Learning English in the UK can be an enriching way to discover the country while immersing yourself in the language to boost your skills or quickly improve your language level.
The UK — the birthplace of the English language — has a rich literature heritage and rich history, which is often taught and experienced as part of learning the language in the country.
Summer Schools, International English Schools, and private tutoring are common place in in the UK and exist throughout the country. You can choose to study in a bustling city, on the British seaside, or in the tranquil countryside. Deciding which course and where to study will depend on what you want to achieve, your budget, and your preferences.
What English level am I?
Even though most schools and private tutors carry out preliminary tests to place you in the right class and to teach you the right curriculum, it is a good idea to advise them on any previous English studies and qualifications that you have achieved, or to carry out an online English test in advance. Being aware of your English level will help you pick the right course, length of studies, and plan a budget.
The best way to improve your level is to start practising English as soon as you decide to do a course in the UK. The more you study in advance, the better results you will achieve.
Here are some tips to improve your English while in your home country:
1. Stop watching dubbed films! Watch Anglophone movies and series with subtitles in English — a practice that will immerse you in the Anglophone speaking and behaviour
2. Meet Anglophones near you. Anglophones live all over the world, and they often meet or want to exchange conversations in their host country's language. You can go to language exchange events in your city or town, which are usually posted online, or you can find more information at your local British Council.
3. Refresh your grammar. There’s no need to dust off your old school books. There are now some great websites and apps, such as Memrise and Duolingo, as well as easily digestible Grammar books that help you to learn English in a fun way. If you’ve had enough of grammar, find an enjoyable novel to read, underline any words you don’t know to look up later and add to your vocabulary book.
4. Practice your speaking or listening skills with a private English teacher, who will concentrate on your weak areas.
Good to know: Familiarise yourself with the internationally recognised CEFR English levels, as the vast majority of schools and private tutors in the UK work with these terms.
Undergraduate and postgraduate English language requirements
Many students flock to the UK to learn English hoping to get accepted into one of the UK universities or international undergraduate and postgraduate degrees across the world that require a certain level of English.
If you want to study English to enter a UK university, it is important to do your research first on the English language requirements set by the institutions of your interest. Depending on the school, the accepted English language qualifications are: IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic or Cambridge English: Advanced (also known as the Certificate in Advanced English/CAE, or Cambridge ESOL).
Start by researching the profiles of your preferred UK universities in The Complete University Guide which also includes information for international students. Then look for English language courses that will give you the certification you need.
Important: Make sure that you always read the terms and conditions before signing up to a course. For example, some cheaper courses often ask you to pay for your certificate at the end of the course.
Ways to learn English in the UK
There are many ways to learn English in the UK. Finding the right type of class or course depends on your aims, personal preference, budget, and level of English.
Summer English language schools
English language summer schools are dotted throughout England. The schools are usually in universities, or they are private schools that operate as an English language school during the summer holidays. Your English studies may take place in some exquisite surroundings, and often you have the option of accommodation and meals incorporated in the course package.
Summer schools are a perfect choice if you are:
- A parent who wants their child to learn English in a safe and engaging environment.
- A student who wishes to improve their English during the school holidays.
- An adult who intends to do an intensive course over a short period.
Good to know: Make sure that the school you choose is accredited and employs teachers who have recognised qualifications to teach English as a foreign language. Search the Summer Schools website for examples of popular English language schools.
International English language schools
International English language schools have a very similar set up to summer schools — they have a set curriculum and offer accommodation and dining packages. The bonus is that they are open all year round, are more common, and are tailored to accommodate their English language students only. You can choose an international school depending on your lifestyle — you can live and study in a countryside manor, near the beach, or in the heart of your favourite UK city.
Both international and summer English language schools focus on social and cultural activities to encourage students to socialise with their classmates and immerse in the language, the culture, and the country.
Good to know: As with summer schools, it is important to confirm that the international school is accredited, and employs teachers with recognised qualifications to teach English as a foreign language.
Private English language lessons
If you are comfortable with travelling abroad on your own, you already live in the UK, or wish to top up your English level while you work or study in the UK, hiring a personal tutor could be the right decision for you.
Independent tutors are very flexible regarding the amount of hours and lessons per week, the schedule, and the rate per hour.
It is important to find an accredited tutor, especially if you want to obtain a recognised English language certification. The best ways to check whether your teacher is certified or not is to ask for proof of their affiliation with recognised educational institutions in the UK, such as the British Council, EFL, or TEFL.
English language course fees
It goes without saying that the more you pay, the higher quality experience you get. Prices also vary depending on the type and length of the English course.
For private tutors, the average fee is GBP15 to GBP35 per hour, but some are often open to negotiating the price.
The fees for English language schools (both summer and international) depend on the package you choose. If you opt for accommodation, excursions, and meals as part of your package, it will naturally be more expensive but could save you money in the long run, and can be more socially rewarding. Be savvy and compare the different prices by looking at many schools offering the same course.
If you don’t mind finding your accommodation, do your research on short-term rentals in the same area where the school is, and factor in that the weekly food shopping for an individual is between GBP20 to GBP40.
It is also worth reflecting on what you wish to achieve by learning English. If you want to improve your English for personal use, you probably need a much shorter and less intensive course than someone who needs to achieve a certain level to carry out international studies, or to communicate at their workplace.
Good to know: There are plenty of forums and comparison websites where you can review ratings and testimonies about the school or the teacher.
What you need to know before you come to study English in the UK
UK student visa
As a resident of the EU, EEA, and Switzerland a visa is not required to study in the UK. If you are a citizen that resides outside of the areas mentioned above, you need to apply for a student visa. It is a lot easier to do so once you have your letter of acceptance from the school to prove the exact length of stay. For more information on what you need to carry out to receive a student visa check out our visas guide.
Good to know: The UK voted to leave the EU after the Brexit referendum in June 2016 and is expected to leave the EU in 2020. The rights and free movement of EU citizens will be determined before this date but could be subject to change after 2020.
First and foremost, make sure that you’ve contacted your bank to let them know that you’ll be studying abroad so that the bank doesn’t block your card. There is nothing worse than feeling stranded in a foreign country without any money. We advise you to bring some cash as a security measure.
The UK currency is the Pound Sterling, and any other currency is not accepted in stores and business. You have the choice of exchanging your money prior to departure and bringing cash with you, or contacting your local bank to receive an international debit or credit card. There are also international prepaid top up cards that you can purchase, which act like credit cards but without the charges.
Good to know: Even though the UK is in the EU, Euros are not accepted anywhere in the UK apart from in international airports, ferries to mainland Europe, and the Eurostar train station in London to Paris or Brussels.
UK travel insurance
If you are an EU citizen, the EU health insurance card covers you for up to three months in the UK. Contact your local health authority or apply directly on the European Health Insurance Card application service if you do not have a card. If you wish to cover personal items such as electrical equipment or money, and if you are practising extreme sports, the EU insurance card will not cover any losses or physical damages. For citizens who reside outside of the EU, you must purchase the appropriate health insurance before studying in the UK to ensure you are fully covered.
Good to know: There are many online travel insurance comparison sites.
Packing for your trip to the UK
The UK has an infamously rainy and cold climate but can sometimes be warm, and varies from region to region. You should bring clothing appropriate for the region and the season you choose to study. The UK uses type G plug sockets, and most international plugs don’t work unless you use an adapter. For more information on what to pack for England, check out our article on what to pack and what to leave at home when travelling to the UK.