MA Applied Linguistics (Distance Learning)

Are you interested in the relationship between language and society?

Do you want to learn more about how vocabulary works and what the difference between spoken and written language? 

Our MA in Applied Linguistics is intended for anyone interested in the application of language research to language pedagogy, and for teachers of English who wish to upgrade their professional standing. Studying this programme by distance learning, you will be provided with a set of interactive course materials to complete in part-time, self-study mode over a period of at least 30 months.

We also offer a full-time, on-campus programme over one year. For more information see Applied Linguistics MA.

Louise Barnes

Louise Barnes

“There are two modules which I really enjoyed doing and that's a Sociolinguistics module, particularly studying gender and language and then also the Systemic Functional Grammar because that sort of went into my love of grammar and understanding just a little bit more about how English language works. I also was able to come to Birmingham and do the summer course as a distance learner and I really enjoyed that. I met some great people on the summer course that was lovely. ”

The programme includes six taught modules and a 15,000-word dissertation on a subject of your choice, with one-to-one expert supervision.

You will take four core modules [full descriptions available below]:

  • Sociolinguistics and Lexis
  • Written Discourse and Classroom and Spoken Discourse
  • Understanding Text (Functional Grammar)
  • Corpus Linguistics

For your fifth module, you will follow one of two pairs of modules: one oriented towards the study of language teaching and learning, the other towards the study of translation theory and practice.

For your final module you can choose from a range of modules.

Sample module descriptions are available below. 

Please note: The deadline for applications is one calendar month ahead of your desired entry date, to allow adequate time for your application to be processed; see 'how to apply' below for further details.

Why study this course

1. Flexibility – we have multiple start dates throughout the year so you have the option of choosing when to commence your studies with us. You can study at home, in your own time and at your own pace, so you can combine achieving a qualification with other commitments. You also have the benefit of developing your career without having to leave employment.

2.  Real life application - you can begin to apply new knowledge and insights to your working life whilst you are still studying. Many students even choose to tackle work-related topics in their dissertations.

3. Opportunity to attend our Summer School –opportunity to attend one of our summer schools in Birmingham, Japan or Korea to learn more about the discipline and meet with academics and other students on the programme.

4. Access to fantastic resources – You will have access to online resources such as the Academic Writing Advisory Service and the Bank of Assessed Work to assist with your academic writing. Support includes individual tutorials and feedback via email and skype.

5. Personal Tutor – Your personal tutor will be on hand to answer questions regarding the content of your programme and give further advice. You will be able to contact your personal tutor via email or telephone.


You will study four core modules:

Sociolinguistics and Lexis

  • Sociolinguistics. You will examine ways in which language varies according to social context (that is, broadly speaking, according to who is speaking / writing, to whom, where, and for what purpose) and the relationships between different language varieties. The role of English as an international language is discussed, along with the functions of different languages in societies where two or more languages are used, and relationships between cultures and languages. Connections between language and ideology, and language and gender, are explored, along with other ‘micro-level’ topics including accent, dialect, and register. You are encouraged to undertake comparative work related to language in the society in which you live.
  • Lexis. You will explore a number of issues. What is the relationship between grammar and lexis? Recent work, particularly stemming from the University of Birmingham COBUILD projects, suggests that far from being separate levels the two are inextricably interwoven. Is there a real distinction? If there is not then is it worth maintaining an artificial distinction for pedagogic purposes? Within lexis how do words relate to one another? How do lexical relations help structure text? What does it mean to say that someone ‘knows’ or has ‘learnt’ a word? Concern with lexis is now moving towards a more central position in Applied Linguistics. How do we react to this trend?

Written Discourse and Classroom and Spoken Discourse

  • Written Discourse. You will consider the relationship between language, other semiotic features and society. You will be introduced to theories of discourse analysis and focuses on detailed textual analysis. This will enable you to develop a critical understanding of the key concepts involved in Discourse Analysis and of how language reflects, mediates or - arguably - creates our everyday reality. You are also introduced to two very important developments in Discourse Studies: Critical and Multimodal Discourse Analysis. By exposing you to current approaches to interaction, you should improve your own language production, both oral and written. We also hope you will be able to apply some of the theoretical input acquired to your own data.
  • Classroom and Spoken Discourse. This offers a general description of spoken discourse looking in particular at classroom discourse. It develops a linguistic approach to the analysis of discourse and shows how this can sharpen our awareness of spoken interaction, and in particular of the way teachers and students use language in the classroom. This provides us with an approach to a number of issues related to methodology. You will take a look at the broad differences between spoken and written discourse and consider the problems of introducing and handling a range of spontaneous discourses in the classroom.

Understanding Text (Functional Grammar)

The module introduces the key elements of the influential linguistic theory known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), an approach developed since the 1960s by the British-born, Australian linguist, Michael Halliday and his colleagues. Under this approach, language is analysed as a form of social interaction, and the grammatical description of the language is formulated so as to account for its communicative functionality within particular social and cultural contexts. This module examines how systemic linguistics can be applied to a variety of text analysis tasks relevant to different fields such as language and literacy teaching, translation studies, English for special purposes, the language of classroom interaction, media and cultural studies, and critical discourse analysis.

Corpus Linguistics

The University of Birmingham has a worldwide reputation for work in Corpus Linguistics, and is the home of 450 million-word Bank of English corpus. This provides access to data which helps researchers to answer important questions about language. For example: What are the 500 most frequent words in the language? Are they the same for spoken and written English? Is the use of any largely confined to negative and interrogative clauses (as many grammars would have us believe)? The aim is to help you become familiar with corpus analysis techniques so that you can carry out your own corpus research projects and/or use corpora in your day-to-day work.

You will also choose one of the following options:

a) Language Teaching and Learning

  •  Language Teaching Methodology. You will be introduced to a number of concepts central to the methodology of teaching second languages. You will encounter a wide range of ideas, which we hope will allow you to reflect on your own teaching experience.
  •  Classroom Research and Research Methods. You will explore concepts and techniques used in research in and into second language classrooms. This involves looking at two traditions: ‘action’ research, which usually involves examining classroom interactions with the intent of modifying or improving teacher behaviour; and experimental research, which involves looking at linguistic or other outcomes, with the purpose of making general statements about, for example, how language is (best) acquired.

b) Translation Theory and Practice

  •  Introduction to Translation Studies. This introduces the most significant aspects of translation in terms of theory and practice. It concentrates on general issues that arise when a text is rendered into another language by drawing on key areas in linguistic and textual analysis. The process and product of translation are considered in relation to social and cultural contexts. The theoretical background is exemplified by a variety of translated texts from different languages.
  •  Research Methods in Translation Studies. This looks at ways of examining and comparing source and target texts, and shows how both qualitative and quantitative comparisons can provide important insights into the question of quality control in translation. You look at the use of introspection and protocols by practising translators and some of the technical tools available to, and used by, translators.

Finally, for your optional module, you will choose one of the following topics and complete one coursework assignment:

  • Multimodal Communication
  • Translation and Language Pedagogy

Or any two from these half-modules:

  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Pedagogic Grammar
  • ELT Management
  • Testing
  • Teaching Young Learners

Related staff

Fees and funding

Fees for entry in February, April or July 2016:

  • £970 per module
  • £2,910 for the dissertation

Fees for entry in October 2016:

  • £1,000 per module
  • £3,000 for the dissertation

Eligibility for Home/EU or Overseas fees can be verified with Admissions. Learn more about fees for international students

Tuition fees can either be paid in full or by instalments. Learn more about postgraduate tuition fees and funding.

Scholarships and studentships

Scholarships to cover fees and/or maintenance costs may be available. To discover whether you are eligible for any award across the University, and to start your funding application, please visit the University's Postgraduate Funding Database.

Entry requirements

We usually ask for a good Honours degree, or overseas equivalent. However, when considering your application, we always look at your qualifications and work experience as well as your academic credentials. For this reason, it is important to provide details of any current and/or previous employment in your application; it is always helpful to include a current CV but please complete the relevant sections of the application form as well.

Learn more about entry requirements

International students

Academic requirements

We accept a range of qualifications; our country pages show you what qualifications we accept from your country.

English language requirements

You can satisfy our English language requirements in two ways:

How to apply

When clicking on the Apply Now button you will be directed to an application specifically designed for the programme you wish to apply for where you will create an account with the University application system and submit your application and supporting documents online. Further information regarding how to apply online can be found on the How to apply pages

Apply now

Our study materials are produced by academic staff in the specialist areas and are available online through the University's 'virtual learning environment'.

They contain aims and objectives, reading lists, summaries of readings, activities and commentaries, discussion and reflection tasks, indexes and details of assignments required. On joining you are provided with a course handbook that introduces you to the team, provides details of their roles and expertise and gives all the contact information you will need including email addresses so that if you have any difficulties or questions you will know who to contact for help and guidance.

Although much of the course is delivered through the virtual learning environment, support is always available. You will have a personal tutor and dissertation supervisor to guide you and answer any questions, and you will be able to consult academic staff in Birmingham via Skype.

We also run week-long face-to-face seminars in the summer. These are free, and open to all distance learning students on English Language MA programmes.

You will also become part of, and contribute to, the vibrant international community of the College of Arts and Law Graduate School, which offers dedicated research resources and a supportive working environment. Our team of academic and operational staff are on hand to offer support and advice to all postgraduate students within the College.

Support with academic writing

As a postgraduate student in the College of Arts and Law, you have access to the Academic Writing Advisory Service (AWAS) which aims to help your transition from undergraduate to taught Masters level, or back into academia after time away. The service offers guidance on writing assignments and dissertations for your MA/MSc programme with individual support from an academic writing advisor via tutorials, email and the provision of online materials.

International students can access support through the English for International Students Unit (EISU).

Related research

The University has been recognised for its impressive graduate employment, being named ‘University of the Year for Graduate Employment’ in The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016.

In addition, the global edition of The New York Times has ranked the University 60th in the world and 9th in UK for post-qualification employability. The rankings illustrate the top 150 universities most frequently selected by global employers and are the result of a survey by French consulting firm Emerging and German consulting firm Trendence.

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by the employability skills training offered through the College of Arts and Law Graduate School. The University also offers a wide range of activities and services to give our students the edge in the job market, including: career planning designed to meet the needs of postgraduates; opportunities to meet employers face-to-face at on-campus recruitment fairs, employer presentations and skills workshops; individual guidance on your job applications, writing your CV and improving your interview technique; and access to comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

Over the last five years, over 95% of English postgraduates have been in work and/or further study six months after graduation using the transferable skills gained in their postgraduate degree. Graduate occupations have included banking, the charity sector, education, higher education, local government, police, PR, and media.