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Guide to Studying English in the UK

Every year, around half a million people come to the UK to study English. Aside from your time in the lecture room, it’s also a great way to immerse yourself in British culture and accelerate your grasp of the language.

Why study English in the UK?

For a start, the UK has the largest number of English language courses in the world, so there are plenty of high-quality options to choose from. UK courses have a worldwide reputation for the quality of their teaching, and accredited courses lead to qualifications recognised all over the world.

English students in the UK will benefit from the rich history and culture of the country; after all, it’s the birthplace of the English language.

What types of courses are available?

English courses in the UK are wide and varied. Intensive courses are full-time with 15 to 20 hours a week of lessons, plus plenty of opportunities to practice English with native speakers. Such courses will cover reading, writing, speaking and listening to English.

Other options include:

  • English for Specific Purposes courses specialising in using English in various professional and workplace areas, such as medicine, law, journalism or architecture.
  • Business English courses aimed at businesspeople who want to use English to write reports, make presentations or conduct other business-related activities.
  • Adult vacation and young learner vacation courses that usually take place in the summer.
  • English Plus courses teaching English as well as other subjects. For example, students can combine learning English with business studies, tourism management or sports training.
  • Courses for teachers of English, designed for people already fluent in the English language. Often referred to as TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) courses, they train you up to become a teacher of English yourself.
  • Exam preparation courses teaching people with a good grasp of English how to pass English language exams.
  • English for Academic Purposes teaching how to improve your English if you are intending to go to an English-speaking university. Students learn note taking, discussion, reading, writing and how to research within the academic environment.

Universities often have English Language degree courses too, many of which also feature English literature.

What qualifications are needed?

There are several tests used to assess English language proficiency and a certification from these tests is recognised worldwide.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the most popular English test, and is designed to test all four primary English skills: reading, writing, speaking and listening.

If you study the English language at a university, you can graduate with such a qualification as a BA (Hons) degree. A number of universities have postgraduate courses in which you can study English language and literature in greater depth.

Where should I study English?

The Good Schools Guide has a top 10 list of recommended English Language schools, which reads as below:

  1. London School of English
  2. Churchill School Ramsgate
  3. International House London
  4. Frances King School of English (London)
  5. Hilderstone College (Broadstairs, Kent)
  6. Aspect International Language Academics (with five schools at various UK locations)
  7. Bell International (Cambridge)
  8. Regent Language Training (various UK locations)
  9. Linguarama (an international organisation with 40 schools worldwide)
  10. Concord College (near Shrewsbury, Shropshire)

If you want to study English Language or English Literature at university, the top 10 places are:

  1. Oxford
  2. Cambridge
  3. Edinburgh
  4. UCL London
  5. Warwick
  6. Manchester
  7. York
  8. King’s College London
  9. Queen Mary University London
  10. Glasgow

What’s the cost?

Course fees vary considerably depending on the length and academic institution.

A university degree course can cost around £12,000 a year, and shorter university courses can still come in at a few thousand pounds. You can find 10-week courses from £550 to £1,300.

Living expenses in Britain can range between £800 to £1,200 a month, with London being the most expensive city. Most courses have an active social life, which is not only great fun, but useful for practicing English too. You need to budget for drinks, meals and other social life expenses, and will also be required to buy textbooks for most courses.


There are two types of visas non-European Economic Area (EEA) residents need in order to live in the UK during the time they study English. For a long-term full-time course, you will need a Tier 4 student visa. There are strict requirements for this; you need to have proof of acceptance on an accredited English language course, the educational establishment at which you are studying needs to be registered as a licenced student visa sponsor, and you must prove that you have the money to pay the tuition fees and living expenses.

Tier 4 applicants also need to have achieved level B2 CEFR standard in their English language abilities. CEFR stands for the Common European Reference for Languages and grades language ability from A1 (which is a basic grasp of English) to C2 (which is regarded as a high proficiency). The B2 level required for the visa application represents the standard of an independent English user who has a reasonable grasp of the English language.

For courses of 11 months or shorter, you can apply for the student visitor visa. Requirements for this are not as stringent as for the Tier 4 visa.

After obtaining a visa, you are advised to take up G8way membership that covers unexpected interruptions to your course. For example, a family emergency can mean that you have to return home for a while. An English study course is expensive, so make sure G8way membership is in place to protect you.

What about after my course?

After an intensive English course, you should have a reasonable grasp of the English language, but it is important to improve your English by practicing when you return home. If you do not know an English speaker, you can go online to find an English practice partner and talk to them via such media as Skype.

Staying familiarised with English can be a lot of fun. Listen to English pop songs and sing along, watch English language films with the subtitles turned off, or go to English news and magazine websites to read content.

Fluent English speakers are preferred by many companies that trade internationally, so a qualification in the subject offers a real foothold in any career path.

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