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Case study: University of Birmingham

Every university has its specialities, so make sure your choice matches your interests

The very first question you need to ask yourself when you start looking for an ELT- related Master’s is: which am I more interested in – English? Language generally? Or teaching and learning? Of course, all good departments will cover all three, but in research-active departments, the area they submit their research is where they have most expertise.

Suppose you choose English language, then you need to look at departments whose research is submitted to the REF in that field. Take, for example, the Department of English Language and Linguistics at the University of Birmingham.

The next question you need to ask yourself is, do they have a Master’s for a teacher
at my level? The answer at Birmingham is probably yes.

For teachers with less than a year’s teaching experience there’s an MATESOL, with
four core modules: syllabus design; second language learning and teaching; teaching

and learning grammar and vocabulary; and classroom research methods. The only thing it doesn’t offer is extensive teaching practice.

You can get that in Birmingham, but in the department of education.

For teachers with a little more experience, the department offers an MA in Applied Linguistics with TESOL, designed for those wanting to stay in ELT and progress their career, perhaps by getting a job teaching English at a university or moving into teacher training. Again, there are four core modules including syllabus design, language description and research methods.

But the fourth module asks a fundamental question: “Are you interested in the relationship between language and society or in how language is organised in the mind? Sociolinguistics or cognitive psycholinguistics? Choose one.”

Finding a specialist area is a feature of the department’s third MA, this time in applied linguistics, which adds corpus linguistics and discourse analysis to the list, and offers options in everything from language and gesture to business discourse.

So we come to the third question you must ask: does this course cover what I want to learn? To find out you need to look carefully at the optional modules. One unhappy Master’s graduate we met wanted to concentrate on syntax, but it was never mentioned after the first term.

If our syntax nerd had looked at the grammar option at Birmingham, he would have found a corpus- based course which “highlights variation and gradience in the English grammatical system” and “how categories and constructions emerge and change”. Is this the course for him? It’s up to him to decide.

Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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