Obtaining a working knowledge or becoming fluent in English while living in the UK is relatively easy since you are constantly immersed in the English language and have the maximum opportunity to practice.
However, if you wish to speak or write English fluently, it is advisable that you attend a language school or find a private tutor. Over 500,000 students come to the UK each year to learn English, 75% of this figure typically come from Western Europe.
There are English-language schools in all cities and large towns; however, the majority of schools, particularly those offering intensive courses, are to be found in the south. The largest concentration of schools is in London and the world-famous university towns of Oxford and Cambridge. There are also a large number of schools along the south coast of England, particularly in Brighton and Bournemouth. Edinburgh is the most popular location in Scotland.
You may find it advantageous to choose a school that’s a member of a recognised language school association. Such associations approve schools where a high level of teaching and facilities are provided. Similarly, you can locate a school in your area using the British Council website.
The courses in language schools can vary in style of learning, hours per week and age group. There are classes for those looking to learn English specifically for work, those who wish to learn as a hobby and even for younger children who are at school age. Hours per week will depend on the intensity of the course that you have chosen and courses can last from as little as a week to several months in duration. There are also options to learn only conversational English or written English depending on your reasons for learning.
The average class size is around 10 to 12, with 15 usually being the maximum. Most schools are equipped with computers, language laboratories, video studios, libraries and bookshops, and some even have their own restaurants and bars for a more social aspect of learning.
Types of language classes
Most language schools offer a variety of classes depending on your current language ability, how many hours you wish to study a week, how much money you want to spend and how quickly you wish to learn. Full-time, part-time and evening courses are offered by many schools, and many also offer residential courses or selected accommodation with local families (highly recommended to accelerate learning).
Courses that include accommodation (often half board, consisting of breakfast and an evening meal) usually offer excellent value for money. If you need to find your own accommodation, particularly in London, it can be difficult and expensive. Language classes generally fall into the following categories:
Most schools offer compact or intensive courses and also provide special English courses for businessmen, lawyers, journalists and doctors (among others), and a wide variety of examinations, all of which are recognised internationally. Course fees vary considerably and are usually calculated on a weekly basis. Fees depend on the number of hours of tuition per week, the type of course, and the location and reputation of the school. Expect to pay £150 to £350 a week for an intensive course providing 20 to 30 hours of language study per week.
A compact course usually costs around £80 to £100 per week and half board accommodation around £80 to £90 a week extra (more in London). It’s possible to enroll at a good school for an all-inclusive (tuition plus half-board accommodation) intensive course for as little as £200 per week. In London and other large cities, students in private accommodation may need to spend more time travelling to classes each day.
Total immersion or executive courses are provided by many schools and usually consist of private lessons for a minimum of 30 to 40 hours a week. Fees can run to £1,000 a week or more and not everyone is suited to learning at such a fast rate (or has the financial resources to do so). Whatever language you’re learning, don’t expect to become fluent in a short period unless you have a particular flair for languages or already have a good command of a language.
Unless you must learn a language quickly, it’s better to space your lessons over a long period. Don’t commit yourself to a long course of study (particularly an expensive one) before ensuring that it’s the correct one. Most schools offer a free introductory lesson and free tests to help you find your appropriate level. Many language schools offer private and small group lessons. It’s important to choose the right course, particularly if you’re studying English in order to continue with full-time education in the UK and must reach a minimum standard or gain a particular qualification.
Special language classes for au pairs
Many language schools offer special English classes for au pairs costing from around £40 to over £150 a term, depending on the number of hours of tuition per week. Most courses for au pairs include around four hours study a week. The school year begins in the middle of September and ends in June, and some schools accept au pairs only in the September and January terms (au pairs arriving after Easter may find it difficult to obtain classes).
There are usually no classes for au pairs over the summer holiday period (June to mid-September). Among the best value for money English courses are those run by state colleges under the control of Local Educational Authorities (LEAs), the Department for Education and Skills, or the Scottish Education Department.
Most colleges offer full-time, part-time and vacation English courses for overseas students throughout the year, with fees ranging from around £20 to £80 a week. Many courses are cheaper for EU nationals and may even be free during the daytime for those under 18. Colleges usually arrange accommodation for students. A booklet containing a list of colleges and their courses (including courses for English language teachers) is available from English UK.
You may prefer to have private lessons, which are a quicker, but generally more expensive, way of learning a language. The main advantage of private lessons is that you learn at your own speed and can focus on language aspects which you personally find challenging. You can advertise for a teacher in local newspapers, on shopping center or supermarket bulletin boards, university or school notice boards or even through your employer.
Your friends or colleagues may also be able to help you find a suitable private teacher. If you’re living in the UK and speak English at an intermediate level but need conversational practice, you might consider enrolling in a part-time course at an adult education institute.
Many British universities hold summer and other holiday courses for foreigners, e.g. Birmingham, London and Oxford. The British Chamber of Commerce provides an English tuition advisory service in many countries and works closely with English schools, universities and other institutions. For information contact your local British embassy, consulate or high commission abroad.