A-level English Language


Like many A Level subjects, English Language A Level is nothing like its GCSE counterpart. It is challenging at times, and requires a knowledge of terminology. Analysis is a major part of the course and you will encounter countless texts of countless different genres and subjects – and not only written data either. Are you interested in why certain people speak like they do? Have you ever noticed how men and women speak differently? Do you know what makes a good communicator? Are you sure you know your nouns from your verbs? English Language is interesting, stimulating and allows you a chance to actively engage with everyday language and understand how it works.


At AS Level (AQA A syllabus), the course covers 3 modules.

Discovering Language, ENA1: This module is really an introduction to the course so examiners don’t expect amazing feats of academic knowledge. The exam is split into two sections; linguistic analysis, and language issues, which is a recurring theme throughout the exams of the course. Discovering Language introduces students to AS grammar and analysis, so be expected to remember and understand a number of linguistic terms. As for issues, firstly is Language Representation. The main idea here is political correctness, and what part language plays in it all. This area looks at the linguistic representation of gender, age, ethnicity, disability, and sexuality. There are some theoretical ideas to back up the module, such as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of Linguistic Determinism. Secondly is Child Language where students learn how children acquire their mother tongue, with the aid of different theories and explanations – for example, the age-old debate of whether language is a result of nature (innate) or nurture (learned). Candidates are required to write essays on either one of these topics.

Like the previous module, Using Language, EA2W, is still fairly introductory but differs in its form and content. Here again is a text to analyse (and this time they expect a little bit more technical terminology, including sentence functions). The second part of the exam is called Language Production. Using a number of provided texts, candidates have to extract main ideas and opinions and formulate their own piece of writing from them. Appropriate ideas need to be selected and adapted to fit the audience and purpose of the production. After this, students must complete a small linguistic commentary on their own production.

There is also a coursework option for this unit available, EA2C. It consists of an analysis of some pieces of language in use (1000 words), two texts derived from the language analysis and produced with a definite audience and purpose (1000-1500 words in total), and finally, a commentary discussing the linguistic choices used in the two pieces (500 words).

Interacting Through Language, ENA3, is the last of the AS modules and may be considered the most challenging. Linguistic analysis is different in this module as attention focuses on spoken language data. Students analyze transcripts of spoken conversation and consider:

  • Different participants roles and purposes
  • The structure of the interaction
  • Interactive features of speech
  • Turn-taking and interruptions
  • Vocabulary and grammar

As well as transcription analysis, the module also looks at gender and language, and interaction of language in different contexts, including the rules of conversation, what makes a good listener, Grice’s Maxims, and so on.

The AS modules of the course act as a prerequisite to A2. Your knowledge of terminology and grammar is constantly being updated and is used as a platform for the next year’s modules.


At A2, for AQA A, there is some old text analysis for ENA5 Language Variation and Change; it's not too daunting. Just remember all the linguistic frameworks from AS, and add some of the A2 ones (e.g. phrase structure; noun, verb, adjective phrases). The period is limited from 'Early Modern English' onwards.

You can study accents for ENA5 too! Here a lot of linguistics is incorporated. You learn how accents vary, regional features such as "h" dropping and the glottal stop, social views on different accents. It helps if you want to imitate different accents! It's limited to the British Isles though, so be wary of inserting too many references to American or Australasian linguistic features.

Then there is how language has developed:

  • Lexical change: words that have come into use, how they are formed;
  • Semantic change: the change in meaning, such as how a word can have several meanings e.g. "cool"- cold, "cool"-popular, "cool"-ok;
  • Why languages changes;
  • Views on language change (prescriptivism, descriptivism) - highly relevant and quite fun!

For the exam, the Texts from Different Times section is compulsory in Section A; but there is a choice between Section B questions on Contemporary Language Variation and Change in the British Isles - one will be on dialectal variation, the other on language change. Both parts of Section B are restricted to 1950 onwards.

Research project is required incorporating anything learned in the course for EA4C Investigating Language. You need to gather data, produce a lot of analysis using specified linguistic frameworks, to come to a conclusion. It's 1500-3500 words long, excluding data, so can be moderately lengthy.

There is a written exam option for in EA4W instead of the research project coursework; 2.5 hours' worth of analysis of (a selected sample from some) given texts, using hypotheses you develop yourself. Highly pressured, but generally grade boundaries are fair. The time allotted looks like a lot, but it really isn't enough, so you have to be pretty focused.

Then it gets synoptic for ENA6, Language Debates. The synoptic paper follows a pretty constant format every year, but it is really heterogeneous and feels like every skill is being tested, even though each paper is centered on a single debate based on an article (generally) e.g. language change and representation of women.

  • Q1a: an initial 5 marks for some analysis of simple data, e.g. a selection of words;
  • Q1b: a methodology question worth 5 marks for an investigation on some linguistic aspect (e.g. people's attitudes;
  • Q1c: 20 marks on the analysis of the main article, but as well as examining how a particular effect is produced, you also have to discuss what the lingustic arguments within the article are about
  • Q2a: a 35 mark language production task - editorial, radio script, cover article for a broadsheet, article for a particular magazine have all come up. It ties into a linguistic topic, but you don't need to remember too much, as a lot of information from linguistic experts is given in extra texts.
  • Q2b: 5 marks for a commentary, analyzing three features that you have incorporated into you produced text.



The course structure is as follows:


Exam: Categorising texts.

This exam is in two parts.
Part A: Text Varieties
Using the knowledge accumulated in your AS year, you will be given 6-7 texts and asked to group them on their content. The criteria for each group is at your discretion; it is possible to group texts by a grammatical, graphological, contextual or phonological feature, which they all contain. The formal mark scheme is divided into Assessment Objectives. AO1 (out of 16) - Clarity of writing, incorporation of accurate terminology and understanding of the intricacies of the language. AO2 (out of 16) - Insightful and judicious choices of grouping and tentative discussion of your reasons for grouping the texts in this way, exploring the subtleties of each group (do the texts all fit perfectly under one umbrella?) AO3 (out of 16) - Perceptive exploration of contextual factors, analytical interpretation of the effect of said factors on the language and using quotes to back up your ideas.
Part B: 'Language and Social Contexts'
Using the same knowledge, you will be asked to analyse a piece of writing for its view on Gender, Power, or Technology. This part of the exam is marked with an identical mark scheme, and is also out of 48. You will be encouraged to learn the views of Language Theorists, and use their hypotheses to further back up your answer. This unit is worth 96 marks, and 30% of your A Level total (60% of AS)


Coursework: Creating Texts

You will be asked to create 2 texts, and accompany them with 2 commentaries, analysing your choice of language. There are no guidelines or limitations for the text you choose to create, but it must follow a very specific style already in existence. For example, should you wish to write a journalistic piece, it must be in the style of an existing newspaper. This unit is worth 80 marks, and 20% of your A Level total. (40% of AS)


Exam: Developing Language.

This exam is in two parts, and is synoptic.
Part A: Language Acquisition.
You will be provided with one of the following, and are expected to analyse it, using the knowledge accumulated both in your AS and A2 year, and theorist hypotheses: - A transcript of a child talking - A transcript of a child reading, or being read to, and often an extract of the accompanying book. - A copy of a piece of writing a child has produced.

Part B: Language Change This essay is often comparative. You will be provided with 2 texts, written between 1700 and present day, and asked to explore to what extent the texts show evidence of language change. This unit is marked according to a mark scheme identical to that of AS, but with the following weightings: AO1- 24 AO2- 16 AO3- 8 This unit is worth 96 marks, and 30% of your A Level total.


Coursework: Language Investigation

You will be assessed on a language investigation of your choice, and an article (on the same topic) to accompany it. This unit is worth 80 marks, and 20% of your A Level total.

For resources, see http://www.aqa.org.uk/qualifications/a-level/english/english-language-b.php

Extra reading at A-Level

As mentioned above, students of English Language at A level need to become familiar with advanced linguistic terminology to attain the highest grades. You will receive notes on grammar, but you may also feel the desire to expand your own vocabulary of terminology. 'Grammar: A Student's Guide' may be particularly helpful, and is available from websites like Amazon. In addition, many AS and A Level English Language text books are also available. Either way, knowing your grammar is essential, which ever variant of the A level course you take.

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