|Beginning to study English language|
This guide is written for students who are following GCE Advanced level (AS and A2) syllabuses in English Language. This resource may also be of general interest to language students on university degree courses, trainee teachers and anyone with a general interest in language science.
Please look at the contents page for a full list of specific guides on this site.
Advanced level courses
Advanced levels are qualifications issued in most parts of Great Britain for students (who may be studying in the UK or elsewhere). These qualifications are widely recognized as appropriate for students at the end of a period of full-time education and as an entry qualification for first degree courses in universities.
In England and Wales there are various courses for students of literature (typically English literature, media studies, theatre studies or theatre arts) and increasingly, courses for the study of language, or mixed language and literature courses.
Any such course is at best selective and representative. It is subject to quality control checks from UK government agencies and academic institutions, but is a kind of compromise. Why? Because any subject must be compressed into a series of manageable areas of study and assessment tasks (coursework or exams, usually).
This guide is designed to support students taking one of the several courses currently available in England and Wales, but may be suitable at points for students following other courses. This is Syllabus B of the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), which includes two former A-level examining boards, the AEB (Associated Examining Board) and the NEAB (Northern Examinations and Assessment Board).
For many years it has been possible to take Advanced Supplementary (AS) level courses - meant to be equivalent to half of an Advanced course, but relatively few students took these courses. In 2000, the then Department for Education and Employment of the UK (now the Department for Education and Science or DfES) introduced a new curriculum, in which all Advanced courses would be assessed in modules. Students can take these modules at the end of a year of study, leading to an AS qualification or after two years of study, leading to a full A-level (now known as A2) award.
This guide contains selected information about courses of study that are administered by exam boards in the UK. But you can find out more from the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), an agency of the UK government, or directly from the exam boards.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority
29, Bolton Street,
Assessment and Qualifications Alliance
You can find alternative courses by contacting the other examining boards in England and Wales:
Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations (OCR) www.ocr.org.uk
Welsh Joint Education Committee (WJEC) www.wjec.co.uk
Left to your own devices, students will often reflect popular prejudices or parrot what your parents say about bad English. If you collect your own examples or primary sources you can see what is really happening. Try to avoid simple confusions, like the student who thought that an episode of Only Fools and Horses provided examples of vernacular speech in Peckham, London, rather than an interpretation of a TV script, written by John Sullivan. In other words this text is useless for studying language and society but very useful for learning about original writing.
Any student can and every student should keep a file of examples, ideally organized by category (language and occupation, language acquisition and so on). These should include short transcriptions of things heard on TV and radio.
The language investigation(s) that you undertake should yield very good quality language data, which can be used for areas of study to which they are relevant. If they aren't relevant, then your investigation was not well chosen to start with. It makes sense to investigate a subject that you aim to study for your final assessment.
Radio and TV broadcasts
There are various radio and occasional TV broadcasts that support the study of language directly. These include regular features such as Radio 4's Word of Mouth, and special programmes like Jean Aitchison's 1996 Reith lectures or Tuning Into Children. Find out where and when these are broadcast by using radio and TV listings, including schedules for the Learning Zone and the Open University.
The most authoritative description of the English language may be that found in a good dictionary. For this course, you may wish to use more than one. The dictionary is not primarily a tool for showing standard spelling forms. The most valuable parts are probably the introduction and various explanations and appendices. The individual entries are valuable as descriptions that give information about lexis, semantics, grammar and variation. A dictionary with information from a language corpus is especially useful. Longman's Dictionary of Contemporary English (ISBN 0-582-45630-4) and the Shorter Oxford (ISBN 0-19-861134-X) are excellent, as are several encyclopedic dictionaries (which include proper nouns), for example the Oxford English Reference Dictionary (ISBN 0-19-860046-1). Oxford, Chambers and Longman all publish very suitable dictionaries. You can often buy an otherwise expensive dictionary (such as the Shorter Oxford) by joining a book club. This need not be too expensive, if you stay in the club for the minimum period, and use up your required purchases on other reference books for study, or presents for friends.
Be careful with this one - some experts may be mouthpieces for views of language which are now discredited. But people who really know things can be a great resource. You may be able to attend lectures in a nearby university, or get some guidance by e-mailing a teacher or researcher or lexicographer. If you are a teacher, you can join a mailing list or other online group, such as the Language List. Find this at:
The OED (Oxford English Dictionary) welcomes contact - it relies on ordinary people to record early occurrences of new forms, and give the context where they found them. You can contact the OED via its Web site, at:
Journalists (especially technical writers), advertising copywriters and broadcasters, and any other people who write for a living may be able to help you and give you pointers for your own work in original and editorial writing.
Are there any books that are helpful or essential for students? There are many helpful books but students will probably not have time to read them all, or even to read any one in its entirety. What follows is a very small selection of books that I can recommend from my own use, or that experienced teachers have recommended to me, with some comment.
David Crystal The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Language, ISBN 0-521-55967-7 (Cambridge, 1987) and The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, ISBN 0-521-59655-6 (Cambridge, 1995)
James R. Hurford: Grammar: a student's guide, ISBN 0521456274 (Cambridge University Press, 1994)
David Graddol, Dick Leith and Joan Swann (editors): English: History, Diversity and Change (The English Language: Past, Present and Future)
, ISBN 0415131170 (Routledge, 1996)
Michelle Lowe and Ben Graham: English Language for Beginners, ISBN 0863162630 (Writers and Readers, 1998)
Howard Jackson and Peter Stockwell: An Introduction to the Nature and Functions of Language, ISBN 0748725806 (Nelson Thornes, 1996)
Urzula Clark: An Introduction to Stylistics, ISBN 0748725792 (Nelson Thornes, 1996)
Howard Jackson: Words and Their Meaning, ISBN 0582291542 (Pearson/Longman, 1988)
John Shuttleworth: Living Language, ISBN 0-3407-7188-7 (Hodder, 1997)
Shirley Russell: Grammar, Structure and Style, ISBN 0198314787 (Oxford, 1993)
Jean Aitchison: The Language Web, ISBN 0-521-57475-7 (Cambridge, 1997)
Simon Elmes: The Routes of English - only available from BBC Education Production, PO Box 20, Tonbridge, TN12 6UU. For current details of prices. See
G.W. Turner: Stylistics, ISBN 0-1402-1643-X (Pelican, 1973)
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© Andrew Moore, 2001; Contact me