A-level English language: What's it really like?

Everything current students wish they had known before starting

A-level English language looks at sociolinguistics, child language acquisition, language change and the empirical study of language.

If you want to compare the English subjects, you can also find out what students had to say about A-level English literature.

Read on for advice and experiences from A-level English language students.

What did you do in the first few weeks?

Language levels — which are discourse, pragmatics, grammar, lexis, semantics and phonology — make up the basis of studying linguistics, so they naturally come first. But it does get more interesting…

For the first few weeks, English Language was relatively boring. We had to go through all of the language levels, which forms the basis of the whole course, and at times it put me to sleep!

A lot of people in my class dropped out, however, once we had finished the language levels sitting through the first few, dull weeks really paid off. We started to look at diversity, the meanings of language, how social class, occupation and gender affects the ways in which we use language, and it was very fun as we did huge class discussions.


What was hardest about the step up from GCSE?

The difference between GCSE English language and A-level English language is relatively pronounced, but as long as you put the time and effort in, you’ll succeed.

I personally think English Language had the biggest 'step up' from GCSE to A Level, and some (such as myself) took to it like a duck does to water, and some took until later on to adjust.

I feel the length of time it took to adjust was partly because some failed to do an adequate amount of regular independent study or take their A-Levels seriously enough in the first few weeks.

The hardest thing would be learning all of the language levels, I struggled the most with grammar, though when I got the hang of it I felt rewarded and more intelligent than ever.


What surprised you most about this A-level?

As well as being more challenging than GCSE English language, the A-level is also more interesting.

“What surprised me most was just how interesting I would find it. The second year was definitely the most interesting, and we had to understand some big concepts from some influential linguistic names.

“I absolutely loved finding out about the history of the English language, and about how children learn to speak and write. I took the subject on a whim because I had achieved full marks in it at GCSE, however, it ended up being one of the most rewarding things to study (once I got past those boring first few weeks!)”


What do you like about A-level English language?

If you like your essay subjects to come with a little dose of science, English language may appeal to you.

I like the coursework, and have yet to find anyone who doesn't. I love the freedom in both the coursework and the exam, particularly in choosing between language and technology, gender or power.

I find examining how gender and power affect language fascinating. It ties in well with a lot of my other subjects, language and power specifically ties in very nicely with classics and Latin.

It ties in nicely with literature, but at the same time is so different from literature that I don't study the same things in both classes.

For an essay subject, it has quite a scientific, analytical approach which requires a very different writing style to my other essay subjects, so it's nice to have a change sometimes.

The homework is often quite free, just analyse three things you find linguistically interesting, which keeps the subject engaging.


What advice would you give to someone starting A-level English language in September?

The main take away here is: don't give up!

I would definitely tell them to not give up with the subject just because it can, at times, be a drag. I would also tell them that (and this applies to A-levels in general) you need to put in the effort if you want a good grade.

I worked like a dog for the first five months of sixth form college, and then I was lax again until Year 13. Maybe I should have put continuous work in but once I got the hang of my subjects I was scoring grades in the top 1% of the year group.

You can’t give up with A-levels, as it is easy to fall behind or get so stuck you can't move forward, but they are a fun challenge. Of course, we are all have different skills, so ensure that you are doing the right subjects for you (and not for your parents or friends) and try and enjoy the next two years.


Share your own experiences and advice or ask questions in the English forum.