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Learning languages

If you choose to study languages in the United Kingdom (UK), you will find a wealth of courses and a wide range of levels at which to study. You can take pure languages or, alternatively, you can combine a language with almost any other subject. If you are interested in learning English please refer to Learn English in the UK in this series; if you are interested in teaching English please refer to Study English language teaching in this series.

Checklist: why study languages in the United Kingdom?

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Your UK qualifications carry prestige all over the world.

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UK universities and colleges have a long tradition of welcoming international students.

Most UK language degree courses incorporate a semester or a year in the country whose language you are studying.

The UK is one of 31 countries participating in the Socrates/Erasmus scheme, which makes it easier for students from UK institutions to study abroad as part of their course.

You can often work as a language assistant in the country whose language you are studying.

You can combine language study with a teaching qualification – you could even qualify in the UK to teach your own language.

There is such a wide variety of courses to choose from in the UK that you will be able to find the language course that is right for you.

Learning languages

1 What can I study? Type of study

Examples of subjects

Where you could study

Most European and some international languages. Several Asian languages are also available.

Secondary schools, sixth form colleges and further education colleges offer modern languages, but the number and choice varies. You would need to look at individual schools’ prospectuses (refer to ‘Choosing your independent boarding school’ in this series). Some schools have been designated as specialist language colleges by the government; they provide a broad curriculum but specialise in the teaching of languages. Specialist language colleges usually offer a wider variety of languages. Go to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust:

A/AS-levels/ Scottish Highers

Languages Ladder/Asset languages

The Languages Ladder is a national recognition scheme for languages that credits achievement in language skills at all levels of competence. It is available in a wide range of languages and is made up of six stages: breakthrough, preliminary, intermediate, advanced, proficiency and mastery.

The Languages Ladder can be used in schools, colleges and universities. Go to the Department for Children, Schools and Families: dder.cfm. Or to Asset Languages:

Access courses

An access course is a one-year course designed to prepare you for entry to a degree course at a university. Many access courses focus on a particular subject and prepare you for a degree in that subject. There are several access courses in modern languages. Scotland has its own one-year programme, the Scottish International Foundation Programme, which prepares international students for entry to UK universities. This includes an intensive English language training course that is recognised within Scotland as an alternative to IELTS or TOEFL qualifications.

Foundation degrees

Foundation degrees are work-related higher education qualifications. There are several foundation degrees with a language component.

Learning languages

Sixth-form colleges, tutorial colleges, colleges of further education, colleges of higher education and universities run courses. Some courses are specially designed for international students, to bridge the gap between the qualifications you have and those you need. Go to

Universities, higher education colleges and further education colleges. Foundation degrees normally take two years. Find out more at:

First degrees

There is a vast range of courses on offer. You can choose from languages of the wider world including Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish and many more. There are four main routes to language learning at university: Route 1: take a language degree Route 2: take a degree in another subject that incorporates language study, e.g. Leisure and Tourism Resource Management Route 3: combine a language with another subject

Universities and colleges of higher education. Courses are listed on, and you can search by subject and by where you would like to study. Universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland usually offer four-year degrees (with one year abroad). Some three-year courses are also available. In Scotland, languages degrees may be (but are not always) five years, including a year abroad. Go to: University websites also contain detailed information on courses available.

Route 4: take a language module available at some point in the degree or on an institution-wide language programme. Many degree courses offer the possibility of supported residence abroad at some point. Placements can be found around the world. Opportunities include studying at a partner university, teaching English on the assistantship scheme or doing a work placement.

First degrees for beginners

Postgraduate degrees

There are degrees available for students who are total beginners in the language they wish to study. Entry requirements vary depending on the language and the university. In some cases you would be asked for a qualification in another language, e.g. a qualification in French for beginners Spanish. Some other degree courses will also accept you if you are a total beginner. You will need to research your options.

Universities and colleges of higher education. Go to, and search under ‘beginners’ – you will see the beginners courses listed or go to

You can take postgraduate degrees (Master’s and doctorates) in many languages and related studies.

Universities and colleges of higher education. Search, under ‘postgraduate’. Go to Prospects website: University websites also contain information on postgraduate courses.

Degrees for teaching languages

You can combine learning a language with learning to teach – many languages are available, and courses often offer two modern languages.

Universities and colleges of higher education – go to and search under the language you wish to study, then look for ‘… and teaching’. You may also find the Training and Development Agency for Schools (TDA) website useful:

Learning languages

Postgraduate teaching qualifications

If you already have a languages degree and would like to teach in the UK, you can study for a Postgraduate Certificate in Education. There are also other routes into language teaching. Check to see if you will be able to use a UK teaching qualification in your home country before enrolling on a course. Most language posts in the UK require two languages.

Distance study

Universities. Go to the Training and Development Agency for Schools: Or to CILT, the National Centre for Languages: University websites also contain information on courses. You can also find out more at

There are language courses available which involve distance study and/or online learning. These courses will require a high level of self-study so you will need to be self-disciplined and wellmotivated.

Look for courses on

Most subjects (especially the more commonly studied languages) can be studied part-time.

Universities and colleges of higher education. Look for courses on

There are a variety of short courses available.

Independent colleges sometimes offer these – search under ‘short courses’.

Many courses are offered by the Open University. Go to

Part-time courses

Short courses/summer courses

Look also at for courses in Greater London.

Checklist: choosing the right course

Think about what sort of town or city you would like to live in – there are so many options for studying languages in the UK that you have a choice about your lifestyle.

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Check whether you need a certain level of proficiency in English – some institutions ask for this.

Be aware that language degree courses vary in length. Some Scottish universities’ language degrees may last five years instead of the usual four for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are also several three-year degrees.

Have a good look at the options available so that you choose a course that you enjoy and that will enable you to develop the skills you need to reach your goals.

If you want to teach your studied language in your own country or another, you should check whether British teacher training is recognised there.

Learning languages

2 Entrance Entrance for language courses is flexible, though most language degrees ask for an A/AS-level/Scottish Higher or equivalent in a language (not necessarily the one you intend to study). The grades asked for entrance to degree courses will depend very much on the institution. Popular institutions (and highly selective ones, such as Oxford and Cambridge) will ask for very good grades at A-level/Scottish Highers or equivalent. Even if you are a native speaker of the language you wish to study, you will still need to meet the entrance requirements.

3 How can I register as a professional? This applies only if you want to teach in the UK. Your degree – even if it is a Bachelor of Education (BEd) degree – can only recommend you for qualified teacher status (QTS). You would have to do a year’s probationary teaching and tests in literacy, numeracy and ICT before being allowed to teach in the UK. For more information refer to Teacher training in this series. Advice is also available on the website of the Training and Development Agency for Schools:

Would a United Kingdom qualification be recognised in other countries? Your qualifications in this field should be recognised all over the world. However, if you want to teach in a particular country, you should always check first with the government education department in that country to confirm that they recognise the qualification you are intending to pursue.

Socrates/Erasmus This agreement gives mobility between 31 countries – the 25 member states of the European Union (EU); three European Economic Area (EEA) countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway); and three associated countries (Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey). Students in higher education may spend a study period (from three to 12 months) in another participating country. They generally receive a grant to help offset the ‘mobility costs’ of studying in another country, such as travel, language preparation and differences in the cost of living. Socrates/Erasmus also supports the introduction of the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), a system of academic credit allocation and transfer, which has been developed experimentally by 145 universities in EU member states and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries and is now being implemented by more than 1,000 institutions. This system facilitates the recognition of periods of study abroad (but not of the final degree) for Erasmus students. It is now widely adopted across Europe as a basis for a credit system for every student. For more information refer to and

4 Next steps Checklist: your next steps

For an objective view of the teaching standards in individual departments at universities and colleges, look up the Teaching Quality Assessment report on (see Quality issues in this series for further information).

If you wish to take a postgraduate course, you can compare research departments by looking up research assessment exercise results on (see Quality issues in this series for further information).

After your preliminary searches, always obtain the prospectuses of institutions that interest you.

Learning languages

5 What else do I need to know? The regulations for entry into the UK are constantly changing and it is vital that you check the Home Office Border and Immigration Agency (BIA) website ( on a regular basis and check locally with your British Mission so you are aware of how UK immigration procedures will affect you. With the introduction of the new Australian-style points-based system you will need to keep even more up to date with the new immigration system changes when applying for a visa or work permit. For information on the points-based system go to: For advice on working in the UK: For advice about visas: For practical advice on living in the UK download Studying and living in the UK from:

6 Where can I find more information? The British Council has produced the Education UK portfolio to provide international students with a wide range of information and guidance that will help them find out more about studying a UK course and other important issues, such as applying to study, entry clearance and living in the UK. The portfolio includes: • • • • •

the Education UK website and a number of country websites containing locally relevant information – The essential guides to education in the UK: Undergraduate and pre-university; Postgraduate and MBA* Universities, Colleges and Schools Handbook* Club UK magazine,* also available online at Postgraduate UK magazine.*

*The publications are available at a selected number of British Council offices for students to use. The Education UK websites are a valuable source of information, with a database of over 450,000 courses and profiles of institutions that contain details of entry requirements, course fees; some offer a virtual tour of their campus.

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) Rosehill, New Barn Lane Cheltenham Gloucestershire GL52 3LZ Telephone +44 (0)87 0112 2211 Fax +44 (0)12 4254 4961 E-mail

Unistats The official website to help you compare subjects at universities and colleges in the UK. CILT, the National Centre for Languages Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies

Learning languages

Specialist Schools and Academies Trust

Department for Innovations, Universities and Skills (DIUS) Kingsgate House London SW1E 6SW

Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) Sanctuary Buildings Great Smith Street London SW1P 3BT Telephone +44 (0)87 0000 2288 Fax +44 (0)19 2879 4248 E-mail

Training and Development Agency for Schools 151 Buckingham Palace Road London SW1W 9SZ Teaching information line +44 (0)84 5600 0991 E-mail

While every effort has been made to ensure that the information given here is correct and up to date, the British Council accepts no legal liability for its accuracy, currency or completeness

April 2008 Š British Council 2008 The United Kingdom's international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. A registered charity: 209131 (England and Wales) SC037733 (Scotland).

Learning languages

Learning Languages  

If you choose to study languages in the United Kingdom (UK), you will find a wealth of courses and a wide range of levels at which to study....

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