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 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 be able to study these modules:

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

You will also be able to choose your optional modules from a range of modules which are oriented towards the study of language teaching and learning, or the study of translation theory and practice. Full module information is available below.


All core and optional modules on this course are assessed by written assignment. You will also complete a 15,000-word dissertation.

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.

This programme outline relates to start dates up to and including July 2018 and is subject to change from October 2018.

Why study this course


  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Access to excellent resources – you will have free access to the 450 million-word Bank of English corpus, and to the hardware, software and data resources held at the Centre for Corpus Research. You will also have access to online resources such as the Academic Writing Advisory Service and the Bank of Assessed Work to help with transitioning to postgraduate studies. We also have an extensive and growing range of books and journals available through the University's online library.
  • Personal tutor – your personal tutor will be on hand to answer questions regarding the content of your programme and give advice on what to read and on writing your assignments.
  • Excellent reputation – The Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics is one of the oldest and largest of its kind in the country. The distance programmes have been running for more than twenty years and have gained an excellent reputation. The online materials have been developed by experts in the field with a range of research interests and specialisms. The University has also been ranked as one of the world's top 50 institutions to study English Language and Literature in the 2018 QS World Rankings.


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You will be able to study these 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 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.
  • 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.

For your fifth module, you will choose from the following two options:

Language Teaching Methodology and Classroom Research and Research methods

  • Language Teaching Methodology. You will examine a number of concepts central to the methodology of teaching second languages. Our primary intention is to introduce you to a wide range of ideas which we hope will allow you to reflect on your own teaching and learning experience.
  • Classroom Research and Research Methods. You will be introduced to concepts and techniques used in research carried out in 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.

Introduction to Translation Research

This module introduces the most significant aspects of translation in terms of theory and practice. General issues that arise when a text is rendered into another language will be considered by drawing on key areas in linguistic and textual analysis. The process and product of translations will be discussed in relation to social and cultural contexts. The theoretical background will be exemplified by a variety of translated texts from different languages.

For your final module, you have free choice from a range of modules which typically includes the following: 

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

Please note that the optional module information listed on the website for this programme is intended to be indicative, and the availability of optional modules may vary from year to year. Where a module is no longer available we will let you know as soon as we can and help you to make other choices.

Fees and funding

This programme is charged per module.

  • Fees for 20-credit modules up to July 2018: £1,040 per module.
  • Fees for 20-credit modules from October 2018-July 2019: £1,080 per module.

A fee is also payable for the dissertation - this is charged at the applicable rate for the academic year in which it is submitted. As a guide, dissertation fees are £3,120 in 2017/18 and £3,240 in 2018/19.

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

Application deadlines for this programme are as follows – 

Entry point: 1 February – application deadline 1 January
Entry point: 1 April – application deadline 1 March
Entry point: 1 July – application deadline 1 June

Applications for October and December 2018 are expected to open in spring 2018.

Please note: Deferral requests for this programme will be considered on a case-by-case basis and will not normally be permitted for more than one calendar year from the start date originally applied for. 

Before you make your application

You may wish to register your interest with us to receive regular news and updates on postgraduate life within this Department and the wider University.

Making your application

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 our department 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 Applied Linguistics students.

For more information on distance learning including answers to frequently asked questions, student experiences and funding opportunities, please see our distance learning website

Related research

Your degree will provide excellent preparation for employment and this will be further enhanced by a range of employability support services offered by the University.

The University's Careers Network provides advice and information specifically for postgraduates that will help you to develop an effective career and skills development strategy, and to make the most of your time with us at the University. The College of Arts and Law also has a dedicated careers and employability team to deliver local support.

In addition to a range of campus-based events and workshops, Careers Network provides extensive online resources, and comprehensive listings of hundreds of graduate jobs and work experience opportunities.

You will also be able to access our full range of careers support for up to two years after graduation.

Postgraduate employability: English Language and Applied Linguistics

Birmingham's English Language and Applied Linguistics postgraduates develop a broad range of transferable skills that are highly valued by employers, particularly in relation to verbal and written communication. They also develop crucial skills in organisation, time management, analysis and interpretation of information.

Many of our graduates enter roles for which their programme has prepared them, such as teaching and lecturing; others use their transferable skills in a wide range of occupations including journalism, marketing and events.