Great Britain

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Foreign Languages and EFL Courses

Bore da, madainn mhath, dzién dobry, su prabhat! In some UK regions or neighborhoods, you may hear these greetings – or a plain “good morning”. In our intro to languages in the UK, we talk about Standard English and dialects, about the languages of the Celtic Fringe and immigrant communities.
You have plenty of opportunities to perfect your English while living in the UK.

In addition to the officially recognized minority languages across the UK, there are plenty of foreign languages in the United Kingdom’s immigrant communities. While more than 90% of residents use English as their main language in everyday life, nearly 8% – or four million people – don’t. Most have English as their second language, though. In the 2011 census, only 0.3% of the populace had very basic to non-existent English skills.

Apart from English…

You can also map foreign communities across London, and the entire UK, by language statistics. It is scarcely surprising that some boroughs of London have a high quota of people who don’t consider English their main language. In Newham, for instance, almost 50% mostly use a language other than English on a daily basis.

Just a few more examples: In the fancy London neighborhood of Kensington and Chelsea, which attracts diplomats and business people from abroad, French, Spanish and Italian are pretty common. In the city of Leicester, an important economic center in the East Midlands, 13% of residents speak chiefly Gujarati, which reflects the number of South Asian immigrants in the area.

While South Asian languages, such as Gujarati, Punjabi, and Bengali, feature high on the list of immigrant languages in the UK, none of them is the second most spoken language in the country. That’s actually Polish, with more than half a million of native speakers. Between January and March 2016, Polish migration to the UK hit an all-time high, and the number of Polish-British citizens has risen in the same period. The children of these naturalized residents may grow up to be bilingual.

A Monolingual Country?

Outside the strongholds of Celtic languages, expat circles, and immigrant communities, bilingualism or multilingualism is not very common in the UK.  Since the economy of the UK has a fairly large domestic market and English is of global importance, people have fewer incentives to learn a foreign language for economic or professional reasons.

In 2004, foreign language studies were declared optional for GCSE exams, meaning that language classes are only mandatory for three years in English state schools. This decision caused some controversy. A 2013 survey across 16 EU countries then found only basic knowledge of foreign languages among participants from the UK. Therefore, modern languages are now compulsory for Key Stage 3 students (from 11 — 14 years) and strongly encouraged as a GCSE subject. French, German, and Spanish are the most popular subjects in this field.

Foreign Language Classes and EFL

If you would like to learn a new language while living in the UK, there are plenty of resources for adult education. Community centers run by your Local Council often offer cheapish evening classes among their leisure activities. If you feel more confident about studying on your own, the online courses of Learn Direct or the Open University could be a better fit. You can even enroll as a mature student at regular universities in the UK.

You have similar opportunities to improve your English language proficiency. The Learn Direct program and the BBC Skillswise course are mostly geared towards people who’d like to improve their knowledge of standard written English.  For academic purposes, high-powered careers and executive jobs for foreigners in the UK, such literacy offers are not sufficient.

However, the Cambridge English Language Assessment Tests can help you acquire widely recognized certificates for business English, legal English, and financial English. They also have examinations for non-native speakers who need to prove their English skills to get access to higher education in the UK. Unfortunately, you are expected to prepare for these tests in self-directed study.

If you would like to have a classroom setting or teacher to support you, English in Britain is a comprehensive database. It lists plenty of schools and courses for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) across the UK.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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