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English in the world

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Today, English is the pre-eminent global language, spoken by more than a quarter of the world’s population. English plays a key role in international diplomacy, trade and commerce, the global media and entertainment industries, and is used in everyday encounters across the world. In this module, you’ll trace the history of its spread across the globe and explore the diversity that characterises present-day English in a range of everyday settings from home to education and work. Using both print and online materials, you’ll investigate its influence, alongside other languages, in contemporary global issues such as migration and political protest.

What you will study

This module explores the role of the English language in a tumultuous early twenty-first-century world characterised by global power shifts, grassroots protests, pandemic, and complex population flows. You’ll start by exploring how English, the language of a small island off the mainland of Europe, became the pre-eminent international language of the modern period. You’ll see how English changed as it spread to other countries through colonialism, and consider the impact that it has had on societies, cultures and other languages around the world. You’ll explore how the English language continues to be shaped by a growing number of users in a range of everyday settings from home to education and work, and the important role that it plays in contemporary political issues.

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’ll examine examples of speech and writing from a variety of global contexts and genres, including literature, poetry, song, film, political speeches and advertising. You’ll also be guided to notice and collect examples of language use around you, and to put together your own portfolio of English in your world, enabling you to connect your own experiences of language with the wider global context. This focus will enable you to develop further as an effective communicator in your personal and professional life.

You’ll watch and listen to specially recorded material from countries where English is the majority language such as the UK and USA, and in countries where it exists alongside one or more other languages, such as India and South Africa. You'll also explore the growing use of English as a foreign language in countries such as China and across the Arab world. 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. The social and economic opportunities opened up by English, and the implications for those people who don’t have access to the language, are critically examined.

The module is divided into four blocks of study with the following themes:

1. Histories of English traces the development of English from the fifth century to the early decades of the twenty-first, highlighting its links with colonialism and focusing on the role that people, cultures and technologies have played in the spread of English.

2. Diversities of English focuses on the variety of contemporary English in the UK and around the world, exploring both the benefits of diversity and its implication in discrimination.

3. Everyday Englishes explores the use of varieties of English by children and adults in social, educational and work-based contexts around the world, probing how people both follow and flout language rules

4. English and Politics explores the contemporary role of the English language in global issues ranging from migration and political protest to attempts to ‘decolonise’ the curriculum.

You’ll use a dedicated website with online material which includes activities and audio visual resources gathered on location in Africa, Asia and Europe, and through online video conferencing. The website is accompanied by four module books with chapters on each topic. 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 the accompanying interactive online materials. An academic and digital literacies strand running throughout the module will help you prepare for your assignments and teach you important transferable skills. You’ll also be guided to develop as an autonomous learner, with reflection and independent study activities suggested for each unit.

You will learn

By studying this module, you’ll gain:

  • an understanding of the history and development of English, and its contemporary role alongside other languages in a globalised world
  • a critical appreciation of contemporary uses of English in conjunction with other modes of communication in a range of social, cultural, political and educational contexts
  • conceptual frameworks for the study of linguistic phenomena in a range of global contexts
  • key linguistic tools and terminologies for the analysis and evaluation of spoken, written and digital texts, including your own collected examples
  • an ability to construct your own arguments, supported by evidence
  • 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, such as Introducing English Language Studies (L101) or Exploring Languages and Cultures (L161).

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.

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

What's included

You'll have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • course-specific module materials
  • audio and video content
  • assessment materials
  • access to student and tutor group forums.

The module website includes four module books containing chapters on each topic covered, and a specially written language description book. You’ll be able to communicate with fellow students via online forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

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’ll also be able to ask your tutor to help you with study methods. An important element of the module is the feedback you receive from your tutor on the work you do as part of the module. Feedback provides the basis for your development as a student, and you’ll be able to contact your tutor by email or phone throughout the module, and you’ll be able to communicate with fellow students via online forums.

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.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying L201 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

English in the world (L201) starts once a year – in October.

This page describes the module that will start in October 2024.

We expect it to start for the last time in October 2030.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment