England.  Change location

The languages of crises

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis such as most of us have never experienced before. Throughout this short course, you’ll explore the role that language and culture play in how people manage and respond to crises. The COVID-19 pandemic will be our case in point, but you’ll also explore other crises. You’ll learn about key linguistics and intercultural concepts and how people have engaged with humour, art and language change within the contexts of crises.

After successfully completing this short course, you’ll receive a digital badge. This can be shared on social media, added to email signatures or act as a certificate.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code



This is a non-credit bearing course.

Study method

Short course cost

Entry requirements

What you will study

The course is divided into 5 units, which explore the role of languages and cultures in situations of crisis.

Unit 1 provides an introduction to the course. You’ll start by looking at people’s personal stories of the COVID-19 pandemic, from a linguist unpicking the evolving new language to the poignant experiences of teenagers at the forefront of the first European wave in Italy. These stories, and others, illustrate key concepts such as crisis, culture, culture shock and intercultural encounters.

Unit 2 focuses on the role of humour and language in the COVID-19 pandemic internationally. You’ll look at a range of examples in different languages, including English, German, Spanish, Korean and French, that illustrate how neologisms are created. In this unit, you’ll also look at the symbolic meanings of relevant objects and the effect that these symbolic meanings can have in public health messages in times of crises. The study of language use in public discourse continues with an analysis of the metaphor of war. Finally, the specific needs of multilingual societies are considered in the dissemination of public health information in times of crises.

Unit 3 explores how people use art to translate, document, transform, and make sense of crises. It includes explanations of key theories and perspectives of art, and also looks at art on digital platforms.

Unit 4 covers methods to gather, evaluate, read and share reliable information in times of crisis. You’ll undertake practical exercises to put these methods to the test, for example, through the use of Voyant Tools. A special focus is given to the role of social media platforms.

Unit 5 focuses on the situation of people adversely affected by structural inequalities in times of crisis. The unit starts by evaluating the overreliance on data gathering in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which can prevent some ‘invisible’ communities from being looked after. You’ll then explore the experiences of those who find themselves more severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises due to their race, gender, socioeconomic background, or disability using case studies from Brazil and the UK.

Please note that although this course is non-accredited, it can be used towards the module Making your learning count (YXM130) to gain OU credits.

You will learn

By the end of this course, you will:

  • understand the complexity of concepts of culture and language change and use and their potential impact on how people manage and respond in crisis situations
  • understand systemic inequalities and how they affect communities and individuals in global crises
  • be able to interpret, evaluate and negotiate perspectives and practices of your own and others’ cultures in times of crisis
  • be able to gather, evaluate, read and share reliable information
  • be able to identify characteristics of private and public discourse in times of crisis
  • be able to use digital tools and platforms to engage with artistic responses to global crises
  • be able to use Voyant Tools to evaluate reliable information in crises.

Learner support

The course is taught entirely online, with the aid of a learning adviser to offer support where needed. You will have access to online forums that you are strongly encouraged to participate in, as they are an excellent source of support and information. These forums combine peer support with input from the specialist learning adviser(s). Other support is available via the StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online and makes use of a variety of online resources. If you use specialist hardware or software to assist you in using a computer or the internet you are advised to contact us about support which can be given to meet your needs.

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying LG005 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations, which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

There are no entry requirements for this course.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact us.

Course length

The course is made up of 5 units, with each unit expected to take about 5 hours to study. In total, you’ll need around 25 hours to complete the course.

You can begin at any time during the life of the course and study at your own pace. The course will be open to you for a time period of between 6 and 18 months depending on your course registration date and you will be advised of the specific time limitations upon enrolment.


Start End England fee Register
At anytime before registration end date Jun 2025 - see Entry requirements for more detail £99.00

Registration closes 31/07/2024


Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card – We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron.

Sponsorship – If this course is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

The fee information provided here is valid for short courses starting in the 2024/25 academic year. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of less than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

All learning materials are delivered entirely online and there is no formal tuition for this course.

Your study is self-directed and you’ll have access to a course website, which includes:

  • a unit-by-unit study planner
  • course-specific materials and activities
  • audio and video content
  • discussion forums and a course forum
  • support from specialist learning advisers.

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.

Functionality may be limited on mobile devices. For example, voice recorder activities, which are common in language short courses, may not work on iOS/Apple devices.

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.