Learn English in the UK
A guide for learning English in the UK for international students, with information about courses, language schools and learning centres.
The UK is a great location for studying and improving your English language skills. You can immerse yourself in the language with native speakers through conversation, TV, radio and more. The best way to learn a language is to hear it, speak it, read it and use it.
You’ll need to take English language tests and gain qualifications to study at a university in the UK (or in another English-speaking country).
In the UK
You can prepare for and take your English language tests with support from a number of UK universities, colleges and specialist language schools.
One of the most common tests is taken through the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). There are over 50 IELTS test centres in the UK and many are based in universities or colleges. Most centres offer preparatory courses for IELTS.
A number of UK universities have English Language Centres (ELCs). These offer English-as-a-second-language programmes that help you prepare for university, or to generally improve your academic skills.
Some offer pre- and in-sessional language courses that are accredited by BALEAP, the British Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes.
In your home country
If you need a certain level of English language proficiency for your UK visa, you’ll probably take an English language test in your home country. The test can be taken through the British Council at centres in more than 130 countries worldwide. The British Council runs IELTS preparatory courses, workshops, seminars and mock tests.
Check the British Council IELTS website to find your nearest centre and information about the courses in your area.
Looking for a course in a country you're unfamiliar with is challenging and different things are important to different people.
Using an agent
There are specialised agencies that can help you arrange an overseas English language course. Agents can also help with arranging accommodation and transport. Some charge a fee while others earn a commission from schools – you can ask upfront how they're paid.
Agents can be useful, but you should check if they're accredited or endorsed by a professional body. Some countries will have an accreditation scheme for study-abroad businesses. Membership of the English UK Partner Agency Scheme is a good sign.
What questions should you ask?
Whether you get help choosing a school or not, there are some useful questions you should ask of any English language course you're thinking about enrolling in:
What's the class size?
The more students in a class, the less personalised attention you’re likely to get. It’s a good idea to find out both the average and the maximum class sizes for your school.
Is there a range of classes running at the same time? Will you be able to move up or down a level easily?
Sometimes students start out in a class and quickly discover they're either above or below the average class ability, and wish to switch to another class.
What sort of feedback can you expect to get?
It can be useful to find out if you’ll regularly be given homework that'll be graded, and whether you’ll be subjected to reviews.
What does the price include?
It’s important to find out if the price includes materials, exams and any accommodation or excursions that are provided.
Does the school offer accommodation or assistance with accommodation? How is it monitored and inspected?
Many students find staying with a local family is one of the best ways to supplement their class learning, so ask about the possibility of homestay accommodation.
If you’re going into shared accommodation, find out how many people you’ll be sharing with and what facilities the accommodation offers. You should also check the location in relation to public transport.
Does the course adopt a specific methodology?
Many English schools use the Callan Method, which is a form of direct learning that relies heavily on speaking. It can be quite repetitive. It’s very successful for some students, but others prefer to take a course with more emphasis on reading and writing.
Do some research to see what might suit you before choosing a method. Some schools allow you to attend taster courses before you commit, which can be useful.
What type of accreditation does the school have?
Find out if your school is accredited by the British Council or another body and if it’s approved by UK Visas and Immigration. This'll be important if you need a visa. It also indicates that the courses reach a minimum standard.
What qualifications do the teachers have?
In the UK, Cambridge English’s Certificate of English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) and Trinity College London’s Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CertTESOL) are generally seen as minimum requirements for those teaching English as a foreign language.
This is especially worth questioning if you're going during a busy period like summer, as schools sometimes hire temporary teachers who may have less experience than full-time members of staff.
What facilities does the school have?
A computer room you can access out of hours might be handy if you don’t have easy internet access at home. A library with ELT materials might be similarly useful. Some schools also have cafés and TV rooms.
What are the transport links to the school like?
Research the journey to and from the school to see if the commute isn’t too long for you. Not many students buy a car during their stay in the UK, so see if the public transport is suitable.
Are any social events or activities organised?
If you don’t know anyone, it might be useful to have access to events where you can meet other students. Some schools arrange excursions to other areas of the UK, allowing you to combine sightseeing with learning.
You can study English for reasons other than university entrance. The UK offers a wide range of accredited, quality-assured English language courses, where you can gain qualifications recognised around the world.
This includes vacation courses; English for business; English for Specific Purposes such as Journalism, Medicine and Law; and English for Academic Purposes, which is specially designed to prepare students for degree-level study at UK universities.
Make sure to clarify the status of any institution you're considering to be sure it offers genuine language tuition and that you comply with visa restrictions. The best way to do this is to learn English at an accredited school. Visit the British Council’s website to see the full list of accredited institutions.