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Studying English/North American Studies

Students of English Studies deal with the English language, literature and culture.
An article by Oliver Burgard in collaboration with Kathrin Fromm

Studying English/North American Studies
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English/North American Studies

That is what it’s about

They read Shakespeare and Toni Morrison or analyse how English is spoken in South Africa and India: students of English and American Studies deal with the language, literature and culture of English-speaking societies at an academic level. The focus of students of English Language and Literature is geared towards Great Britain and the former colonies, while students of American Studies concentrate on the North American continent including the Caribbean islands. Both are usually offered in combination. Some degree courses are also called English and American Studies or British and American Studies. There are generally three specialisations: linguistics, literary studies and civilisation studies. When it comes to linguistics, students learn how the English language is structured, examine the historical development of English and address the question of how its use varies in different social strata or regions. In literary studies, students learn the different eras with their genres – from Elizabethan sonnets through to Victorian detective novels all the way to contemporary plays or the works of the Pulitzer or Booker Prize winners. Civilisation studies involves questions about society, such as about how British newspapers report about football or how the racial debate characterises the lives of people in the United States. There are also practical language courses in which students, for example, refine their pronunciation or learn how to write essays and translate correctly.

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suitability, obstacles, misconceptions

The first semester is a surprise for some students. They hope to improve their language skills, but instead have to struggle through the basics of linguistics and bone up on theories. "English Language and Literature is not a language course, but an academic subject," says Jochen Petzold, professor of British Literature and Civilisation Studies at the Universität Regensburg. Helpful – if not imperative – is, even before the start of studies, reading English-language newspapers, watching films in the original version or spending a longer period abroad. A stay abroad during academic studies is strongly recommended, even if it is not mandatory. Only English is spoken at most universities; freshers should therefore bring solid language skills with them. They also need to be interested in the culture of other countries and have a passion for literature. "If you don't like to read, you won't enjoy English Language and Literature," says Petzold. A particular challenge is the medieval texts that are still mainly dealt with at traditional universities. Some students also find the theoretical contents of Linguistics seminars difficult. Just over half of the universities have no course entrance restrictions. If they do, grades in the two range are often required. In some cases, aptitude tests or proof of English proficiency are required.

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