Education Quandary

My daughter wants to do A-level English language. How can we persuade her to do literature?
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Hilary's advice

You can't, and shouldn't. English language isn't to be compared to English literature. It is a sound and rigorous subject in its own right, as the avalanche of response to this query makes clear. In fact, no other school subject has had so many Quandary readers charging to its defence.

What you learn when you study English language is how the language works, how people acquire it, how it is used in different contexts and how the power of language can be harnessed to communicate different messages. Students look at all kinds of writing, from advertisements through fiction to political speeches. It teaches them to analyse and problem-solve, as well as giving them a thorough grounding in the grammar and structure of English - all vital skills in today's information-driven world, and very useful for getting jobs later on.

For you, though, English literature remains the blue-chip option. Maybe you love literature and long for your daughter to share that pleasure, or maybe you feel that there is something solid and worthy about ploughing through Dickens and Shakespeare.

But you are wrong, and should let your daughter do what she wants. Doing English language does not mean that she won't enjoy literature, either now or later. And she will almost certainly find English language stimulating, practical and demanding.

Readers' advice

I have taught A-level English literature and language. There's no mileage in playing subjects off against each other, so instead I'll say that the English-language course is a truly multi-skilled course. It includes grammar, stylistic analysis, and learning about speech and discourse . There is also an original-writing module and an editorial-writing one. Pupils learn skills that complement their other subjects. Many of our pupils do both English A-levels and say that they are equally challenging.
Jonathan Deakin, Warrington

Studying English language can lead to an English language degree, which opens up a wide range of careers in teaching, speech therapy and PR, to name but a few. Far more livings are earned wording advertisements than writing novels!
Veronika Koller, department of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University

Since I study both English subjects, I am in a position to judge. Although English literature is seen as more "refined", English language is the more complex of the two. Your daughter will develop an in-depth knowledge of the language. You should be proud of her for studying such a subject, instead of disappointed.
Chris Mole, Stockport

Next week's quandary

I'm a teacher and a parent, but can no longer make head or tail of the new White Paper on education. What does it now add up to? And is it going to improve things in schools?

Send letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: h.wilce@btinternet.com (please include postal address). Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack including cartridge pen and handwriting pen

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