Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Revision: for now and later

With the clocks going forward, beautiful blossom blooming on the trees and summer rapidly approaching, it's time to cast happy thoughts from your mind and think about the looming exams in June. Sorry.

There's still plenty of time to get revising (or just 'vising' if you haven't done some of the course content yet) but there are a few key things you can do now to make sure that what you are on the right lines for later on. We've already had a revision post from Olivia which focused on advice from her as a former student for students in the run-up to the exams, so this one takes a slightly different tack and thinks about the bigger picture and some suggested reading.

Big ideas
Think big, to begin with. Before you dive into the details of different topic areas and sections of exam papers, think about the big questions around English. How confident are you about them? Back in this blog post, I suggested that one of the ways to help understand the scope of areas such as language change and language diversity was to think about the big questions around how and why language changes and varies. To this, you can also add questions around children's language development. What are the main influences on children's spoken language development? How does children's writing development differ from their spoken development? Have some idea about the broad answers to these questions and then you can work out the ways in which the detail can be added as you work through the rest of your revision.

Read plenty of opinion pieces about language and get a good grasp of a) the language discourses used and replicated in them, and b) the style and structure of these pieces. Paper 2 Question 4 is where you need to write one of these yourself, so the more you have read and thought about, the better your chances of producing a good one of your own will be. You'll also be answering Question 3 on two texts that put forward views and opinions about language, so it'll help you with that.

Here are some suggestions for recent pieces that might help:
Regional Diversity
Meghan Markle's accent
The ugly rise of accent softening
Identity and International English

Get to grips with meanings
There's a worrying tendency in lots of English lessons these days, from Key Stage 2 to A level, to get completely obsessed with masses of literary and linguistic terms. You're doing an A level in which you need to show linguistic knowledge and expertise - and terminology has a role to play in that - but it's much more important to engage with what texts mean and then trace back how the language creates these meanings and representations.

In examiner-speak, this is an AO3-led approach. What is the text about? What is being said about this? How is the text producer using language to represent the issue, the events being described, the people or sources in the text, themselves, language? Once you can talk confidently about this, you can look at how the language - across all the levels of grammar, graphology, semantics and discourse - works and get more technical about it.

Using a deluge of technical terms is not a substitute for thinking deeply about a text's meanings, so revise by reading texts and immediately asking yourself quick-fire questions like "What is it about?", "What's being said about that?", "Who is saying these things?", "Why should I believe them?", "How are they trying to come across?". If you can't answer these confidently, read the text again. Practise with short texts and then build up to longer and more demanding ones as you get closer to the exams.

Work through your own ideas
As I said before (here), there's not an official list of theories and case studies that you can use as a tick-list, but there will be studies and theories you will have covered in class and through your own reading. Organise your notes on these and think through them. Be clear you know how you can use these ideas for different kinds of questions and pay particular attention to those studies that have multiple applications. Emma Moore's Eden Village Girls study in Bolton is a good one for this, because it opens up discussion about gender, region, class and friendship groups, and introduces ideas around 'communities of practice'. Likewise, Peter Trudgill's classic Norwich study takes the variable '-ing' and traces its pronunciation according to region (Norwich), class, gender and context (different kinds of speech formalities) while also considering how people tend to report on their own usage.

Understanding and exploring the intersection of different factors in people's language identities is a crucial part of doing well in the higher levels of AO2, so it makes sense to use studies that help address this, but equally, you can draw on any relevant research, so long as you use it intelligently (see the original blog).

Do some reading
There's still time to get some reading done. I know it's English Language and you don't have set texts, but there are some really good, accessible and fascinating language books out there. Even just dipping in and out of a few chapters from some of these will give you some added insight into the debates and the history but also lots of original examples and perhaps a few nice quotations. Here are my current favourites:

  • Deborah Cameron: The Myth of Mars and Venus (how we talk and think about gender and speech)
  • Lynne Murphy: The Prodigal Tongue (history and debates about American English)
  • John McWhorter: Words on the Move (all about language change and how it happens)
  • Lane Greene: Talk on the Wild Side (how we think about language change and try to 'tame' the language)
  • Henry Hitchings: The Language Wars (the best book for understanding language discourses)
  • The EMC Language Handbook: 14 chapters on different language topics and areas of research, all designed for A level students.

There are plenty of blogs and sites produced by linguists and experts which can keep you up to date with language in the news and the latest research. Some of my suggestions are:

And then there's always emagazine from the English and Media Centre. Every issue has great articles for students on the course and you can access the digital archive with your school/college's user name and password.

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