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Learn English in the UK - An Essential Guide

26th March 2014 Posted by: Naomi Todd

SO you’re learning English and you want to take the next step in your language-learning journey: studying in the UK. The UK is the most popular destination for English language study which means there are plenty of different courses to choose from. But with such a huge range of courses taught at different establishments, it’s hard to find out which one is the right one for you. This handy guide will help clear up all your queries and point you in the right direction to the English course that suits you best.

Why do you want to learn English?

Finding the right course depends on your motivation to learn English. If you wish to brush up your language skills with no particular aim other than to improve your communication skills, a General English course would be the best choice. This option is particularly suited to beginner and intermediate levels.

If your aim is to study at an English-speaking university or college, a course that has an academic focus would be more suitable.
A good IELTS or TOEFL score (see below) is an essential requirement for most non-native speakers who want to enrol in a university in the UK, US, Canada or Australia. The Cambridge English Certificate, issued by the University of Cambridge, is also widely recognised and a sign of a high level of English proficiency. There are also Academic English courses available for a more general overview. Additionally, there is the possibility to pursue an English Language Studies degree at certain universities. If you wish to improve your language skills for professional reasons, a Business English course tailors teaching to language used in the workplace.

What is an IELTS score?

The International English Language Test System (IELTS) is a globally-recognised English test. It is accepted in more than 135 countries in 9,000 organisations, including universities, government departments and multinational companies.
IELTS is based on British English and is administered by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.
Scores range from 1 (Non User) to 9 (Expert User) and the candidate receives scores for all four components of language: speaking, writing, listening and reading. The scores are averaged to give an overall score. Most university courses in the UK require an IELTS score of at least 6. 

What is TOEFL?

The Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), is the other main globally-recognised English test. It too is accepted by 9,000 organisations in more than 130 countries. The test gives a numerical SAT-type grade, totalling scores in speaking, writing, listening and reading. TOEFL is administered by ETS, a non-profit US company, and designed for students who want to enrol in American universities. 

How do I find a course?

More than 500 universities, colleges, schools and specialist language centres offer accredited English courses in the UK.
Apart from the IELTS, TOEFL and Cambridge English websites, an excellent place to start is the British Council's Education UK site.
In the Find your UK Education search box at the top of this web page, choose "Learn English", then scroll down to the course type you want.
You can also find a course provider by searching via the National Careers Service. Type in IELTS or ESOL in the course search box and you can even modify your search to look for a course in a specific city or region. 

How do I know it's a good course?

It is essential you pick a reputable language centre. Make sure it is at least one of the following: 

1. A Tier 4 sponsor licensed by the UK Border Agency (see visa information below)
    or 
2. Inspected by one of the following bodies - Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education, Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education in Scotland, Estyn, Her Majesty's Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales, Northern Ireland's Education and Training Inspectorate, Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI)
    or
3. Accredited by one of the following bodies - Accreditation UK, Accreditation Body for Language Services (ABLS), The British Accreditation Council (BAC), The Accreditation Service for International Colleges (ASIC), The Accreditation Body for Language Services (ABLS).

What visa do I need to learn English in the UK?

For EU, EEA and Swiss citizens, no visa is currently required. For everyone else however, there are generally two options: Student Visitor Visa or Tier 4 (General) Visa. The Student Visitor Visa can be used for up to 11 months studying an English language course in the UK. The requirements are less stringent and it costs less than the Tier 4 visa. To eligible, you need to have been offered a place to study at an accepted place of study (Full list on the Student Visitor Visa page) and proof that you have the necessary funds to fulfil the study period and your return. You may also need to provide a document of your Tuberculosis (TB) results.  Nevertheless, there are more restrictions. With the Student Visitor Visa you cannot work, bring dependants with you or extend the visa.

The Tier 4 (General) Visa on the whole, requires more paperwork and costs more but there are fewer restrictions.  You need to have attained a sufficient knowledge of English beforehand (at least B1/Intermediate level.) You also need to have received an unconditional offer to study at an institution that is licensed as a Tier 4 sponsor (A Highly Trusted Sponsor is preferable.) Like the Student Visitor Visa, proof that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay is required and dependent on your country of origin, you may be required to provide a document of your Tuberculosis (TB) results. With the Tier 4 Visa you are able to work, although certain restrictions apply, you may be able to bring dependants with you and you can extend the visa.

Read our article about Tier 4 Visas in the UK here.

Good luck!

Studying in the UK is one of the best ways to learn English as you can practise the language all the time, make new friends and experience British culture.

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