What is English?
English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England. This early form of English, known as Old English, has gone through a continual process that has lasted over 1400 years, being influenced by history, culture and other languages, especially Norse, Latin, French and Greek.
The history of English is closely tied to the past of the country that bears its name, England. But Modern English has begun to spread worldwide over the past 300 years, initially due to the growth of the British Empire.
In modern times, in part due to the spread of printed and electronic media, and in part due to the cultural, social and political influence of the United States, English has become the leading language of international discourse and the lingua franca of many regions and professional contexts, such as in science, navigation and the law.
English is the third most common language spoken by native speakers in the world, after Mandarin and Spanish. If one were to include speakers that later learned the language, estimates can vary wildly, from 470 million to more than 1 billion. When combining native and non-native speakers, English becomes the most widely spoken language worldwide.
Languages by their nature are difficult to define. This is especially true when a language is taken on by hundreds of millions of the world’s population, since language can so quickly warp and change dependent on the persons speaking and listening.
But beyond the most general varieties of English, such as American English, British English, Canadian English, Australian English, Irish English, New Zealand English and their sub-varieties, countries such as South Africa, India, the Philippines, Jamaica and Nigeria also have millions of native speakers of dialect continua ranging from English-based creole languages to Standard English.
Why Study English?
English will give you a far greater ability to read, understand and connect with other people. One of the hardest challenges people face in their lives is the ability to be understood. This can be an invaluable skill not only personally, but also in the workplace.
This level of understanding extends to empathy and insight into the minds of people different from yourself. There is no better way to do this than by studying fiction, drama, poetry, and other literary works.
Studying English gains insight into so much of human history, its politics, art and social past. Growing to know the scope of these things can give the individual a more independent mind, and appreciation of diversity. It can help you get to know other languages better and can be a particular source of joy and pleasure.
Studying English develops skills in:
· Negotiation and teamwork
· Ability to lead discussion
· Critical reasoning and analysis
· Time management and organisation
· Planning and research skills
· Computer skills
English is a broad topic and while being fluent in the language is a very strong skill, it is one that many other people share. Students of English must therefore also develop other skills in order to become a functional part of the workplace. Some, for example, will develop their English skills in order to become a lawyer or a teacher or a doctor or any number of professions.
English is a non-vocational course option. So while students of English can become writers or librarians or journalists, the beauty of the course type is that it maintains freedom for you to make your career choices later in life.
But that is not to say that those that study English cannot become employed. The skills learned by English students are incredibly valuable; it may be that graduates have too wide a choice of roles. Many graduates move into marketing, PR, sales or administrative tasks, while many more move into further education. Studying English allows for lots of time to decide your next career move.
Types of English Course
The type of course you study will be dependent on your familiarity and fluency of the language. It will also depend on your life plans; whether you are preparing for a specific role or more generally learning English.
Those with some existing fluency can study English as a Bachelors, Masters or Doctorate. Degree level English courses will either be defined as English Literature or English Language, while others will be a cross-over of the two.
English Literature Degrees will focus on the ‘English literary canon’, or the established works of the history of English literature. These will of course include English writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer and Austen, but may also include translations of other great works from other cultures, such as Homer or Proust.
You will be expected to read works such as these very deeply and be able to analyse them from a variety of different perspectives. To this end, courses will also focus on the history of critical approaches to texts. As a consequence, English Literature students will be able to more closely understand a text, can judge a more critical eye on the information we are given every day and better understand how to construct a compelling argument or work of their own.
English Language Degrees focus on the structure of the language itself, how the language developed and spread, how words and sentences are structured, and how we learn to speak. English Language involves a lot of linguistics, and has crossover with other subjects like psychology and communication studies.
There are also related degrees that may or may not take influence from English Literature and English Language courses. Creative Writing courses teaches you how to write your own works, whether that be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, scripts or plays. Creative Writing is similar to English Literature in that you will also study the works of past great authors, but there is much more of a focus on improving your own writing style.
Comparative Literature meanwhile, requires knowledge of two languages. Within the course of study, texts will be compared in two different languages, with the intent of further understanding the differences between cultures, artistic traditions, the languages themselves or many other spheres of human activity, such as history, politics, philosophy, art and science.
Shorter English Courses
Although university-level English typically expects an already established degree of fluency, many non-fluent students, or even those that have never studied the language, will study abroad in order to develop their English skills.
These courses are often known as Short Courses and there are a wide variety of them, depending on their length and focus as well as your destination and fluency.
Some of the more popular short English courses include:
· General/Intensive English
· Focused English
· Youth Programmes
· Business & Executive Courses
· Academic English and University Access Preparation
· English for Specific Purposes
· Courses for Teachers
1. General/Intensive English
General English courses are designed to help you whether you want to improve your English for work, study or travel. You’ll improve your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, increase your vocabulary and develop your grammar and language structures. Classes are usually available from beginner to advanced level, and courses may work towards an English language examination and qualification.
Intensive English courses are similar to General courses, but will feature more time in class and will typically last a shorter time frame.
2. Focused English
Focused English courses combine English language study with an additional academic subject, such as art, history or computing, or even leisure activities like golf, dancing or film. This can be an interesting way to both study English and develop skills in other areas, possibly with a view to gaining a qualification in that area.
3. Youth Programmes
These courses are aimed specifically at students of under 17 years old. Most Youth courses will include a programme of extra activities and events, like trips, visits, sports and cultural events, evening entertainment and so on.
Private classes may be offered in which you and your teachers focus on your personal language needs and goals. In one-to-one courses, your teacher will usually design lessons around your language level and specific areas of interest.
6. Business & Executive Courses
Business English courses aim to improve your speaking, listening, reading and writing skills, vocabulary and grammar.
These courses are designed for people who are already working and also for those who wish to study business at university or college. Some courses may prepare you for an internationally recognised examination and some may have a minimum English language level entry requirement.
7. Academic English and University Access Preparation
An academic English course will prepare you for future study at university or college. It will help you develop key study skills, and usually offer specific preparation for academic examinations, such as IELTS and / or TOEFL.
8. English for Specific Purposes
If you want to study English for professional reasons – for example, if you work in Law or Medicine – then this may be the option for you. These courses are usually intensive and can be delivered either one-to-one or in small groups. Work placements and/or visits may be included.
9. Courses for Teachers
There is a wide range of course options for teachers, both for those wanting to gain a recognised teaching qualification and for in-service teachers who want to improve their English or explore and develop new teaching methodologies – for example developing bilingual teaching experiences.
These courses will usually provide opportunities for observing classes and for teaching practice.
Most Recognised Institutions for English
Nb. These are the top ten institutions for degree-level English Language & Literature
1. University of Oxford – UK
2. University of Cambridge – UK
3. Harvard University – USA
4. University of California, Berkeley – USA
5. Yale University – USA
6. Stanford University – USA
7. Princeton University – USA
8. Columbia University – USA
9. University of California, Los Angeles – USA
10. University of Chicago – USA
Applying for an Overseas English Course
Studying English in the United Kingdom
As the birthplace of the language, as well as its reputation for academic excellence, many students are eager to refine their English skills somewhere in the UK. Roughly 500,000 people travel to the United Kingdom each year for the purposes of learning English.
English Agenda has a list of over 500 accredited English language centres, listed by location, so you can choose whether you prefer to live in the countryside, city or by the coast.
If you are looking for a course though, you should visit English UK and use its course finder to discover a huge range of available choices. The course finder is available in twelve languages.
Otherwise, the British Council has some great resources on studying in the UK, including visa information and free online courses.
Studying English in the United States
The United States is the most popular destination for international students interested in learning English or improving their English skills.
EducationUSA maintains many good resources for studying English in the U.S., including a list of accredited organizations, details on the many course types available, information on visas, financial support and application requirements.
Find an advising centre or event being held near you for more details.
Studying English in Australia
Many students are attracted to studying in Australia for its beautiful weather, stunning landscapes and laidback people. Australia also offers many great options for studying English, well supported by its national government.
English Australia has a tonne of great resources when looking to study there, including a College Finder where you can see which institutions are available in your city of choice.
Studying English Internationally
Since English is so widely spoken, there’s no shortage of destinations in which to study it. Naturally, students are drawn to those places above, as well as Ireland, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, or the ‘inner circle’ of English-speaking countries.
But English is also an official language in Botswana, Cameroon, Micronesia, Fiji, Ghana, Hong Kong, India, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Liberia, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palau, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Sudan, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
There is truly no shortage of options for finding a place to study English, a language that can define the possibilities of your career and the rest of your life.