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Home Education Language Learning Studying English in the UK
Last update on 03/05/2022
Graham Turner Written by Graham Turner

Find out how to study English in the UK with our helpful guide that includes information about language schools, online courses, apps, and more.

Whether you flourish in a traditional classroom setting or prefer to learn online, there are plenty of ways to study English in the UK. The UK’s reputation for academic excellence, combined with its rich cultural heritage, thriving cities, and beautiful countryside, also make it the perfect setting in which to master the language.

To help you get started, this guide covers the following:

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Why learn English?

Quite simply, English is the most widely spoken language in the world. It is an official language in 60 countries and the adopted second language of many more. Around 20% of the world’s population speaks English, equating to 1.35 billion out of 7.8 billion, while a further billion are in the process of learning it. Therefore, English is a great skill to have, wherever you are.

Adults learning English in a classroom

Furthermore, if you are moving to the UK, navigating the country without having a basic grasp of English can make things difficult. This is especially true when it comes to finding a job or even doing the basics like shopping for groceries or asking for directions.

Of course, getting to grips with English will also help you integrate more into the local culture and make new friends along the way.

Studying English before moving to the UK

The lack of a common second language or widespread second language proficiency in the UK means that arriving there without a good grasp of English can be quite daunting. Therefore, it’s worthwhile considering learning as much as you can before you relocate.

British Council

Fortunately, given the globally ubiquitous nature of English, you will find language schools that offer English courses in many countries; so it’s worth searching in your local area. This can make it easier for you to learn the language before you move and continue studying English in the UK.

Here are a few schools that you might want to consider:

  • Berlitz – offers a wide range of in-person and online English classes, be it for travel, school, business, or social purposes
  • British Council – provides a range of high-quality live online classes, self-study courses, and one-to-one English tutoring to help you learn English
  • English International School – provides online one-to-one and group classes in English for all language levels, from beginner to advanced
  • Oxford International English Schools – offers online and in-person English courses at six schools across the UK, the USA, and Canada

Studying English in the UK

Although it may seem daunting, there’s a lot to be said for taking the leap and immersing yourself in British culture – language and all. And the Brits are so culturally diverse that no stereotype does them justice. However, one unifying factor – whether you’re in England, Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland – is that if you’re earnest and have a go, you’ll be met with patience.

Best of all, when it comes to learning English, there is certainly no shortage of ways to go about it. Indeed, there are plenty of excellent schools and resources to get you off the ground.

Language schools in the UK

If you plan to study English in the UK, there are plenty of schools for you to choose from. Most of them offer a similar range of courses. However, you may find that some are better for you due to different prices and locations. Nevertheless, here are a few of the popular language schools across the UK: 

  • Discovery Summer – This independent, family-owned company provides short, intensive English language courses combined with a great holiday. Children, teenagers, and adults can enroll in full day or residential courses; some even come with fun activities such as sports, drama, engineering, and journalism.
  • ELA Edinburgh – This private school in the centre of Edinburgh offers a range of part-time, full-time, and professional courses. Teachers create a fun and dynamic environment to help students gain confidence in using ‘real world’ English.
  • International House Newcastle – Located in the heart of Newcastle, International House boasts 16 classrooms, a large Personal Study Program suite, a lively cafe, wonderful social programs, and the finest teaching and teacher training standards.
  • InTuition Languages – Accredited by the British Council and affiliated with International House, the school specializes in intensive, one-to-one courses in your teacher’s home. You will find locations throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
  • Stanton School of English – Located in West Central London, this school boasts over 50 highly qualified and experienced staff. It offers General English courses as well as development courses for teachers of English; all the while making excellent use of its audio-visual equipment.
  • The English Language Centre (ELC) – This not-for-profit organization has three schools in Brighton, Chester, and Eastbourne. It offers online and face-to-face lessons for studens of all levels and ages, from 16 to 50 plus.

Government English lessons in the UK

Depending on your employment status and how long you have been a resident in the UK, you might be eligible for free or discounted ESOL courses; this stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. However, if there is a fee, then you may be able to get Learner Support.

study English in UK: language lesson

To get started down this route, you should search for a course on the National Careers Service course finder. Through this, you can take courses at further education colleges, adult education centers, some libraries, children’s centers, other community venues, as well as other training providers.

English language learning apps

In today’s tech-savvy modern world, apps play a big role in making our everyday lives easier. And busy expats on the move might be tempted to download a language learning app to help them master their English skills.

Some of the popular language-learning apps that cover English include:

  • Babbel – The Babbel app offers a mix of immersive activities with short, interactive lessons, podcasts, short stories, and games
  • Duolingo – Focuses on themed language lessons designed to help users quickly learn vocabulary, sentence structure, and pronunciation
  • FluentU – Offers thousands of English-language videos, including news, music videos, and commercials, to help you study English
  • Hello English – This free language learning app allows users to explore nearly 500 interactive audio and video lessons as well as entertaining practice games for reading, writing, and speaking
  • Memrise – Teaches users how to have conversations in real-life situations by allowing them to explore thousands of audio and video clips; not to mention fun quizzes

Studying English online

You may also want to try one of the many online courses to master your English. Here are some of the more well-known options out there:

  • Rosetta Stone – A fully immersive online curriculum helps you learn English vocabular and grammar structures in a natural way. Additionally, you can practice your pronunciation with audio materials and by engaging with native English speakers. Courses are subscription-based, costing £11.99 per month for one language.
Woman learning English online
  • Preply – This online platform helps you learn languages by connecting you with expert tutors through one-to-one live video lessons. To make the most of each lesson, your tutor will create a custom learning plan that fits your skill level, schedule, and needs. Tutors all charge their own hourly rates and come with a rating, as well community reviews.
  • Rocket English – You can access Rocket English courses from any computers, smartphone, or tablet. The course includes a personal dashboard where you can receive useful recommendations depending on your progress. Uniquely, Rocket English is a one-time payment of $69.95 (£51.05), with the course taking roughly 124 hours to complete.
  • Babbel– This is a good choice if you’re looking for guidance in specific aspects of English, like comprehension, grammar, business, and oral. Babbel is also subscription-based, starting at $12.95 ($9.45) per month.

Other handy online resources

  • Collins Dictionary – Contains over one million words and includes definitions, synonyms, pronunciations, translations, origins, and examples
  • Google translate – Does it get 100% right, 100% of the time? No. But, it’s pretty close. Also, it has a handy button for checking pronunciation.
  • 6 Minute English – Produced by the BBC, this podcast features new episodes every week, with a huge number to choose from; dating back to 2014. Available on Apple and Google podcasts, as well as the BBC website.

Learning English in a social setting

The classroom isn’t for everyone and that’s okay because there are plenty of alternative ways to practice your English with locals and expats, alike.

study english in uk: learning English in a social setting

Here are just a few ways to do so outside a formal setting: 

  • Join a local Facebook or Meetup group where you can practice speaking English and develop your conversation skills
  • Watch English movies and TV shows with subtitles to help you expand your vocabulary
  • Find opportunities to interact with your neighbors, local shop owners, and your kids’ friends’ parents
  • If your children are little, don’t be afraid to host playdates. Hanging out with native five-year-olds will organically teach you all the basic vocabulary; plus, they won’t judge your wonky grammar and pronunciation!
  • Join a sports club or a local society and don’t be afraid to explain to people that you are eager to learn the language
  • Always speak English with your new friends and acquaintances. Apologize in advance for the mistakes you will make and your efforts will be appreciated

Language cafes

Attending a language cafe is another great way to develop your English skills while making friends in the process. Here are just a few that you will find throughout the UK.

  • Speak Street – Offers free English classes to refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants, as well as foreign language classes and events. Speak Street strives to engender a positive atmosphere and welcoming approach. They hold frequent events at various cafes around London, so keep an eye on their website for the next one.
  • Leith Conversation Cafes – Based in Edinburgh, this Meetup group is rooted in being part, part academic. It hosts three friendly conversation groups in three different cafes every week. These provide an opportunity for people who have moved to Edinburgh from overseas to practice their English and meet those they might otherwise not.
  • Cardiff Language Café – This informal, Cardiff-based Meetup group offers anyone learning a language the chance to mingle and talk about their country and culture. The group meets at I Want to Ride my Bike cafe every Monday evening.

Official language examinations and qualifications in the UK

If you are looking to study at certain universities in the UK, you will need to show a certificate to prove that you have a recognized English test qualification from an approved test center. This qualification can also be useful when it comes to applying for jobs, although often, these will be anecdotal; as in, if you can charm your way through an interview in English, you should be good.

The level of test you will need, known as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) level, will depend on the route you are applying for. For this, you will need to take a test that assesses your reading, writing, speaking, and listening abilities.

Notably, you can only use English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) qualifications if they are on the list of approved tests. You cannot use other qualifications, for example, GCSEs, A levels, or National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs).

For visa or citizenship applications, you may need to prove your knowledge of English by passing a secure English Language Test (SELT).

Useful resources

  • British Council – allows you to search for English language centres in the UK
  • Gov UK – the official governemny website with information about studying English in the UK on the short-term study visa
  • Education First – allows you to search for English courses by destination