Arts & humanities

Top universities where you can study languages, literature & linguistics

An English literature degree will incorporate elements of history, sociology, philosophy, critical thinking, visual culture and more, teaching students to place works in their proper context and providing an understanding of how societies create art and how ideas in great works of writing can create profound changes in society.

Most degrees also include an element of critical analysis which is invaluable; students take ideas from philosophers and critics and learn how to apply them not only to texts but to the societies which created them, including their own. By the end of the degree you should be able to deconstruct ideas and see how and why they work. You will also have vastly improved your written and spoken communications skills, learned how to put together or take apart a convincing argument and have developed the ability to absorb new and complex ideas quickly and effectively.

Unlike degrees in say, accountancy, engineering or computer science, the study of literature does not lead to a set and profitable graduate job. The path of the English scholar is somewhat more oblique, but all the more rewarding for it. People generally study English literature for their love of the subject rather than to pursue a lucrative career.

It does provide transferable skills and Literature graduates go on to a wide range of careers. Many become writers, copywriters, newspaper or magazine journalists, some even make it as script writers or novelists. Others find work as teachers, editorial assistants or work in the arts, marketing or PR. 

The English language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 360 million native speakers and many more who speak English as a second language. Thousands of students choose to study the past and present uses of the English language, with all of its idiosyncrasies, faults and contradictions.

The content of an English Language degree will usually include a focus on the finer points of the spoken language, for example syntax, lexis, grammar and tenses. Later on, you will study the historical and social context of the language, such as learning how and why certain phrases or linguistic quirks have become commonplace and how and why some disappear and are rarely used.

Depending on the course, students may analyse the use of various elements of the English language with social theory, examining the relationship between language and gender, race or class. Courses may also include the use of language in the media, such as why news reports are written in certain ways and which headlines most strongly grab the attention of the reader. 

A degree in English language offers multiple career paths. Most associated with an English language degree is teaching, at primary or secondary level, but it also lends itself to teaching English as a foreign language, provided you have the appropriate foreign language skills.

Journalism or writing is also a common path, often following a postgraduate course. Marketing and public relations are also good options, where a strong grasp on the finer details of the English language is invaluable.

Other subjects within the discipline of arts & humanities
linguistics degree

What can you do with a linguistics degree?

Why study linguistics? Our essential guide to what you will learn on a linguistics course, the subjects you'll need to study to obtain a place on a degree programme and the jobs that will be open to you once you graduate

Why study a PhD in English literature?

Studying for a PhD in English literature is not just a “run-on from an MA”, writes John Francis Davies, but requires deep introspection and societal awareness

What it's like to study a modern languages degree

Are modern language degrees becoming obsolete? Absolutely not, say these four modern languages students

Learning languages
Languages signpost

What can you do with a languages degree?

Our essential guide to what you will learn on a languages course, what you should study to get your place on a degree, and what jobs you can get once you graduate