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Is English Subjective?

A visual text: Breaking Dawn Book Cover
Ever wondered why a book about vampires, werewolves and teen romance has chess pieces on the cover?
© 2008 Little, Brown and Co.

As a maths person, I never really “got” English when I was in school. I passed with a B, but I never completely understood the things my English teachers were trying to teach me. Maths teachers made it easy – they put a formula on the board, we copied it down and then used it in example questions. English teachers preferred to “talk about stuff” and somehow I left every English lesson with nothing written in my notes.

Like many people, I thought English was a very subjective subject. If the teacher liked what you’d written (in other words, if the teacher liked “you”), you’d get a good mark. If the teacher didn’t like you, you’d get a bad mark. If I struggled with an essay I’d just “waffle on about something” and hope the teacher bought it.

These old memories resurfaced recently when the parent of an existing maths student asked me: “do you guys tutor English? Can someone even be tutored in English? How does a person get better at English?”.

This last question, and the number of people who’ve told me they feel English is subjective, got me thinking. Why do people feel this way? Is English a “fluffy” subject?

Since we’ve started offering English tutoring at Allstar Learning I’ve taken a much greater interest in English and I’ve come to the conclusion that English really isn’t subjective at all. I think that people who say English is subjective just don’t know what they should be looking for when required to write an essay. Sure, we may all read texts and interpret them differently, but as long as you can argue your point effectively and back it up with evidence, you should receive a good mark.

I even think it’s possible to be able to read, write, spell and punctuate perfectly but still not fully “get” what English is about.

English is the study of how we communicate with each other via “texts”. A text is not just a book however, it can be a movie, a poster, a song, an image, a website, a blog post, nearly anything really. All these texts fit into a few categories – persuasive, creative, interpretive or analytical – and each text type has a different purpose. Each of these text types try to achieve their purpose in various ways.

A novel for example is a creative text who’s main purpose is to entertain. It does this through various narrative conventions such as characterisation, setting, plot, theme, point of view, etc. These are the tools the text’s creator has at their disposal to achieve their aim.

What’s interesting however is that the front cover of the novel is also a text, and one that is quite separate from the novel itself. The front cover has its own purpose – to persuade people to buy/read the book. Thus the cover is a persuasive text and it has its own devices to achieve its aim – imagery, framing, composition, rule of thirds, etc.

This blog post is also a persuasive text – I’m trying to persuade you that English is not subjective and that it certainly can be tutored, however as this post isn’t a visual text, I need to use different devices in order to achieve my aim.

Once these text types and devices are pointed out to students they really start to “get” English and good results soon follow.

Making students aware of these devices so that they can excel at English is our aim at Allstar Learning.

If your child is struggling with English, book them in to see us so we can get them back on track today.


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Hayden Smith

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