Case study

Inspiring students and teachers of English Language

Research by experts at York is engaging teachers and students with the latest developments in linguistics, helping to build confidence, enhance results and inspire ambitions.

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The issue

Since being introduced as an A level subject in 2000, English Language has expanded rapidly, with over 15,000 students taking the exam in 2020. A Higher Education Academy report in 2006 highlighted the need for increased continuing professional development (CPD) for English Language teachers (who may have limited training in linguistics) and improved resources for students to help them achieve the best possible results.

The leading English Language A/AS level in the UK – AQA 7702 – was revised in 2015 to meet government requirements and renew course content. To support the new course, York sought to offer teachers and students access to recent research, to engage them with the latest developments in contemporary linguistics and language study. 

Beyond the UK, over 27,000 students from over 100 different countries take the Cambridge International A/AS English Language qualification (9093) every year. In 2016, York researchers were commissioned to review and propose updates to the scope and content of the 9093 curriculum.

The research

The York English Language Toolkit gives teachers and students access to the latest linguistics research from York. The Toolkit comprises 18 case studies encompassing the core areas of the English Language curriculum: Language Use, Acquisition, Diversity and Change. The Toolkit is therefore a team effort, representing a wide spectrum of research expertise in the Department. Recent case studies include research on: 

Case studies are launched at an annual CPD workshop for teachers which provides opportunities for discussion between teachers and our researchers. The Toolkit website provides downloadable resources for teachers and students to use in the classroom. 

In 2019 we added a new self-study resource for students, the FutureLearn Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity, which sets our research on Accent Bias and on Social Category Association in the broader context of prior research in sociolinguistics.  

The review by our academic team of the Cambridge International A/AS English Language qualification (9093) was informed by their experience of working with UK teachers, and drew on research into child language development as well as the influence of class and ethnicity on language variation and change.

The outcome

Attendance at the CPD workshops has increased steadily; the 2020 online workshop attracted 582 pre-registrations, including over 400 teachers of the AQA curriculum, and the workshop resources have been accessed 3,400 times.

Our MOOC has run since 2019 and had 3,766 active learners in 2020-21. Comments are positive and show that learners who are English Language A Level students apply what they learn to their studies and are more confident to pursue further study. 

Feedback suggests that students taking the AQA A level in the UK are using our Toolkit to feed into their work, enhancing their confidence, results and aspirations. 

The new Cambridge International A/AS English Language 2018 curriculum incorporated all changes recommended by York, including an updated set of linguistic terms and topics that are more suited to its substantial global audience.

The range of resources on the York website are excellent and have given me the confidence to start teaching English in September.

Teacher comment on the York Toolkit

Additional information

Explore the The York English Language Toolkit.

Take a look at our online course Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity


Featured researcher

Paul Drew

Professor Drew’s research explores the basic practices of ordinary (social) interaction, and communicative practices in medicine, usually in doctor-patient interaction.

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Featured researcher

Carmen Llamas

Professor Llamas has particular interests in the identity-making and marking functions of language and sociolinguistic fieldwork methods. 

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Featured researcher

Dom Watt

Dr Watt is Senior Lecturer in Forensic Speech Science. His teaching and research are in forensic linguistics, sociophonetics, language and identity studies, accents of English, and dialectology.

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Featured researcher

Tamar Keren-Portnoy

Professor Keren-Portnoy studies both syntactic and phonological development to understand how current skills promote further learning.

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Featured researcher

Sam Hellmuth

Professor Hellmuth devised and led the York English Language Toolkit project; her own research interests focus on the prosody of spoken Arabic dialects and intonation in regional dialects in the North of England.

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Featured researcher

Claire Childs

Dr Childs is a Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, leading on MOOC course content updates and works alongside Dr Watt to provide facilitated support to learners.

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