For an overview of English Language, the study design, what’s involved in the exam and more, take a look at our Ultimate Guide to English Language.
There are several strategies you can use to your advantage to extend yourself in VCE English Language.
Make Finding Examples a Habit
One simple way to expose yourself to more examples is to follow news pages on social media so that you can see regular updates about current affairs. Have a read through of point 7: Year 12 Essay Topic Categories in our Ultimate Guide to English Language so that you can understand what types of examples you should be keeping an eye out for.
Right from the start of the school year, make sure you set up a system to keep track of your examples. You could do this by setting up a document with headings (such as ‘free speech’, ‘egalitarianism’, ‘political correctness’, ‘double-speak’, ‘ethnolects’ and ‘Australian identity’) and adding examples to this document throughout the year as you find them. For more information about the potential headings you could use, have a look at the dot points in the VCE English Language Study Design from page 17 onwards.
I’d also highly recommend checking out Building Essay Evidence Banks for English Language as it teaches you a great table method for storing and analysing your examples.
The advantage of creating an example/evidence bank of some sort is that if you start looking for examples right at the start of the year, you’ll have more time to analyse and memorise them. Additionally, you’ll also be able to use them far earlier in your essays, which means that the quotes and examples you select will become much easier to remember for the final exam.
Have a Basic Understanding of Australian History, Politics and Social Issues
Having a basic understanding of Australian history, politics and social issues is highly beneficial for enhancing your analytical skills for English Language. This is essential in developing strong contentions for your essays. Some key issues that would be worth having some background information on include the following:
Australia’s colonial history and treatment of Indigenous communities, racism, and the language surrounding these matters.
Look into the following:
- How does language reflect or perpetuate prejudice?
- How does hate speech affect social harmony?
- How can language be used to establish in-group solidarity?
Sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia.
- How can bias and prejudice be conveyed through language?
- What are some examples of implicit and explicit bias?
- What role does political correctness play in this context?
- Does political correctness create benefits or does it restrict societies?
Environmental issues, and the way this intersects with politics.
- How can euphemisms, doublespeak, and bureaucratic language be used to obfuscate or mitigate blame?
Immigration and refugee policy related discourse.
- What are the origins of pejoratives such as ‘boat people’ and ‘queue jumper’ that are frequently used against refugees?
- How does this influence the values or beliefs of a society?
Business and economic issues, labour exploitation
- How can bureaucratic language and jargon be used to mislead and manipulate?
Political affairs (historical and recent)
- How can formal language be used to mitigate blame and responsibility, negotiate social taboos, or establish national identity?
Having an awareness of key events and social issues in Australia, an understanding of the groups that make up Australia, and exposing yourself to a diverse set of media is really important in developing your essay writing skills. It does take time, but what will ultimately happen is that your discussions in your essays will be much more insightful and demonstrate a well thought out argument.
Apply Your Critical Thinking Skills
When writing essays, try your best to apply your critical thinking skills. Identify the assumptions you’re making when you present a certain point, and try to develop arguments against your position so that you can better understand why you have chosen your side. Developing a holistic and detailed contention is far better than just picking one side out of simplicity, as it allows you to demonstrate consideration and analysis of a range of factors that affect a certain issue. Use your evidence (contemporary examples, linguist quotes and stimulus material) to develop your points, and position yourself to be mindful of any biases you may have by continuously asking yourself what has influenced your way of thinking. Above all, try to discuss your essay prompts with your peers, as this will provide you with different perspectives and help you strengthen your own point.
Consistently Revising Metalanguage
Consistently revising metalanguage is crucial for doing well in English Language. Throughout Year 12, consistently revising metalanguage will be your responsibility. It is likely that you’ll be spending a greater proportion of class time in learning content, and writing practice pieces. Therefore, it’s really important to figure out a way that works best for you in being able to frequently revise metalanguage. Flashcards are useful for revision on the go, as well as making mind maps so that you’re able to visualise how everything is set out in the study design.
One issue students run into when it comes to learning metalanguage is that they’re able to define and give examples for metalanguage terms, however, they are unable to understand how those terms fit into the categories under each subsystem. For example, a student is able to remember what a metaphor is, but unable to recall that it fits under semantic patterning. Similarly, a student may know what a pause is, but not know if it’s part of prosodic features or discourse features.
It’s important to know what all the categories are because the short answer questions usually ask you to identify features under a particular category (e.g. you’d be asked to talk about semantic patterning, not metaphor or pun). Therefore, spending time on just revising the definitions alone isn’t sufficient in learning metalanguage. You also need to be able to ensure that you can recall which category each term fits under. Refer to the study design (pages 17-18), for a list of categories you need to remember; these include:
- Prosodic features
- Vocal effects
- Phonological patterning
- Processes in connected speech
- Word classes, word formation processes
- Sentence types
- Sentence structures
- Syntactic patterning
- Features of spoken discourse
- Strategies of spoken discourse
- Semantic patterning
- Sense relations/other semantics
Using Meaningful Examples in Essays
When you talk about a certain variety of English, say for example ethnolects or teen speak, rather than just providing a lexical example or translation, try to find a contemporary example of the term being used in the media, online or by a prominent individual. For example, rather than saying:
‘The lexeme ‘bet’ is an example of teen speak which allows young people to establish solidarity’,
you could say:
‘Bakery owner Morgan Hipworth, who largely has a teenage following and is a young person himself, employs teenspeak in a video recipe, where he responds to the question “Can you make a 10 layer cheese toastie?” with “Bet, let’s go.”’
This will provide you with a better opportunity to talk about in-groups and identity, rather than just defining and identifying an example as part of a particular variety. In doing so, you’re better able to address the roles of different linguistic examples in a contextualised and detailed manner.
In Building Essay Evidence Banks for English Language you’ll see that a short analysis for each of your examples (the ones you are collecting throughout the year) is encouraged, but, you could take things one step further - add on an extra column and combine your analysis and example in a practice sentence. Head to the blog to learn more about building evidence banks.