If you are interested in learning English in the United Kingdom (UK), we have put together a country summary of what you can expect when you study at an English language school:
There are over 62 million people living in the United Kingdom currently. While the population has steadily increased over the centuries, inhabitants in the United Kingdom date back well-beyond the arrival of the Celts, Romans, and Anglo-Saxons. Today, the United Kingdom is made up of Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland. These distinct borders create a cultural hub of different identities that you will soon be able to distinguish while you learn English in the UK. You will begin to notice the subtle differences in culture, national pride, and identity as you travel throughout the United Kingdom. For example, the term “English” refers to someone from England – it cannot be used to refer to someone from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. The more broad terminology would be “British” that would refer to the entire region.
As you travel the region, you will notice that the majority of the population is English. In all, 83.6% is English, 8.6% is Scottish, 4.9% is Welsh, and 2.9% is Northern Irish. The United Kingdom has a relatively older population where the average age is 39. That being said, the overall population is growing at a sluggish pace as a result of immigration. If you exclude migration patterns, the population is steadily decreasing since women have less than 2 births per couple – not enough to sustain the current population size.
Thanks to this immigration, the United Kingdom has become more diverse and integrated than ever before. Take, for example, London. London is well known for its multicultural atmosphere. The largest immigrant population in the United Kingdom is Indian followed by Pakistani. This is no surprise as the United Kingdom is internationally recognized as having some of the best Indian restaurants in the world. Some of the Indian cuisine has even been adapted to the British palate like the most popular chicken tikka masala. What use to be a very homogenous region before World War II is now home to a mixture of ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity.
The majority of individuals, 71.6%, are practicing Christians of various denominations. After Christianity, 2.7% are Muslim and 1% are Hindu. No matter the origin of people, there are some rules that you will want to be sure that you adhere to while you interact with people outside your English courses in the UK. The first important rule is to make sure that you are punctual and arrive to appointments on time. If you are running late, it is customary to call in advance. You should also be aware of the communication style which is generally modest and direct.
If you enjoy sampling different foods, than you will enjoy what Britain has to offer. While the dishes vary by region, the most recognized dishes are fish and chips (French fries for all those familiar!), sandwiches, trifles, pies and roasts. On Sunday, there is nothing that compares to a Sunday roast – which you can choose between beef (which traditionally comes with Yorkshire pudding), lamb (with mint sauce) or chicken. One thing is certain – you will not go hungry!
While the United Kingdom does not have an official language, the primary language spoken is English. In fact, over 95% of the British population only speaks English. There are other languages spoken in the UK, like Celtic languages, including Scottish Gaelic, Irish, Cornish, and Welsh. You will find that as you study English in the UK, that the majority of these speakers are also bilingual English speakers so you should have no problem getting around. In recent years, there have been attempts to protect these languages since English has become the predominate language in the United Kingdom. The Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 have legislated equal status to Welsh as given to English. This legislation meant that government documents are available in both English and Welsh. Even with legislation, however, Welsh has only a few native speakers where only 20% of Wales actually speaks Welsh – which is approximately 600,000 speakers. Due to the large number of immigrants, you will also find a host of South Asian languages like Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati. Chances are that if you do run into one of these minority languages, you will be in London since 45% of the ethnic minority population lives in London.
The Landscape –
Capital City: London
Like in any country, the climate will depend on where you are regionally located when you study English in the UK. The climate can be characterized as unpredictably variable. Because the United Kingdom is surrounded by the ocean, the temperature is mild ranging from about 0 C in the winter to about 30 C in the summer. The warmest month is typically July and the coldest month is usually February.
Weather is an important aspect to the British, especially due to the sporadic ups and downs that make day to day weather forecasting a challenge. Just to give you an insight, the UK Meteorological Office, or Met Office, is the third most watched TV program. So without relying on the nationally recognized St Swithin’s Day (15 July) to tell you if it will rain for the next 40 days, be sure to pack your bags for rain, snow, warmth, and cold. If you plan to go to the United Kingdom in the winter, be prepared for cold and wet weather. In the summer, typically July and August, you can typically find the weather to be hot and dry. In general, snow usually arrives in the United Kingdom in November and February. While there is no perfect time to plan because of the weather volatility, the best time to go would be around April to September.
The terrain in the United Kingdom is an archipelago made up of islands that expands off the northwestern tip of Europe. Depending on where you are located, you may be looking out into the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Irish Sea, or even the English Channel. Inland, the country is made up of rugged hills and low mountains in the north and western sections of the country and rolling plains in the east and south. The highest mountain is Scafell Pike which measures at 978 meters, or 3,209 feet. The United Kingdom has been extensively developed and now approximately 90% of the total population lives in an urban environment. The United Kingdom is divided into England which accounts for just over half the total area, Scotland which makes up a third of the total area, Wales which accounts for a tenth, and Northern Ireland which makes up less than one-sixth of the land area.
Things to do:
When you learn English in the UK, there is no doubt that the best way is to learn is in real life situations. The United Kingdom has an interesting history that has left many artifacts to explore. One of the most mysterious sites is in Wiltshire, England. In the midst of rolling hills is Stonehenge which scientists suspect dates back to over 5,000 years. If you are in the area, why not stop off in Windsor to see the Windsor Castle where you can see art, chapels, and doll houses. A train stop away is London – full of art, museums, theater, plays, architecture, and nightlife to appease the music fanatics, dancers, karaoke lovers, and if you are exhausted from the day’s activities, you can always find a cozy pub to relax in. You can also go to world class museums, like the British Museum or Tate Modern, or see the city skyline while riding the London Eye. Walk across the Tower Bridge or enjoy a play at Shakespeare’s Globe. Spend a day in Bath where you can learn about the Roman baths. Tour Cadbury World and see how chocolate is made – or visit the campus of Oxford or Cambridge. Enjoy the Royal Pavilion in Brighton or enjoy the grounds of Buckingham Palace.
If you are planning to travel to Scotland, be sure to enjoy the history in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Try haggis, Aberdeen, and if you are into whiskeys, there are many to sample. There are castles, country pubs, and the great outdoors! Grab your canoe, kayak, bike, or travel across the Loch Ness to say hi to Nessie. If you decide to go to Wales, you can enjoy the Welsh art including film, rock music, crafts, and choirs. If you prefer to venture into the outdoors, Pembrokeshire Coast National Park or Gower Peninsula is a must! Bring your hiking books or mountain bike to see spectacular views! Northern Ireland is also worth the trip as you will find Belfast is growing steadily and has an exciting nightlife and quality restaurants. Derry, named the UK City of Culture, is a must-see with a wall that marks the city lines and enclose the city’s architectural buildings that include museums, parks, cathedrals, and pubs.
Currency: British Pound
Loaf of Bread € 1.32
Eggs (12) € 2.49
Coffee € 3.40
Water .33 Litre € 1.13
Fresh Milk 1Litre € 1.06
Bottle of Wine € 6.66
Laundry Detergent 1Kilo € 24
Bus Fare € 2.51
Taxi one way € 9.55 (5km within city center)
Main course, dessert and drink € 22.11
Fast Food € 5.78
Beer € 3.28
Soft Drink € 1.41
Gym Membership one month € 44.68
Cinema Ticket € 8.42
Tipping in the United Kingdom will depend on where you are located. At many restaurants, a service charge is already included in your bill of 12.5% to 15%. Typically menus or your bill will clarify whether tipping is included. Don’t be alarmed if the tip was already included but your bill has a total line to add additional tip – you are not expected nor is it necessary to put more down. If there is no tip included, the typical tip is about 12-15%. If you are at a pub drinking, you are not expected to tip. If you have good service, you can live a small sum and tell the waiter to have a beer too! It is not customary to tip a taxi driver unless it is a licensed meter taxi where you can leave 10%. If you went on a tour of any kind, it is typical to tip £2-5 for a single traveler, £1-£2 per person for a family.
Getting Around –
As you study English in the UK, you will have the option to rent your own car or use public transportation. While renting your own car, you will have more flexibility in reaching remote locations on your own timetable. A foreign driver’s license is valid in the United Kingdom for up to 12 months. Be prepared to drive on the left side, get use to roundabouts, and only use a hands-free cell phone/mobile. If you’d prefer, you can also use public transportation which is both reliable and extensive. Using public transportation may also save your budget as renting your own car will be expensive as you pay for not only the rental, but insurance, parking, and gas. If you choose public transportation, you can choose to travel by bus or train. You can even rent a bike that will allow you to travel within a city and at the same time, get your daily exercise. If you are a full-time student and under 26, you may be eligible for a Young Persons Coachcard which will get you 30% off of adult rates on National Express while you are enrolled in English courses in the UK. There are also taxis that you can take from place to place, however be prepared to have enough cash on hand as it can easily add up depending on the distance!
The United Kingdom is considered politically stable and has a low crime rate. Over the last few decades, the crime rate has decreased overall, however there are some parts of London that has increased. The most common crime a traveler could experience is pickpocketing, mugging, “snatch and grab”. Be sure to leave your valuables, including your passport, in a secure place at home and do not leave your bags unattended. The most common theft is laptops and hand-held electronics like GPS system. Be sure to only take licensed Black Cabs if you are in London or recommended taxis by your hotel or tour operator. If you plan to go out, make sure you keep an eye on your drink. If you plan to use an ATM, be sure to inspect your machine to make sure that there is nothing attached to the machine and that there is no obvious tampering.
- March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day (Lá Fhéile Pádraig) – This day has religious Catholic origins named after the saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick. This is a national holiday and also known as a feast day commemorated by festivals and parades. This day is only celebrated in Northern Ireland.
- May 1 – May Day – May Day goes back to the pagan times where traditionally farmers had the day off to do seeding in the fields. Now, May Day is marked with fairs, meals, and May pole dancing.
- Last Monday in May – Spring Bank Holiday/Whit Monday – Bank holiday which in some parts of Europe raise extra funds for elderly and disabled people.
- July 12th – Orangeman’s Holiday – This day marks the Battle of Boyne that was fought in 1690 where a war was fought between Catholic King James and Protestant King Williams. King James lost and ensured Ireland to continue its Protestant religious tradition. This day is only celebrated in Northern Ireland.
- Last Monday in August – Late Summer Bank Holiday
- December 26 – Boxing Day or St. Stephens Day in Northern Ireland – Boxing Day is a bank holiday known as the primary shopping holiday. For Northern Ireland, it is a religious day commemorating St. Stephen who was a Christian martyr who was stoned to death when a wren betrayed him when he was in hiding from his enemies. For the Irish, this day is usually celebrated with close friends and family along with a special church service or a visit to the theater to watch a musical-comedy production called pantomime.
The most economical way to arrive in the United Kingdom as there are many budget airlines that have cheap rates and a number of flights depending on where you are flying into and out of. You can also travel with the Channel Tunnel which are more comfortable and provide transportation to other European destinations. While the cost may not make much of a different compared to flying, it is an experience as you jet across Europe by train. You can also take a ferry or long distance bus if you will be coming from other parts of Europe. If you will be going to Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland, it may be more economical to fly into London, England and take the bus or train system north. The main international airports are Heathrow and Gatwick that host many budget flights on a regular basis.
Applicants intending to study in the UK for a maximum of 6 months, who do not wish to work during their stay, can seek entry to the UK as a student visitor and must apply for prior entry clearance (visa).
If you plan to learn English in the UK for up to 6 months without working, you can seek entry to the UK as a student visitor. To do this, you will need to apply for an entry clearance depending on your country of origin. If you plan to enroll in English courses in the UK for 6-11 months, you can also apply for an extended student visitor visa. If you intend on doing this, you will be unable to work or bring dependants as recent changes to the visa system have
When you arrive in the United Kingdom, you will need to bring your passport with visa/entry clearance (if necessary), tickets, money, letter of acceptance from your English language school, full details about your accommodation, proof that you have adequate funds to cover your living expenses, and proof of your level of English (minimum B-1 level of the Common European Framework) if you will be in the UK for more than 6 months.
After arriving in the United Kingdom, you will need to go through immigration where you will come to two lines – one for European Economic Area and Swiss nationals and another line for everyone else. You will provide this information to the Immigration Officer who will stamp your passport.
Due to the new legislation, they may ask you some additional questions. Answer them accurately and honestly – they are just checking to make sure that you are a student who will return home after your visit. After you proceed through, you will go through customs with your luggage where you will find two more lines. One is the Green channel if you have nothing to declare, the Red channel if you are going to declare goods, or the Blue channel if you have already cleared customs if you came from the European Economic Area.
Start your adventure by finding ESL Programs in the United Kingdom!