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Languages for Expats in the United Kingdom

Submitted: July 2013

English is the international language of business and perhaps because of this, UK citizens expect everyone inside as well as outside the UK to have at least a basic knowledge of the English language. It is therefore wise to gain basic English language skills prior to arriving in the UK.

Under UK immigration law, a basic English language test must be passed by individuals from outside the EU/EEA who wish to work or join their spouses/partners in the UK. Further information can be found on the UK Border Agency’s website:   https://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/

English language courses are widely available via the internet as distance learning projects and can enable individuals to gain the standard necessary for living and working in the UK. A good starting point is the ‘learn English’ website from the British Council: (https://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/).  Cambridge English, part of Cambridge University (https://www.cambridgeenglish.org), offers a comprehensive range of language courses designed for beginners, intermediates and those who wish to gain an English language qualification recognised by many businesses in the UK.

Another option is to attend an English language school in the UK. Lessons are usually structured not only in a classroom setting but also encompass practical elements such as a variety of social events that include opportunities to talk to native speakers. There are a vast number of schools throughout the country with London offering the widest choice of teaching establishments.

Language lessons are also offered by foreign nationals to help their newly arrived compatriots learn the language of their new country of residence.  These individuals often advertise in local newspapers or shops selling items from their home country.

Generally, people are very willing to assist those with little knowledge of English. When asking a native speaker for directions, for example, the person in question will usually do their best to help. This often involves raising their voice while speaking in the belief that talking at loud volume will help a non-English speaker understand what is being said. If a non-English speaker makes an effort to converse just a little in English this is usually much appreciated by the natives and will go a long way towards a good relationship with neighbours etc.

The Queen’s English, as taught in overseas language schools and used in English language teaching videos on the internet, is not how most English nationals speak. In certain parts of the country the local or regional accent presents a completely different challenge to overcome! Accents are sometimes so distinct that even a native from another part of the UK struggles to understand what is being said. The Scottish, Irish and Welsh accents sound very different from the ‘proper’ English a student studying via the internet or at a language school will encounter. The best way for a foreigner to gain understanding of these accents is to spend time with people from those areas and listen carefully to their conversations.

In the unfortunate event of a non-English speaker requiring medical or legal assistance, interpreters and translators are usually made available by the appropriate authority to ensure an individual with little knowledge of English will be able to understand official procedures.

With all this in mind, it is strongly advisable for any individual wishing to live and work in the UK to learn English prior to arrival in the country.



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