Literature versus Language & Literature: The LangLit Perspective


Hello juniors!

If you’re reading this article, you’re probably asking yourself the very same question I was asking myself two years ago: should I take literature, or language and literature? I was facing a huge dilemma in the days leading up to the subject combination submission deadline, unsure of what I was getting myself into, so to save you the trouble, I’ll provide you with an outline of what you can expect in the language and literature course over your two years of IB.

The Curriculum


In this section of the LangLit course, you will learn how language is utilized and manipulated in a wide range of text types in order to achieve its desired effect on the audience. This includes analysing how language is used in a political speech to sway the audience to act in favour of the politician’s objectives, how the features in an advertisement entice the audience to buy the featured product, or how a satirical comic strip mocks an issue and conveys this message to the audience.

The language component of the LangLit course is split into modules: 4 modules for SL, and 5 for HL. The language curriculum is taught based on the 4 modules that your teachers have selected—during my time, the modules were Language & Gender (i.e. analysing how language is used in text types such as pop songs, advertisements etc to portray gender equality/inequality), Language & Power (i.e. analysing how language is used in a political rally to advocate a political movement), Language & Community (i.e. analysing how language defines a particular group of people), Language & Beliefs (i.e. analysing how language is used to reinforce people’s beliefs), and for HL, an additional module on Popular Culture (i.e. analysing how language is used to promote mainstream movements such as the Flower Power era or the generation of memes).


The literature component in the LangLit course is what you would typically expect from any literature syllabus—reading and subsequently dissecting a literary work. The literary texts are split into two groups, Part 3 and Part 4 texts, and each group of texts is used for different parts of the course (don’t worry, I’ll elaborate on this a little later).

Our literary texts include works by novelists, poets and playwrights: during my time, the studied texts from Part 3 were The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, The Outsider by Albert Camus, (and additionally for HL) Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys; the Part 4 texts include King Lear by William Shakespeare, poems by Seamus Heaney for SL, poems by William Butler Yeats for HL, and (additionally for HL) I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

The Assignments

Written Tasks

Written Tasks (WTs) are long-term assignments (by this, I mean that you are given a couple of weeks to complete and submit it) that give you a chance to be as creative and original as possible. Over the course of your two years, you will complete a few language WTs and literature WTs, one of which will be counted for your final grade. There are two different sets of prompts for language WTs and literature WTs, and as long as your WT complies with any one of the prompts, you can do almost anything under the sun! For example, for a language WT you could submit a travel brochure for a holiday package to Greece, or a magazine article featuring an interview with a world-renowned actress or fashion designer, or a movie review of the latest blockbuster hit. For a literature WT, you can come up with any text type that somehow relates to one of your texts—for example, you could craft a police report investigating the car accident that killed Myrtle Wilson in The Great Gatsby, or you could take on the persona of a journalist and submit a newspaper feature on Meursault’s trial in The Outsider.

The only major limitation is that your WT cannot exceed one thousand words—this includes every single bit of text from the caption accompanying a photograph in a newspaper feature to the date scrawled at the top of a diary entry. Apart from that, given that your WT adequately fulfils the requirements of the prompt, you can do anything you want!

HL students will have an additional graded WT called the Critical Response. This typically takes the form of a one thousand-word essay, and the component you use for your CR paper will be the one you didn’t use for your other WT (so, if your first WT was a language WT, your CR must be literature-based). The CR isn’t as fun and flexible as WT1 because it’s a critical analysis essay, but, like WT1, you will be given a few prompts (basically essay questions) that your arguments must answer.

Further Oral Activity

The Further Oral Activity, or what we call the FOA, is possibly my favourite assignment in the IB LangLit course. The FOA is a verbal presentation lasting ten minutes (or twenty if you do it in a pair) on any topic of your choice that fits into one of your language modules. In this assignment, you extract how language is used in a medium to convey a message, or portray an issue.

What I did for my FOA was analyse the differences in how language is used between the classic Sherlock Holmes novels written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the modern BBC production, Sherlock (starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman). This included anything from the way the characters addressed each other to the incorporation of modern technology in the modern TV production.

One of my classmates investigated how language is manipulated to portray reverse stereotypes, under the module of Language & Gender. She looked at television shows that depicted women who defied stereotypes, like dumb Asians and smart blondes instead of the stereotypical smart Asians and dumb blondes (think London Tipton and Maddie from The Suite Life of Zack and Cody!).

Individual Oral Commentary

Any IB student, Lit or LangLit, will tell you that the IOC is the bane of their IB experience. Unfortunately, the IOC is something you can’t escape from.

The IOC takes place sometime in August of Year 6, and it’s one of the most hectic and stressful periods in the entire IB experience. In preparation of the IOC, LangLit students study (very thoroughly and intensively) their Part 4 texts (that’s two texts for SL students and three for HL students) and pick out as many literary devices they can find. During the actual IOC, you will enter a holding room and see ten identical plain envelopes laid out on the table. Each envelope contains an extract from any of your Part 4 texts. You will pick an envelope at random, open it, and then you will be given twenty minutes to annotate your selected extract.

After your reading/annotating time, you will enter a room with one of the LangLit teachers, and give a 10-12 minute oral commentary on your randomly chosen extract, which the teacher will record. After your commentary, the teacher will ask you a few questions on the extract or ask you to elaborate on any of the points that you mentioned. The entire ordeal takes place for no more than fifteen minutes, so it may be a nine-minute commentary and a six-minute Q&A or a twelve-minute commentary and a three-minute Q&A.

(It’s pretty awful, but the post-IOC euphoria is one of the most liberating feelings ever, only second to the post-IB ecstasy.)

The Examination

The written examination that you will sit for in November comprises two papers: the language paper and the literature paper.

The Language Paper (Paper 1)

The language paper is basically an unseen paper. For SL LangLit, the paper contains two text types for students to choose from, to identify stylistic and linguistic—these include the purpose of the text, the use of diction, imagery, typography, structure etc. There are also no limits to what the text type may be: a movie poster, a news article, a eulogy. If you choose to take SL LangLit, you’ll have one and a half hours to write your textual analysis on one of the two given texts.

For HL students, Paper 1 is a comparative textual analysis, meaning that apart from conducting the basic analysis, the essay must identify and describe the similarities and differences between the stylistic and linguistic features used in each text. The two text types usually include one literary text and one non-literary text, and they are usually very different in terms of content apart from one common, overarching theme. For example, my Year 5 end-of-year exam included an excerpt from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (an extract on the Basilisk) and magazine feature on anacondas. There are two pairs of text types to choose from, and HL students will have two hours to complete their comparative textual analysis.

The Literature Paper (Paper 2)

The literature paper is like any old literature paper: you will answer one of six different questions to choose from. For SL students, you will have one and a half hours to write your essay based on both your Part 3 texts; HL students, you will have two hours to write your essay on at least two (we usually just use two) of your Part 3 texts. This paper will require you to make in-depth references to your texts, in other words, memorise quotes!

That’s it from me, and I really hope that after reading this rather lengthy article on what you can expect from LangLit, you will have a much clearer idea on whether this subject is for you. For all of you prospective LangLit students, I advise you to take this course with an open mind and really just enjoy what the subject has to offer. There is a lot of room for creativity and imagination, so it’s up to you to use that to your advantage and have fun!

Nicola Chew is from the graduating batch of 2014.

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