'd love to take further. Immediately after graduation, however, I'm looking into ELS teaching.
How has the course helped you achieve your ambitions so far?
One wonderful side effect of my course is that my confidence when presenting things has skyrocketed. I've been assessed via standard presentations and poster presentations, all of which involve engaging an audience and answering questions on my feet. This skill has been invaluable in all sorts of interview situations.