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Everything You Need to Know from the VCE English Language Study Design

Magnifying glass on a dictionary - English Language Study Design

Reading through the English Language study design and struggling to comprehend everything in it? Whether you’re doing units 1, 2, 3, or 4, we’ve got a breakdown of everything you need to know from it! 

If you’re studying VCE English, check out our guide on its study design!

Here we will take a look at each unit, and briefly dissect the topics and skills you will need in VCE English Language. 

Let’s get started! 

What is the most important part of the English Language study design?
Unit 1: Language and Communication
Unit 2: Language Change
Unit 3: Language Variation and Social Purpose
Unit 4: Language Variation and Identity

What is the most important part of the study design? 

Well really, the whole study design is important, so reading the whole thing will be the most beneficial.

But if you’re looking through the study design and aren’t really sure of which bits to pay attention to, no matter what unit you are doing, look at the key knowledge and key skill sections! These will dot-point the concepts that you will need to know in assessments, and the skills you will need in VCE English Language.

For example, here is an excerpt from the study design featuring the key knowledge and key skills from Unit 3 Area of Study 1:

Key knowledge and key skills example from English Language study design

One of the biggest things the study design mentions in this subject is metalanguage. It underpins everything in English Language, so I can’t stress how important it is that you learn and understand metalanguage! 

The Study Design: Unit 1 English Language

Speech bubbles - English Language study design

Unit 1 explores language and communication. In Unit 1, you will explore the way that language is ordered to make sense, and how it is used to connect among people and environments. Unit 1 is divided into two areas of study that you will be assessed on. 

Area of Study 1

Area of Study 1 explores the nature and functions of language. In this area of study, you will look at the ways language conveys meaning, through modes such as writing, speech and sign. You will also look at how paralinguistic features convey meaning. 

So what do some of these terms mean? 

All of this new knowledge can be confusing! So let’s clarify these things you’ll be learning. 

The Modes of Language

Writing: This refers to communication through written text. This can be any form of writing such as a book, letter, newspaper, etc. 

Speech: Communicating through vocalisation. This is the use of language through talking. 

Sign: This is the use of AUSLAN to communicate, aka, Australian sign language. This is a form of communication predominantly used by deaf or non-speaking people. 

Paralinguistic features: Paralinguistic features are ways of communicating that accompany these modes of language. These are things like gestures, facial expressions, body language etc. 

Area of Study 2 

Area of Study 2 explores language acquisition. This refers to the developmental stages of children in learning to speak. You will look at how children develop their communication abilities, develop phonologically and grammatically, and other such ideas. 

You will also learn about the major theories of child language acquisition. These are theories that have been developed by linguists to explain why children learn language the way they do! Chances are you will be exploring these theories in an analytical context, and will discuss the pros and cons of each theory. 

Another really interesting topic you will examine is how bilingualism and multilingualism (the ability to speak multiple languages), can change the way that a child learns language. 

The Study Design: Unit 2 English Language


This unit focuses on language change. This means that you will learn how language changes over time, and you will be considering the factors that have aided the spreading of English in a global context. You will explore how language has changed over the past, and ways that it may shift and change into the future!

A really interesting aspect of this unit is the globalisation of language. Through this, you will explore the repercussions culturally for the spread of English, including how this has increased the decline of Indigenous languages. 

Area of Study 1 

Your first area of study in unit 2 teaches you about English across time. To understand how language will change in the future, you have to have an understanding of the ways language has changed in the past.

English is a Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family, and through this Area of Study, you will explore its development from Old English, to Early Modern English, to Standard English. 

You will also look at the idea of ‘correct English’, and how language change is viewed by some communities as positive, and others negative. This will segue you into two important terms: Prescriptivism and Descriptivism. 

Well what do these terms mean? 

Prescriptivism: The belief that language should be set by explicit rules and should not be subject to change; it should be frozen, not static. 

Descriptivism: The belief that language should change over time and that language change is good as it progresses with society, enriching language. 

Area of Study 2 

Area of Study 2 explores Englishes in contact. Through this, you will look at how English has spread globally, and then you will explore the pros and cons of this spread. 

So what are some of the pros and cons of the spread of English? 

Well, one reason that English has spread over time is due to colonisation. This is a con, as it has led to the decline of many other languages and Indigenous languages.

However, English has also spread due to trade, which some may view as a pro, because it has allowed the facilitation of a global trade market.

In this area of study, you will look at how English has encouraged the development of English-based pidgins, creoles, and other language varieties.

You will also explore multilingualism, and how language and culture work together to mark identity, as well as code-switching, which can be used as a means of inclusion and exclusion in certain identities and contexts. 

What are some key terms that I should know for this area of study? 

To do well in this area of study, make sure you are familiar with the following terms: 

Lingua franca: A language that is used as a common language between speakers who have separate native languages. 

Pidgin: A pidgin is a common language that is used by two groups that speak different languages. 

Creole: A creole is the development of a pidgin language into a mother-tongue of a group of speakers.

Code switching: Code switching is when someone swaps between speaking two or more languages in a single context or conversation.

Linguistic relativism: The idea that how we use language and the language we speak affects the way we act.

Linguistic determinism: The idea that language limits and restricts someone’s perception of the world to a particular lens. 

The Study Design: Unit 3 English Language

Speech bubbles - English Language study design

This unit explores language variation and social purpose.

Through two areas of study, you will explore language formally and informally, and the stylistic features of both these kinds of language.

You will also explore how situational and cultural contexts influence texts. 

Some key terms to be aware of in this unit:

Function: A broad description of the reason why specific language is used. Some examples include ‘to persuade,’ or ‘to inform.’ 

Social Purpose: A specific reason for why certain language is used in different settings and contexts. Imagine for example a conference about emerging health research. The social purpose of the language used in this conference would be to share information about health and scientific health advancements. 

Mode: This refers to what mode of communication is used. Ask yourself, is this a speech, a text, or something else?

Register: This is how formal or informal the language is. Formality exists on a continuum, so some language may be moderately informal, or mostly informal with some aspects of formality, etc. 

Area of Study 1 

Area of Study 1 examines informal language. You are going to learn how to distinguish formal language from informal language, and the features and functions of informal language. 

So what are some things I need to know? 

Well, the best way that you can learn about informal language is to consider the ways that you use it!

Many of us use informal language when talking to our close friends and family, so if you start to examine the kinds of language you use in these situations and why, you can understand informal language better.

You will also need to make sure you know what metalanguage is associated with informal language. These include terms like colloquialisms, slang, non-fluency features, etc. 

Area of Study 2 

Area of Study 2 explores formal language. It’s basically the same as Area of Study 1, except you’re learning about formal language!

You’ll need to consider the ways that people use language to achieve social purposes associated with formal speech.

Formal language is important to enforce things like relationship hierarchies, such as boss to employee and so forth, and to build rapport in professional circumstances. It is important that you understand the various stylistic features of formal language, such as politeness strategies, prosodic features, paralinguistic features etc. 

The Study Design: Unit 4 English Language 

Australia on a globe

The final unit for VCE English Language! You’ve nearly made it! Unit 4 explores language variation and identity. You will be focussing on the ways that language challenges and establishes different identities.

A lot of this unit focusses on the ways that standard and non-standard English create and influence our identities socially and culturally. 

Area of Study 1 

Area of Study 1 explores language variation in Australian society. Through this, you will look at all the different language varieties in contemporary Australian society, and how these create a national identity that is shared socially.

A key part of this Area of Study is the variety of Australian English, and how it can gain prestige in certain contexts, which has actually helped to establish it as a legitimate form of a national variety of English. You will also look at regional variation, migrant ethnolects, and Aboriginal Englishes. 

Some key terms and concepts to note in Area of Study 1: 

Australian Accents: 

Broad accent: This is the accent most closely associated with the stereotypical ‘Crocodile Dundee,’ or ‘bogan’ accent. Interestingly, this accent has slower and wider diphthongs.

General accent: This accent is the one that is used by the majority of the Australian population. It has very centralised vowels.

Cultivated accent: To really simplify it, this accent is often considered a ‘posh’ way of speaking. It uses received pronunciation and much tighter vowel lengths, which makes it sound quite similar, (but not the same) to the way you might imagine a royal speaking! 

Regional variation: This refers to the way that Australian English is different in different regions. For example, the differences between the way someone living in Melbourne speaks, to the way someone living in Sydney speaks. 

Ethnolect: An ethnolect is like a dialect that is specifically spoken by a particular ethnic group. 

Area of Study 2 

Area of Study 2 explores individual and group identities. You will focus on how language creates and influences your identity individually, and how communities and groups use language to establish identity. 

For this unit, it is important to have some examples of groups, so that you can analyse the ways they use language to establish identity. 

Some examples include: 

  • Age groups 
  • Gender groups 
  • Occupation groups 
  • Ethnic groups 

Another important thing to understand is overt and covert norms. Overt norms refer to how prestige is created typically through standard English to give prestige in a wide range of contexts, whereas covert norms typically use non-standard English to develop prestige in local groups and smaller identities. 

In Area of Study 2, you will also learn about the ways that disadvantage and discrimination is used against certain groups and identities based on societal attitudes to their use of non-standard English. 

Check out our guide on writing an Argument Analysis for VCE English here!

There you have it!

That wraps it up for our deep dive into the English Language study design! 

So happy learning! Go have a read through of the study design, and enjoy VCE English Language.

Read our guide to acing your VCE English text responses here!

Are you looking for some extra help with preparing for your VCE English Language assessments?

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Maija Flood completed the VCE in 2021, so she knows how much work it can be. She is passionate about creating resources for students, and wants to help them feel confident about their studies! Maija is currently studying a Bachelor of Music at the University of Melbourne, and intends to major in clarinet performance.

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