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Why study languages and linguistics?

About language and linguistics

About language and linguistics


Our French, German, Italian and Spanish programmes, all taught in the target language, place the focus on proficiency in comprehension and production, equipping our graduates for a range of professional roles that call for linguistic and cultural competence. If what you love about learning a language is the opening it gives you into the life and culture of another country, and you want to be able to contribute to any conversation you encounter in a professional and culturally appropriate way, then York is the place for you.

Our English language programmes teach the history and structure of the language and its role in society. If you have studied English Language at A level and have enjoyed the 'language investigation' component then you will enjoy our take on the study of English, which focuses on evidence from spoken language data.

Through all our programmes we develop confident, capable language students with a genuine enthusiasm for the study of language. We teach these skills and instil this enthusiasm in part through training in linguistics.


Linguistics is the science of language. As linguists we seek to understand the properties shared by all natural human languages: how languages are structured, and how and why they vary and change - how language is acquired, and how it is used by individuals and groups to communicate.

If you enjoy a problem-solving approach, then linguistics is the right subject for you. You will learn to notice and describe fine-grained details - the kind of detail that the human brain subconsciously pays attention to - whilst at the same time developing an eye for the underlying pattern in a set of data. Developing the ability to pay attention on more than one level - to both detail and the properties of the overall system - is a hallmark of linguistic analysis, and a skill that transfers naturally into many professional contexts.

The Department of Language and Linguistic Science in York is among the highest-ranked centres for contemporary research in linguistics. We have the second highest proportion of 'world-leading' research among Language and Linguistics departments. The strength and diversity of this research is reflected in our teaching. Why not explore our research pages to see some of the areas of linguistics that we address? Then take a look at the modules you could study with us, and you will see that we equip our students to tackle current thinking in the field.

Why study at York?

Why York?

Nationally and internationally excellent

Our department is a leading centre in Europe for research in language and linguistics, with internationally recognised scholars in diverse fields of expertise.

In the latest Research Excellence Framework (2014), we have the second highest proportion of 'world-leading' research among Language and Linguistics departments.

Our teaching

We are enthusiastic and committed teachers who seek to provide high quality education in language and linguistics in a supportive, encouraging environment. Where possible, we try to involve our students directly in our current research.

  • You will learn from experts – our staff teach modules only in their specific subject or research areas.
  • Our modern foreign language teaching focuses on fluency and professional competence through an understanding of social and cultural contexts.
  • From day one you learn in a 'hands-on' approach, combining theory and practical exploration.
  • Through York’s focus on research-led teaching, and our large and varied staff group, we offer an unmatched breadth and depth of choice in our final-year modules.

Our facilities

We are a large, friendly and cohesive department, all located in one building, on the University’s Heslington West campus. We moved into our current accommodation in Vanbrugh College in 2007, which allowed us to create new teaching and research laboratories for forensic phonetics, psycholinguistics, language acquisition, and phonetics.

Our home includes a fully equipped computer laboratory which is open to all our undergraduates. Here you will have access to a variety of resources, including specialist linguistics software, corpora of different varieties, and online language-learning materials via the University's Virtual Learning Environment. Several undergraduate modules are taught in this laboratory and students receive training in using these resources.

The University of York Library houses an excellent collection of language and linguistics resources.

How we teach

How we teach

Your time at York

Read more about our programme structure at your time at York.

At York, linguistics and modern languages are taught in the same department because the two subject areas naturally complement each other. Our students often find that training in theoretical linguistics helps in their language learning, and vice-versa.

Our degree structure is modular, so you have some flexibility in shaping coursework to your own individual interests. Assessment is taken at the end of each module, which means that assessed work is spread across the full three or four years of the degree programme.

Why study language and linguistics together?

All of our degree programmes combine the study of language and linguistics, but allow you to choose different proportions of each. We strongly encourage our students on BA Linguistics to take modules in language as part of their degree in the first year, offering a range of languages and levels. The process of learning a language helps you to gain an even better understanding of how language works.

Our French, German, Italian and Spanish teaching

In our French, German, Italian and Spanish programmes, we emphasise oral and written fluency, as well as accurate language use in its social and cultural context. All our core language modules are taught in the target language in small groups. We teach a range of content modules, with topics on current issues, media, film, social trends and politics, and with training in translation in the final year. Our focus is on your competence in the culture and language, providing you with the means to function in the language at a professional level, in the culturally appropriate ways. 

Our English language and linguistics teaching

By choosing to study at York you are signing up to be taught by leading academics in linguistics. In the first year you take six modules, with two to six hours' teaching time for each. For English and linguistics modules, you have a lecture (60-120 students), set reading and exercises (sometimes online) and one or more small group seminars (15-20 students per group).

Our BA Linguistics course has a foundational year covering the main areas of linguistics (sounds, structures, meanings, social and regional variation), with an increasing range of modules offered in years 2 and 3. Your second year further broadens your knowledge of the areas of linguistics, but also takes you into more depth in some areas, of your choice. Our aim is to provide you with analytical skills so that you can tackle real linguistic problems in your final year, and we offer a wide range of final-year modules to allow for many different specialisations.

If you have taken English Language at A level (or equivalent) and enjoyed the 'language investigation' component you will enjoy our approach in BA English Language and Linguistics, which deals primarily with spoken language data. You will significantly deepen and extend your understanding of linguistic frameworks. If you haven't, don't worry, as our first year modules take you back to first principles.

In your first year you will begin your study of the History of English, which includes the opportunity to learn some Old English. By experiencing first-hand how differently English was structured 1000 years ago, you'll get a fresh perspective on English as just one language among the many others spoken in the world. We hold a world-class set of text corpora of English, and we now offer modules in History of English across all 3 years, as well as new specialist modules designed for the degree.  

Your future

Effective communication is crucial in any career, and studying language and linguistics will equip you with an all-round set of analytical skills which translate readily into any work context. In the last three years, 91 per cent of our students have secured employment or a postgraduate study place within six months of graduation.