How to Choose: Language or Language & Literature?

In many IB schools, students have the choice to pick between studying English Literature, or English Language and Literature. These two options appear for every language that you study as a language A (meaning a language you are fluent in), such as French, Russian, Spanish and more. If your school does offer the two options, then you might be wondering what the differences are between the two, and which one you should pick.

As a disclaimer, I have studied English Literature and French Language and Literature, so I can give insights about the differences and similarities between the courses.

The Syllabus

Both literature and language & literature courses have to sit the same exam papers, however the content varies slightly. For Paper 1, the Unseen, literature students will have to analyse a piece of strictly literary work -- such as a poem, an extract of a play or prose. On the other hand, while language & literature students will also have to analyse an Unseen for Paper 1, the work they are presented will not be literary -- they might have the choice between a newspaper article, a picture, a song, a speech and more. Paper 2 asks for a comparison between two literary works for both courses, so there are no differences there. For HL students, the same goes for the HL essay. The only further difference in the syllabus concerns the IA, which is an oral in both cases. While literature students will need to point out a global issue in two literary works, language & literature students will explain how a global issue is presented in one literary and one non-literary work. Overall, the differences in the syllabus are minute, with literature students focusing solely on literary works while language & literature students have more range to analyse other types of works.

Skills Needed

To decide whether literature or language and literature is right for you, it is important to keep in mind the different skills necessary in each course.

Some skills are common to both courses, which include: critical thinking, analysis skills, deduction (reading between the lines), a large vocabulary, and more.

Other skills are more specific to literature: a love for classical texts, good knowledge of literary devices and a focus on analysis rather than argumentation.

Language & literature might be a good fit if you like: being informed on current events, marketing, business and psychology and the practical applications of a course.


The relative difficulty of a literature course and a language and literature course truly depends on your particular skill set. In addition, looking at the IB statistical bulletin for the May 2018 Examination Session, there seems to be no overall trend that one course grades better than the other. For the large majority of languages, the literature and language and literature courses have almost the same grade distribution. However, if you are interested in seeing the particular percentages for your language, to help you decide between the two courses, you can find them starting on page 16.

Future Interests

One last factor that you may want to consider is which course fits best to your future interests. If you are leaning towards a mathematical or scientific course, the language course which you pick should have no impact on your success in that course. If you are looking into law, political science, journalism, business, or majors in that realm, I would recommend the language and literature course as it will help you understand how public speaking, persuasion and marketing works through your analysis of ad campaigns, political speeches and newspaper articles. On the other hand, if you would like to go to university for literature, philosophy, classics or history, the literature course might be better for you, as the books and texts you will read will help you understand more about these subjects.

Both courses are equally as informative and interesting as the other, however deciding which one is the best fit for your interests and strengths can be useful to ensure you pick the right one. Good luck!