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Worlds of English

What are the origins of the English language? How has it spread internationally? Is the worldwide influence of English a cause for celebration or concern? How is it changing in response to social, cultural, and technological developments? These are just a few of the questions that you will investigate in this module which looks at the history, diversity, and use of English around the world. Using a combination of printed materials and computer-based resources you will be introduced to the major debates in the field, and to some of the ways language is described and analysed.

What you will study

This module looks at the history of the English language and its position in the world today. You will see how English has evolved in the British Isles and how it has changed as it has spread around the world.

A major aim of the module is to enable you to observe and account for how language varies between individuals and also in different institutional, cultural and national settings. You will examine examples of speech and writing from a variety of global contexts and genres, including literature, poetry, song, film, political speeches and advertising. The choice of English in multilingual contexts from education and business, to films and popular music will exemplify the significance and power of the language in social, cultural, and economic life.

You will watch and listen to specially recorded material from countries where English is the majority language such as the UK, and in countries where it exists alongside one or more other languages, such as Canada, India and South Africa. The significance of English in global contexts and its power to simultaneously open up social and economic opportunities for some, and close them down for others, are critically examined.

The module is divided into three blocks, with the following themes:

  • English in the World: History, diversity, change
  • Communicating in English: Talk, text, technology
  • The Politics of English: Conflict, competition, co-existence.

You will be using a combination of three books, three study guides, and online audio-visual material gathered on location in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. These materials illustrate the diversity of English language practices across the globe and are designed to develop your knowledge and understanding of key terms and concepts in English language studies. A specially written language description book will introduce you to the basics of language analysis, which can then be practised using interactive online materials.

You will learn

By studying this module, you’ll gain:

  • an understanding of the history and development of English, and a critical approach to its current global status
  • an understanding of the pivotal role of language in, for example, social organisation and relations, and the transmission of social and cultural values
  • a critical appreciation of contemporary uses of English in a range of social contexts
  • conceptual frameworks for the study of linguistic phenomena in a range of social contexts
  • opportunities to analyse spoken and written English
  • a perspective on your own English language experiences, including developing aspects of your own communication skills.

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 2 module and so you should have some experience of OU level 1 study, or equivalent work at another university.

If you have not studied at university level before, you are strongly advised to study at OU level 1 before progressing to OU level 2 study.

We recommend Introducing English language skills (L101), Exploring languages and cultures (L161), Discovering the arts and humanities (A111), Voices, texts and material culture (A105) or English for academic purposes online (L185). These OU level 1 modules develop skills such as logical thinking, clear expression, essay writing and the ability to select and interpret relevant materials.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

Before starting the module, you may be interested in reading some books from English language studies. We recommend the following which are all accessibly written:

Cameron, Deborah (2000) Good To Talk: Living and Working in a Communication Culture, Sage.

Crystal, David (2005) The Stories of English, Penguin.

Crystal, David (2007) How Language Works, Penguin.

Graddol, David (2006) English Next, British Council. This book is available to download from British Council Learning.

If you prefer audio books or podcasts, you may be interested in:

Crystal, David (2011) The Story of English in 100 Words (BBC Audiobooks). Available on audio CD and also to download from Audible.

What's included

A module guide; three books; three study guides; a separate resource on language description; website including audio-visual materials, assessment materials, a study planner, activities to accompany the book on language description, additional resources, and access to student and tutor group forums.

Computing requirements

A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module. Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

A desktop or laptop computer with one of the following:

  • Windows 7 or higher
  • Mac OS 10.7 or higher
  • a modern Linux version

The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

To join in the spoken conversation in our online rooms we recommend a headset (headphones or earphones with an integrated microphone).

Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You’ll have a tutor who will help you with the study material, mark and comment on your written work, and whom you can ask for advice and guidance. You’re encouraged to use the tutor-group forum to communicate with your tutor and others in your group. We might also be able to offer group tutorials or day-schools. We encourage you to attend these, but they’re not compulsory. Where tutorials are held will depend on the distribution of students taking the module; some tutorials are held online.

Contact us if you want to know more about study with The Open University before you register.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The end-of-module assessment (EMA) must be submitted online.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying U214 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

Future availability

Worlds of English (U214) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2019. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2020.

Course work includes:

5 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school

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