Things I Wish I Knew Before Taking a Degree in Linguistics and English Language

Don’t take a degree in Linguistics and English Language just because you enjoyed English Language A-Level.

In my experience, 9 out of 10 people who took this degree made this mistake. Including me. English Language A-Level was a wonderful exploration of textual analysis, child language acquisition, and creative writing. It was my all-time favourite school subject and the only reason why I applied for this course at university. The textual analysis part was my favourite and I was really really good at it (not to toot my own horn). However, I can confidently say that I did nothing close to this in the first three and a half years of my Linguistics and English Language degree. In my final semester of university, I took a module called Figurative Language, which contained an abundance of textual analysis (yippee!). But, I had to endure 3.5 years to get here.

If you want to do textual analysis and creative writing-type-stuff then you may be better taking an English Literature degree (but don’t hold me to that!).

Don’t be fooled by the name ‘Bachelor of Arts degree’ – this is the most science-based BA you will ever find.

Linguists do EVERYTHING. Statistical analysis, experimental design, synthesising speech with computers, lab work, you name it. I don’t know about you, but I hated maths and science in school. I feel like there are two types of people: Englishy people and Mathsy/Sciencey people, and it’s rare for the two worlds to collide. However, Linguistics and English Language draws you in with the siren song of English and books and words and languages and then drops a GIANT science-sized dung on your lap… (Was that too vulgar? Probably.)

Be prepared to spend the next few years dealing with THIS monstrosity:

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This is the International Phonetic Alphabet. From the moment you start your Linguistics and English Language degree this will become your best friend. And yes, you do have to learn it off by heart…

Don’t presume that it’ll be easy just because it’s an English degree.

Linguistics and English Language have one of the highest drop-out rates of any courses I have ever seen. By the end of my first year at university, over two-thirds of my course friends had dropped-out and by the end of the second year, the entire course had almost halved in size. You’d presume that an English degree is one of those degrees where there are ‘no right answers’, but you are oh so wrong. This course is grueling. You will cover elements of psychology, philosophy, cognitive science, pediatrics, and you will pick apart EVERY. SINGLE. PART. of language itself. You will have the words phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics revolving around your head for the rest of your life. Honestly, it might be worth brushing up on what they are before you start.

Don’t study Linguistics and English Language if you already know you want to be a speech and language therapist or a journalist etc.

I cannot reiterate this enough. Don’t do this degree if you’ve already decided what you want to do. Please, please just go straight to the degree that leads you directly into that profession. When I started Linguistics and English Language, I wanted to be a speech and language therapist. After four years of higher education, as nice as it would be to go into this profession, I just cannot bear the thought of another few years of university. If I’d had just gone straight into a degree in Speech and Language Therapy I would be basically qualified by now. The same goes for journalism. I’ve applied for a few jobs to publishing houses/magazines/web companies and a lot of them ask for a relevant degree in journalism or publishing or something similar. Unfortunately, it seems that a Linguistics and English Language degree doesn’t quite cut it.

I’ve watched some of my friends stroll out of their career-specific degrees straight into a well-paid job and, honestly, it makes me regret my degree choice a little bit.

But…

Do study Linguistics and English Language if you want to mentally challenge yourself.

One of the greatest things about this course is that it is nothing like anything you will have ever learned. I know I’ve made all the things that are covered sound scary but once you finish this course you will be so well learned in SO many different fields. You can’t say that about many other courses and versatility is a really appealing skill to have. It takes commitment and genuine interest to get through this degree, but it is so rewarding and you’ll come out with some pretty impressive knowledge about language.

Do study Linguistics and English Language even if you don’t speak any other languages.

I feel like this is quite a big thing for me to put in the ‘do’ section, but I really do mean it. Throughout your degree, you will be asked how many languages you speak extremely often. Those who don’t know what Linguistics is (this is most people, by the way) presume that you speak loads and loads of different languages and those who know what Linguistics is will still presume you’re bilingual. Now, don’t get me wrong, knowing more than one language is a wonderful bonus, and well done to all who do, but it is in no way a necessity. I had a battle with my own self-confidence in my first two years of Linguistics and English Language because I honestly felt that speaking English alone wasn’t good enough to survive four years of this degree. This was entirely because I was surrounded by multilinguals. It took me a long time to realise that my lack of fluency in other languages was having absolutely NO negative effect on my degree.

So, whether you speak one, two or a hundred different languages, do NOT let this affect your decision. Linguistics is the study of language itself, in all its many forms, you are in no way expected to be fluent in anything other than the language the degree is being taught in. However, do be prepared to be asked what languages you speak at least once a week…

And finally, do study Linguistics and English Language (and basically any university degree) if you like reading… because there is a LOT of it.

This is pretty self-explanatory. If you’re the type of person that can sit down with a book and read for hours on end, regardless of the subject, then you are in an ideal position. Think about how much reading you expect to do at university, and then double it. You will have readings to do for lectures, readings to do for tutorials/seminars, reading to do for essays and readings to do for exams. And, after all this, you will be offered extra readings… Just in case you are really keen. Be prepared to read for the next few years, honestly.

See you in the next one.

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