English Language Vs English Literature

There are many differences between English Language and English Literature.

Even the way the two are taught is completely different, and this is evident both in high school, college, and university.

English Language is the study of the English language itself, while English Literature is the study of the literature written in the English language.

An easy way to think about the two subjects is that English Language focuses on the structure and grammar of the language, while English Literature focuses on the interpretation and analysis of the literature.

1. English Language vs English Literature

There are two different types of English courses that students can take in school, university and college.

In the UK curriculum, both subjects are likely to be compulsory in public and private schools at the GCSE level whereas, at the A-level, college and university stage, the subjects are independent and available for elective study.

English Language and English Literature are both important, but they are very different.

The English Language is all about the mechanics of the language, such as grammar, punctuation, and spelling.

English Literature is all about interpreting literature, such as novels, plays, and poems.

ideas to consider

It is important to understand literature or language is not monolithic and changes depending on where it is studied, and at what time period.

American literature also exists, however, is seldom taught at non-US institutions unless available via elective modules.

language courses come in different shapes and sizes and it is important to note that degree-level studies aren’t your only choice.

There are several online and independent-study courses covering topics like world literature, study of literature, foreign language, and English as a second language.

The difference is that degree-level courses are usually to a higher level and can directly influence career paths, and postgraduate study options, and career prospects.

Shorter courses can also have a positive effect on career prospects however they are usually not to the level or depth of a BA degree.

2. The Difference between the Two

English literature is different from the English language in a few key ways.

For one, literature is written in a specific style that is designed to be aesthetically pleasing and often contains complex themes and ideas, while language tends to be more straightforward.

In addition, literature is often read for enjoyment, while language is primarily used for communication.

This isn’t to say English language studies won’t enhance one’s ability to write creatively, and with complex themes and undertones.

Likewise, studying English literature will not hamper your ability to communicate effectively and eloquently.

The two go hand-in-hand and often significant elements of each are found in both degrees.

skills gained

Both English literature and English Language are likely to enhance your creative writing skills to some degree.

Having read numerous works of literature, you will get an understanding of different writing styles, and slowly begin developing a style of your own that best conveys your thoughts and stories.

Studying English literature, or English language is likely to also enhance your analytical skills.

Being able to parse sentences and texts from different eras is no easy feat, which is why it shouldn’t be surprising when graduates go on to work as bankers, financial analysts, and data analysts.

Course structure differences

In a typical literature course, such as BA in English Literature, expect to cover a wide range of texts, novels, scripts, and poetry.

The first year will largely be spent discovering famous literary texts and tackling complex themes, while later years will be spent learning how to tell stories and write creatively.

On the other hand, with an English language degree, the first years are mainly spent analysing language structure, sound, and meaning, while later years are spent understanding phonetics, syntax, dialect, and heritage.

There is a clear crossover between the English language and literature, especially when talking about language in society, language change, and the power and meaning behind language.

However, modules such as psycholinguistics, cross-cultural communication, language lifecycles, and language acquisition are usually unique to English language studies.

The final year for both programmes will typically consist of elective and discovery modules, however, these are unique for each university.

Both English literature and English language have similar entry requirements, typically ranging from AAA to ABB.

Both degrees are also similarly priced with identical tuition fees for 3 year undergraduate programs.

There are many degree languages courses and the best place to start looking is through UCAS and GOV sites to get a feel of which curriculum is best for you.

International students interested in studying either English language or English literature will be most well-placed at UK institutions like Oxford and Cambridge.

3. The Importance of Both

There are many reasons why the English language and literature are important.

English is the language of international communication and is spoken by around 1.5 billion people worldwide.

It is the official language of many countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Ireland.

English is also the language of business, science, technology, and the arts. It is the most widely used language on the internet and is the dominant language of international communication.

As a result, studying English language and literature is important.

It isn’t a useless decision choosing to study either English language or literature as is usually suggested, as graduates often gain numerous transferrable skills in the process.

Skills gained by studying English at university include but are not limited to:

1) The ability to read and analyze complex texts

2) The ability to write clearly and persuasively

3) The ability to think critically and independently

4) The ability to research and synthesize information

5) The ability to communicate effectively in both written and oral form

The academic support and skills received throughout your studies will also benefit your research skills and ability to parse a variety of texts with purpose.

Having skills and control over language use is no joking matter, and often these are directly transferable to large industries including public relations, archiving and understanding literary history, and also textual analysis of scholarly work.

Non-literary works are also featured heavily in both degrees, but primarily in an English Language course.

You are also more likely to find optional modules like medieval literature, critical reading, British literature, and other similar ones in English literature degrees.

So there are certainly differences between skills gained, however in order to make the most out of whichever you decide to choose, you must include your own interests in your studies and use that to help shape your choice of elective modules.

the last thing you want to do is be stuck in an English literature degree wishing you studied English language, and vice versa!

The two are not interchangeable, however, between 30 to 40% of students studying English Literature and English Language have typically rated the degree as being good value for money.

4. The Benefits of Studying the English Language

There are many benefits to studying the English language over English Literature.

It can improve your communication skills, help you to better understand other cultures, and give you a competitive edge in the job market.

This is because in terms of transferrable skills, English Language potentially is more relevant and more broadly sought after in the jobs market.

English is the language of business and is spoken by more than 1.5 billion people around the world.

However, the same skills developed in an English Language degree are closely mirrored in English literature, just with a slightly narrowed focus.

5. The Benefits of Studying English Literature

There are many benefits to studying English literature.

For one, literature can take us on amazing journeys to different eras, locations, and themes.

It can also help us better understand and empathize with other people, as well as sharpen our own critical thinking skills.

Additionally, literature can be a source of great pleasure, providing us with an escape from the everyday grind and a chance to explore the human experience in all its richness and complexity.

In this sense, literature can be a more enjoyable degree to study, providing a varied sense of material to analyse.

6. The Future of English Language and Literature

There’s no doubt that the English language is evolving. With the rise of social media and the internet, new words are being created all the time.

And as English becomes the lingua franca of the world, it’s also being influenced by other languages. So what does the future hold for English?

Some experts predict that English will become simpler, as more and more people use it as a second or third language.

Others believe that English will continue to grow and change, incorporating words and phrases from other languages.

Whatever the future holds, one thing is certain: English will continue to be the language of business, education, and international communication.

So if you’re learning English Literature or English Language, don’t worry too much about the differences, as both will give you a solid foundation in language, and the ability to understand the changes forthcoming.

With the development of AI tools, natural language processing, etc, both degrees put you in good stead for competitive job opportunities.

The more classical routes for work are available for both professions including language teacher, lexicographer, journalist, freelance writer, and editorial assistant.


The future of the English language and literature is uncertain, but there are a number of ways in which it could change. One possibility is that English will become less important, as other languages become more widespread.

Alternatively, English may continue to be used, but in a more diverse way, with different languages being used for different purposes.

Another possibility is that English will become more standardized, with fewer variations between dialects.

Finally, English may continue to be used as it is now, but with changes to how it is written and spoken.

In all these scenarios, a solid grounding in the topic is still necessary and therefore both degrees offer a good learning opportunity. 

English studies, and indeed the study of language itself are still necessary today in understanding present-day events, and the wider context in which information and art is presented.

Be a literature student if you want varied and exciting times studying great literary pieces, and study the English Language if you enjoy the fundamentals of the language itself, and getting a baseline understanding of syntax.

Who knows, you may be writing brand new languages of the future tomorrow!

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