Majoring in English is no easy feat for a university student: it requires hundreds of hours of reading, writing, and brainstorming ideas for the next essay. English majors know how mentally exhausting it can be to push through a bout of writer’s block, to read the same novel for the third or fourth time, and be completely lost on a piece of literary theory. While English majors don’t have the same labs as their counterparts in the sciences, or even as many tutorials as students in the social sciences, most will likely feel like they are working just as hard as any other student in university.

So what is it like to be an English major? English majors usually take large literature review courses in the first and second year, perhaps focusing on broad topics like narrative, modern ‘classics’, Shakespeare, and poetry. Typically these early year courses will be prerequisite for the smaller, seminar courses taken in third and fourth year. Third and fourth year tend to get more specific, focusing on individual authors, nationalities, genres, and cultural movements. Upper year courses will often shrink in size, enabling a more seminar style format that involves more intimate discussion and presentations. Below are some examples of courses you might take in different years.

learn english grammar,
First year university courses typically take place in large lecture halls. Source: Unsplash.

What kinds of skills do you learn while getting an English degree? You will be more prepared for the workplace than you think!

First Year

  • Narrative
  • Literature for Our Time
  • Literary Traditions

Second Year

  • Introduction to Poetry
  • Introduction to British Literature
  • The Short Story

Third Year

  • Chaucer
  • The Rise of the Novel
  • Asian North American Literature
  • Canadian Literature

Fourth Year

  • Advanced Studies Seminars

English majors will usually pair their studies in literature with another area of the arts or humanities, such as History, French, Philosophy, Latin American Studies, Linguistics, and more. There are so many academic pathways an English major can take, so it is no wonder it is among the most oldest and popular programs in any university!

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Do English Classes teach the Language of English?

In most English classes in university, English is usually used to describe the language of the literature read. Most courses assume you have a strong command of the English language, so no time is spent teaching English as a language. English programs differ drastically in this way from university programs in other languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese, or French. While these programs will also have literature courses, there are usually also many courses where students can study how to communicate in each respective language.

Students that are looking to learn English should look into English as a Second Language courses (ESL) in their schools or private institutions. These courses are geared toward students who are newcomers or international scholars that are looking to develop a stronger command of English for work or school.

English majors who pursue a study of English literature may also find courses focused on writing in their programs, though they are typically for advanced level writers. These courses may focus on the mechanics of essay writing, rhetoric, and other forms of creative writing.

writing skills
English literature classes involve a lot of reading and writing. Source: Unsplash.

Is Essay Writing Hard?

It’s a pretty common expectation for English majors to write essays in their courses, often ranging from as short as 5 pages to as long as 20. Writing an English essay is not for the faint of heart, and takes a dedication to research, writing, and planning.

Essay topics will usually be chosen by the student, and focus on specific themes of the course. Sometimes professors will provide essay topics for students, which can make deciding on a topic much easier. For example, you might be asked to compare characters in two separate novels or plays, focus on taking a Feminist or Marxist interpretation, or how two different authors deal with similar themes and problems.

A lot of English essay writing ideas will come from the student writing the paper, and while research can be critical, what matters most are the inferences and connections the student is making with the texts. To support essay writing, English majors will usually read some peer-reviewed papers on the topic, historical textbooks for context, relevant literary theory, and perhaps even some additional work from the author. Weaving different ideas, histories, concepts and arguments is where essay writing can often feel long and arduous.

Essays will usually include introductory paragraphs that explain the hypothesis or main argument, as well as a body that explores the essay writer’s arguments and interpretation. The essay is usually finished off with a conclusion that summarizes the entire piece. Finally, a works cited page is added that lists any primary or secondary sources used to write the essay.

Where can you expect to work as an English major? Read everything you need to know about careers for English grads.

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Why is it Important to Learn English Grammar?

As dry and boring as it may sound, English grammar is one of the most important areas of learning to master if you plan on learning in the language or undertaking a career in which English is spoken. Grammar is all about the structure and syntax of written language, including conjugation, punctuation, structure, and style.

Students that have strong grammar skills are highly effective communicators because they can use language with precision, varying sentence style through punctuation and the creative use of clauses. When we capitalize correctly, use commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes and periods effectively, we communicate our ideas clearly.

It might be easier to understand the importance of good grammar if we consider what it looks like when someone writes with poor grammar. Imagine receiving an email from a colleague with misspellings, run-on sentences, and improper use of capitalization. You might be less inclined to take their message seriously, or perhaps even be insulted that they didn’t bother to look over their writing before hitting send.

Good grammar in our writing enables us to get better grades, and appear more professional and polished in our work.

Is an English degree worth all the time and investment? We certainly think so! Find out why so many students study English in university.

Why are Writing Skills so Useful Today?

Going back to the topic of English majors, it’s important to note that the writing skills you acquire as an English major will serve you long into your career.

It’s no secret that we live in a digital age, and while we have myriad media tools at our disposal, the written word remains one of the most well used methods for communicating. The world needs good writers to develop strong content, copy, and to share important messages. With so much of the world working remotely, having strong writing skills will enable you to build stronger professional relationships with your colleagues, as much communication happens over email or text message.

It is hard to imagine any line of work that doesn’t involve some form of written communication. Look at most job descriptions, and ‘effective communicator’ will often be listed in the skills a good candidate would have.

English is one of the most challenging and rewarding areas of learning you can take in your postsecondary education. We have gathered  the top reasons people choose an English major, and the careers you can pursue after you graduate.

What Can I do to Improve my English Writing?

Of course, not all people will be strong writers and for this reason it is always important to keep improving your writing skills. What a lot of people don’t know is that becoming a good writer takes regular practice. If you are not writing regularly, you will simply not get better at it. English majors have an advantage in this context, as they are expected to write long essays frequently. The large amount of reading English majors do also supports their writing skills. Good readers become great writers, as you will internalize new vocabulary and sentence structures as you read more sophisticated texts.

English Writing
Having strong English writing and grammar will serve you will in your career. Source: Pexels

For anyone that still feels like they need help with your writing, hiring a writing coach or tutor can make a critical difference. Superprof Canada is the best place to find a writing tutor for Canadian students, as the site brings together some of the most talented educators who can help you write better.

A tutor will help you plan and draft new writing, proofread your work, and help you strengthen your ideas and arguments. They can provide you with valuable feedback on your writing, which you will certainly need as you craft longer essays. Tutors can work with you online or safely in person, based on how frequently you want help. It is one of the most convenient solutions for university students today!

The Superprof site is easy to use and streamlined for quick navigation. Compare the profiles of prospective tutors with a few clicks, and message any tutor you are interested in by using the site’s messaging system. You can even organize payment through the site using Paypal or entering a credit card.

Superprof can connect you with some of the best English tutors in Canada. Check out the site today!

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Colleen

Colleen is a Toronto-based educator, mom and freelance writer who believes in lifelong learning and strong coffee.