Which is the right A-Level subject for you?

Which subject is right for you at A Level?

Chris Turner, an Old Edwardian, who studied both English and English Literature at A Level, gives his view of the differences between the subjects.

A commonly asked question when considering Sixth Form options is, ‘Should I study English Language or Literature?’ Unsurprisingly, there is no fixed answer to this question, simply different paths that are better suited to separate individuals. As an Upper Sixth Student currently taking double English, I shall try to give a rough outline of the advantages of studying each subject.

Firstly, I shall attempt to sum up an entire English Language Course into a few paragraphs. This is a subject that thrives on debate, particularly in reference to current issues that percolate into our daily lives on a regular basis. You have the opportunity to look at how our language relates to issues such as race and gender roles, and whether we are shaped by language, or whether language suits our own thoughts. One of the main advantages of this subject is that once you are provided with all the theories, the onus is on you to take the initiative and have a standpoint. The non-prescriptive nature of the course leaves each student free to make an informed decision in relation to a plethora of issues.

It would be foolhardy and misleading to talk about English Language without mentioning Grammar. Some see it as a joy, whilst others a necessary evil. In reality it is a necessity not only in daily life, but to the course as well. Whilst it may not be perceived as as interesting as other units of the course, you will soon learn to love your left branching subordinating clauses. Honestly.

In English Literature it is harder to generalise about the course, as there a multitude of texts studied in different sets. However, the range covers the mastery of Williams, to the elegance of Austen, via the reality of a Hardy landscape, with many more on the way. The classics are also paid homage to, with the studying of Shakespeare as Coursework for the year.

The English Lit course offers students the chance to undertake a breadth of the Literature that has shaped our world. Once again, the course promotes debate and opinion, often drawing comparisons from literature to today’s climate. You have an opportunity to read and analyse texts that have changed society through the years, and to appreciate such outlets of creativity. This is undertaken through an amalgamation of plays, novels and poetry.

Finally, it would appear natural to draw together what I have said into some semblance of a conclusion. It can be argued that English Language is the slightly more scientific of the two subjects, and thereby is better suited for those who prefer learning facts. Equally, it is true that there is no definitively correct answer in English Lit, simply well justified opinions, possibly appealing to the marginally more free thinking individual. If forced to generalise, I would say that if you wish to learn solid facts and theories then English Language is for you, and if you wish to take more interest in your own reactions to the written word, then Literature is your path. However, both subjects offer each of these qualities at times, and therefore do not consider Language to simply be theories, and Literature simply unformed ideas.

Each subject is unique, yet there are elements that cross over into both. I would also not warn off anyone considering taking both Literature and Language, as the two complement each other perfectly. Whichever subject you choose is taught excellently and will no doubt stimulate you throughout your Sixth Form career. I hope that this at least helps in part.