5 reasons A-Level English (9093) is my favourite course

I’ve been teaching A-Level English Language (CIE edition) for three years and it is definitely my subject of choice. Certainly, I have a bit of bias: the content overlaps nicely with my degree and includes exactly the aspects of linguistics I was most curious about. Also, I should be clear that this whole text is related to the A2 course only. Apart from that, there are a few more reasons why I wholeheartedly recommend this course to pretty much everyone.

1. Welcome to real life

In my first class of the course, I start with the explanation that everything my students have been doing up till now in English classes is wonderful and will (to an extent) help us. Yet, now we are going to look at the language in the way we use it on a daily basis. Spoken language is very different from its written counterpart and both have quite a peculiar resemblance to the language online.

All of that means that now the students are invited to find the examples in their life or on their screens, the questions hopefully come from their life experiences and are driven by curiosity. The course teaches us to notice the details of language usage we do not question, casually overlook and take for granted altogether.

2. Perfect combination with many subjects

The A2 course comprises four general topics and they all overlap with some other subjects:

  • Language Change – the obvious combination is history. Because of the internet’s influence, once in a while knowing something about computers and IT helps. The same applies when we practice using n-grams and look at corpus data. It is not really statistics, but the closest we ever get to work with a database.
  • Child Language Acquisition. Yes, it is not in the book, but I start with quite a detailed introduction of how our brain processes language and what happens there as far as neuroscience is involved. With the acquired knowledge we proceed with the prescribed stages of acquisition. I usually have someone who takes biology but there are also many who don’t and I am yet to meet a student who would complain about that extra stop on the way.
  • English in the world. Again a bit of history but now also we can look at such areas of knowledge as business and economics, equality and human right, religion and culture, you name it…
  • Language and the self is a perfect extension of the psychology course. Or a bit of introduction to psychology for those who don’t take it as their A-Level subject.

From that, you can see how the course can go hand in hand with a variety of subjects both for the students who take social sciences, natural sciences or want something different from their physics course (which actually comes in handy when we talk about phonetics).

3. Theories which make sense

The striking difference between FLE, or whatever English classes were offered earlier, and A-Level English is that it is not about skills only anymore. Actually, it turns into quite a content-heavy course and there is never enough time to go over everything in detail.

Together with key terms and linguistic concepts, the students meet looots of theories as they make their way through the topics. Language and the self is a particularly rich one, but fear not! Unlike theories in other subjects when you do not always can even see what is coming or what is explained till you actually fully understand the theory, in Language you usually already know the content. The task is to label the real-life (my reason 1 above) observations with the right name and shape it into something academic with the right terms. Still, you can write every theory in one sentence and get it right.

4. Building blocks of the course

This point is extra nice from a teacher’s perspective. Once you’ve taught the course from beginning to end, you can start re-shaping it. Personally, I am not a big fan to start with the Language Change. I tried but it did not work. So, instead, I have created my own path where I start with the features of spoken language and language systems because this understanding helps a lot down the road. Next, I spend a very long stretch of time on Language and the self as it builds a solid ground for other topics. After that Child Language acquisition, followed by English in the world and, finally, Language change. The later topic and related theories make perfect sense after all other components of the course are covered. Certainly, there is no best or worse way to teach the course but this works for me perfectly well.

5. Predictability of responses in exams

We may have as much fun and heated discussions as we want, but there are also past papers and exam requirements. While they may look abstract and unclear at first, once you get the structure and a tight grasp of basic theory for each topic, you are pretty much ready.

Each topic has a very specific focus and expectations which are evenly spread through the syllabus, mark schemes and examiner’ reports. Once they all are collected and the approach to the provided text is there, it is the question of practice and time management. I teach my students one or two common approaches to each topic and they generally do well in their exams due to those simple strategies.

This article is the introduction to upcoming posts about the A Level English Language (9093) course.