School of English and Languages

Welcome to the School of English and Languages at the University of Surrey. The School brings together the academic disciplines of English literature, creative writing, modern languages, linguistics, intercultural communication and translation studies.

Highlights

OUR REPUTATION

1st in the 2016 National Student Survey for English
1st in the 2016 National Student Survey for Iberian Studies
5th in the Times and Sunday Times League Table 2017 - Creative Writing
4th in The Guardian League Table 2018 - Modern Languages & Linguistics
10th in The Guardian League Table 2018 - English and Creative Writing
10th in the Times and Sunday Times League Table 2017 - English 
100% Employment rate for School graduates

Monica Ali – Distinguished Writer in Residence

Read our Q&A to learn more about the critically acclaimed author’s role at Surrey and discover her top tips for aspiring creative writers.

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Surrey Morphology Group (SMG)

In 2007, Surrey’s linguists created a modern dictionary and online resource for Archi, an endangered language spoken by about 1,200 people in the remote highlands of Dagestan, Russia. The Surrey Morphology Group concentrates on some of the most complex and interesting languages in the world. Find out more.

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The Literary Legacy of Surrey

Surrey has a rich literary heritage and many well-known writers have strong links to the area, renowned for its picturesque villages and the Surrey Hills

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Centre for Translation Studies (CTS)

Established in 1982 CTS has an international reputation for innovative teaching, scholarship and research in Translation Studies.

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Clare Holt, MFA Creative Writing

MFA Creative Writing student Clare Holt shares her experiences studying at Surrey and how it led to the publication of a book of short stories, launched at the 2016 Surrey New Writers Festival.

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Global Graduate Award (GGA)

Find out more about our free language courses open to all students in the University 

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English Language Programmes

Find out more about our English Language support programme, pre-sessional courses and IELTS test centre

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Lecturer in Spanish and Translation Studies Dr Lucy Bell’s blog for the Huffington Post

Read her latest post

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Creative Writing

Ranked number 5 by The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017 Creative Writing at Surrey enables you to benefit from the wide-ranging expertise and passion of a vibrant group of published authors and academics including our Distinguished Writer in Residence, Monica Ali.

 

Undergraduate Programmes

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IELTS

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Evening Language Classes

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Postgraduate Programmes

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School of English and Languages Blog

  • Current PhD Creative Writing student Melissa Addey writes about her recent research trip to China.

    I should have known there would be trouble ahead when I watched a documentary with my husband about Beijing. The camera panned across the cityscape and I recoiled. “It’s so ugly,” I wailed. My husband laughed. “You’ve got 18th century Beijing in your head,” he pointed out. “It’s not like that anymore.” I knew that, of course, but it was still hard to reconcile the screen’s offering with my imagination.

    My PhD is in Creative Writing, for which I will need to complete two components. One is a full-length novel, the other is an academic element of about 30,000 words, exploring some aspect relevant to the novel. I am writing a novel set in 1700s China, a prequel to a novel and novella already written and set in that era. It is the story of a Jesuit priest-painter and a concubine who became Empress Dowager and their relationship with one another as well as with the Garden of Perfect Brightness, the Yuan Ming Yuan. My academic element asks how writers of historical fiction recreate lost landscapes. It includes analyses of other novels in the historical fiction genre to see how their authors have brought past settings to life as well as considering my own work and how the reader might experience the past through reading historical fiction.

    The Yuan Ming Yuan was originally a simple country estate, gifted to a prince who unexpectedly rose to become Emperor. He began to craft the (very large) estate, adding flora and fauna and decorative buildings, using it as a quiet escape from his formal life. His son, the Qianlong Emperor, went on to turn it into the Imperial Summer Palace, every inch of it manicured and shaped to his whims. By the time he had finished its development it included miniature gardens, manmade mountains and lakes, a ‘shopping street’ designed to mimic the real world so that concubines could pretend to haggle with eunuch stallholders, a pretend ‘farm’ (think Marie Antoinette as shepherdess) and gigantic decorative ‘stone gardens’ transported thousands of miles from the south of China. It also had ‘Western Palaces’, created by the Jesuit painter-priest, an exotic European flourish set in the midst of Oriental splendour. Sadly this wonderworld did not make it to the present day unscathed. In 1860, during the Opium Wars, British and French troops burned and pillaged the Yuan Ming Yuan, leaving it a broken ruin for many decades.

    Today the Yuan Ming Yuan is a gigantic and charming park, a major tourist attraction in Beijing. Ancient pines mix with flowering cherries, there are lakes, rivers, canals and streams everywhere: it is something like a countryside Venice. Little pleasure boats float you from one island to another. A Western visitor, unaware of its history, would see a very beautiful park. It’s only when you begin to notice odd flat areas amidst the manmade hills, a few tumbled blocks of carved stone, an island containing the foundations for a building that isn’t there that you realise that something is missing: the many buildings that were destroyed and never replaced.

    I have been researching this location, amongst others in China, for years.  I have seen endless drawings, engravings of how it used to be, CGI reconstructions. I have immersed myself in its history. It is not just a location for the novel I am writing now, I regard it almost as a character in itself.  To actually go and stand there was hugely exciting. I had my family in tow: my PhD journey is unavoidably built around two small children, something that can be both a blessing and a curse.

    Our first day of sightseeing and we arrived at the Yuan Ming Yuan by about 9am (it opens at 7am). I was excited, ready to see something lovely, camera at the ready, notepad and pen in hand to jot down inspiring writerly thoughts. This was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.

    It didn’t take long to feel disappointment kicking in. My five-year-old son persisted in trying to climb along the rocky edges of deep lakes or wanted to wade into the muddy areas where he had spotted tiny fishes and other things to poke at with twigs. I couldn’t look about me because he seemed in constant peril. When I finally did, there were local Chinese tourists everywhere, blocking scenic views, trying to photograph my daughter (for her blue eyes), wanting to try out their English on us and above all talking (how dare they?), making lots of noise so that I found it impossible to feel the ‘atmosphere’ I’d so much discussed with my supervisors ahead of the trip. Along the delicate winding paths were row after row of vendors, selling tourist tat and snacks. Fake rocks hid speakers which piped out traditional Chinese music, perhaps to give an ‘authentic’ feel to the surroundings. We got lost multiple times, it’s very hard to keep your sense of place when the style of gardening aims to keep you within one scenic view at a time (there is no place within the whole complex where you can see the entire landscape laid out before you).

    I snapped. I told off the children, gave up taking photos, got a grim look on my face and started to walk ever faster through the landscape, barely looking at it, ranting at my husband that this whole trip was going to be a disaster: it was unpleasant, impossible for me to get any idea of it as it would have been in the 1700s, it was horrible, commercial, my family was in the way. I was angry and disappointed. If I hadn’t ranted I would probably have cried.

    My husband herded the children away and left me alone for a while. When we regrouped they had found a tiny dried-up lake, bereft of tourists but complete with a waterfall of rocks and a flowering cherry tree. The children clambered over rocks that were not perilously close to deep water and I found myself relaxing a little. Thinking about the characters in my novel I focused on the fact that the future Emperor Qianlong grew up in this place. He was a child here. I had my concubines strolling along pathways and over bridges, elegant and poised. But what does a little boy do in such a landscape, princeling or commoner? He finds a twig and pokes at fishes, of course, he climbs over rocks even though his mother begs him not to. My son had inadvertently shown me how my prince would behave in this place.

    We left and saw other sights. I studied the layout of the Garden and returned to see the ruins of the Western Palaces. We got up much earlier and had a more peaceful visit. There is only one reconstructed building in the Garden: a stone maze I have used once before in a novel and am about to use again. We walked in it and managed to get lost, which pleased me. I stood where the Emperor would have stood. We sat in a pleasure boat and floated across the lakes, escaping the piped music and experiencing a mode of transport that has not changed much in three hundred years. My husband, a keen photographer, took hundreds of beautiful photos. It was a fun and pleasant place to play as a family.

    On my last day in China I returned for the third time to the Garden of Perfect Brightness. I went alone and got up at half past five in the morning to arrive just before opening time. I turned away from the most obvious tourist sections and headed to where the imperial family actually lived during the time my novel is set. There is a small lake surrounded by nine islets, each linked by a little bridge. The whole place seemed to be bursting into bloom. The piped music was silent for the first hour of the day and I heard birdsong. I walked from islet to islet, wondering what it would be like to live there, seeing for myself that you could spot someone you knew even on the other side of the lake, that the tiny streams seemed to divide up territories. I found a place that was once ‘Apricot Blossom Spring Villa’, one of the official Forty Views (scenic spots) of the Garden. It contained tall trees grown up around stone ruins and millions of tiny violet flowers. I sat alone and listened to the birdsong, my writing pad on my knee. I smelt the flowers and felt the lake breezes on my skin. I thought about my lead female character and how she would have seen her home go from the peaceful country retreat of a minor noble family to the decorated and managed Imperial Summer Palace. How she might have missed its birdsong and quietness when she saw the noisy ‘shopping street’ and found the little pathways filled up with servants and officials, courtiers and the many, many gardeners it would take to sculpt the Garden into her son’s lavish vision for it.

    I learnt a lot on this trip. I learnt that if you want to look at tourist sights uninterrupted, you need to get up good and early, it makes a huge difference. I learnt that maps and drawings are no substitute for being there, especially if you are spatially challenged like me. Above all I learnt that your own feelings about a place can translate into your fictional world and that the actions of others in a place are worth noting: they may be interacting with that landscape in a way that has escaped you but which may be important for characters in your work.

    Beryl Bainbridge, one of the historical fiction writers whose works I am analysing for my academic component, said that her own life experiences helped her to write historical fiction. “(our imagination) must surely grow with us, built from lost conversations and forgotten events, dependent on impressions and sensations which fall through the mind like shooting stars; gathered from fuzzy remembrances of pictures in story books, of wallpaper patterns, fragments of nursery rhymes and Sunday school parables, whispers in the next room, footsteps in the dark, etc. etc.”[1]

    My time in the Garden of Perfect Brightness has brought new impressions and sensations with which to feed my imagination in recreating this landscape for a new audience.

     

    Melissa Addey is in her first year of a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Surrey. She writes historical fiction set in 1700s China and you can try one of her books at www.melissaaddey.com/free

     

    Image of the Apricot Blossom Spring Villa, one of the Forty Views of the Yuan Ming Yuan by Shen Yuan, Tangdai, Wang Youdun – MIT, from Wikimedia Commons.

    [1] Beryl Bainbridge, 1987, Forever England, BBC Books: UK p.58

  • School of English and Languages graduate  Ellie Kerr-Smiley will return to chair a panel at the upcoming Surrey New Writers Festival on 6 May 2017.  In this blog post, Ellie writes about her experiences at Surrey and her development as a creative writer.

     

    When I first attended The Surrey New Writer’s Festival as a nineteen-year-old second year at the University of Surrey, I honestly had no idea what a writer’s festival would be. Three years and two degrees later, I’ll be returning to The New Writer’s Festival to chair the panel ‘Genre and the Novel’.Transitioning from ‘English Literature and Creative Writing’ student at Surrey to speaker has been a long process that has somehow rushed by in the space of four years. Just two months after my eighteenth birthday, I found myself arriving at the University of Surrey campus, teary-eyed and blotchy-faced, and stumbled into the crumbling student accommodation I was to call home for the next twelve months (and that I would still be reminded of, four years later, whenever I catch a whiff of off-milk or damp walls). I was utterly clueless of many things when I arrived at university, but it was my literary ignorance that shone through the most in my first year at Surrey.

    Transitioning from ‘English Literature and Creative Writing’ student at Surrey to speaker has been a long process that has somehow rushed by in the space of four years. Just two months after my eighteenth birthday, I found myself arriving at the University of Surrey campus, teary-eyed and blotchy-faced, and stumbled into the crumbling student accommodation I was to call home for the next twelve months (and that I would still be reminded of, four years later, whenever I catch a whiff of off-milk or damp walls). I was utterly clueless of many things when I arrived at university, but it was my literary ignorance that shone through the most in my first year at Surrey.

    By my second year, I’d begun to find my academic footing, but I was still wobbly. The best parts of my week were the Creative Writing classes that I took as part of my degree; the teaching was inspiring and thought provoking, the books were incredible and the work was challenging. However, I found myself getting confused: what kind of writer was I? What kind of writer did I want to be? Is there even any space for me, with so many other writers out there? All I’d ever wanted to do was write, but now I was lost between paperbacks and people far more talented than myself.

    Early in the second semester of my second year, I attended my first New Writer’s Festival at the invitation of my lecturer, and the festival’s director, Dr Holly Luhning, and sat in on the panel ‘Novelists on the Novel’. What struck me the most about the speakers that day were how different each of them were; how different their work was from each other’s. If there was space for their work, then why couldn’t there be space for me? I began to experiment with my work, as and I did, my writing began to flourish. I became fiercely resistant to picking a style or genre, trying my hand at all and none.

    I stayed on at Surrey after I graduated, and began a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing. This time around I wasn’t wobbly or lost; I didn’t know what kind of writer I was and that was okay. I volunteered at the New Writer’s Festival that year; in the space of two years the festival had grown dramatically and it was brilliant and exhausting and inspiring all at once. I found myself talking confidently to people about my work. Somewhere, in the few years between arriving at Surrey as a shaky teenager on a rainy Sunday, and standing at the festival that day, I’d become someone who had something worth saying, about books, about writing, about herself. When people asked what style or genre I wrote, I told them ‘I don’t. But here’s what I’m working on right now.’ I lacked definition, and I liked it.

    In six days’ time I will graduate from my Master’s Degree with a distinction, and will be awarded the MA Creative Writing Award. I still write a lot. I write prose, I make comics, I experiment a lot with hybrid visual-textual narratives. Is that my niche? Do I need one at all? I’m still not sure of the answer to that, but what I do know is that I wouldn’t even be asking the question, if it weren’t for Surrey.

    On May 6th 2017, I will chair the panel ‘Genre and the Novel’, where the importance of genre and labels in literature will be discussed by a panel of novelists. Perhaps it will change my mind, but, for now, I’m very happy being label-less.

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Dr Ana Frankenberg-Garcia awarded AHRC grant

Dr Ana Frankenberg-Garcia has been awarded a large AHRC grant entitled 'Collocaid': combining learner needs, lexicographic data and digital writing environments to help learners write more idiomatically. 

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Lecturer in Spanish awarded AHRC Research Grant

Dr Lucy Bell (University of Surrey), in collaboration with Alex Flynn (University of Durham), has been awarded a Research Grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

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