A course in English language and literature is designed to get you reading books, analyzing theories, critiquing prose and verse, and taking a more critical look at the signs and words surrounding us every day. The aim is to get students thinking creatively and analytically about the English language; this differs from other modern language degrees as it is intended for students already proficient in written and spoken English. An English degree can focus equally on the literature and language sides, while others specialize in one or the other; this will usually be clear from the course title.
A course with a focus on English literature typically allows students to study literary texts from throughout history. Often you’ll start with modules covering a diverse range of literature from different periods; for instance, you could be reading Shakespeare one week and Virginia Woolf the next. Your reading will require you to study and analyze passages, relating texts to their cultural, social, historical and political contexts.
An English language-focused degree will train students to analyze the workings of the English language outside of literature, including language-based communication in all kinds of forms and contexts. This could include analysis of casual spoken conversation, text speak, advertising methods or the uses of language in specialized legal and medical discourse.
Those looking to study English will most likely enjoy both independent and group study, but you can expect majority of time spent gaining your English degree to be undertaken solo, as much of the course will require you to commit to long periods of reading and research outside of class.
Because of this you’ll find yourself spending more time working at home or in the library than you will in seminars and lectures. Average hours of contact time with professors and fellow students vary, but you can expect approximately 10-12 hours a week in your first year and slightly longer in your following years as you take on a heavier workload. The rest of the time you are expected to conduct independent study and research for assignments as well as tackling the reading list. This solo work is often intensive, even in university holidays, and can take up around 20-30 hours a week.
As you’d expect, an English literature degree will have a strong focus on canonical and classic literature, meaning one book a week is a pretty average schedule for a single module. Bear in mind however that you will be enrolled on an average of four modules at any one time – not only is passion for literature a must, but also an ability to read fairly quickly. This intensive weekly reading is required for you to engage in criticism and analysis of the texts during lectures and seminars.
The study of English literature and language will aim to stretch your independent thought and analytical skills. For this reason, lecturers will not spoon-feed you information but rather expect you to develop your understanding by reading assigned critical theory and journals along with the key texts. Seminars and group discussion provide a setting in which to test your ideas on your fellow students and gain a better understanding through idea sharing and debate.