Current state of ELT in UK

Irrespective of the current ‘Brexit’ situation, the UK’s share of the global ELT market has been declining steadily since 2011 according to English UK, the national association of accredited English language centres in the United Kingdom. This decline is in stark contrast to the rise of the ELT market in other English speaking countries such USA, Canada and Australia.

There are many reasons for this. Firstly, short-term visa requirements for non-EU citizens have become stricter, and secondly the economic situation in southern Europe has resulted in far fewer students from those countries having the resources to spend time learning English in the UK.

However, it is not all bad news – UK Universities remain some of the top ranked institutions in the world, and such a reputation continues to entice international students who are subsequently required to obtain a certificate of English competence, such as IELTS or CAE. Ultimately, for those who can afford to pay the high international student fees, there are fewer restrictions, and the demand for ELT teachers focused on preparing students for these exams continues to grow.

And how about the experience of those students upon arriving here in UK? Looking beyond the rhetoric of those English Language Schools whose websites promise their students will have the time of their lives learning with them, what is the reality? In my experience, I have heard many stories of excessively large class sizes where students hear more people speaking their own languages rather than English, and where progress can be disappointingly slow. Add to this the further frustration of finding it difficult to meet local people with whom to practice their language skills, while in a big city full of other international citizens who are all there for the same reason as they are, and the whole experience can feel rather disheartening.

The option of going to a smaller town where students will hear only English being spoken appeals to some, but this is a fantasy for most people, who flock to big cities in need of work in order to finance their studies.

What is certainly the case is that methods of English teaching – and learning – have significantly changed in recent years. These days, when many young people arrive in the UK to improve their English, their ability is often higher than the level of those who arrived ten or fifteen years ago. The reason for this is that the teaching methods in their home countries have improved over this time, and they will have also been exposed to a much greater level of English through various international media. Many of these young students regularly watch internet tutorials with very charismatic and innovative tutors, and they expect the same standards from their teachers in the UK – especially when they are paying large sums of money for a short course. Many young ELT students also regularly converse with online tutors for free via web forums, as well as having access to first rate phone apps and software, so the bar has been set much higher by the time they arrive into their classroom. With all the various ways in which students can now learn English, the teacher’s job is much harder than it was 20 years ago.

Martin Wilson has been working as a teacher of English to non-native speakers for over 13 years, since qualifying from St. Giles International College, London, in 2004. His Trinity Tesol Certificate was followed shortly after with a Masters Degree in Linguistics and Philosophy from The University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Martin’s experience within the various fields of ELT has been plentiful, and has involved teaching children and teenagers in Thailand, as well as asylum seekers and refugees throughout Europe, and university students and business professionals in London, UK. In this series of blogs, Martin aims to share his insights into the world of ELT, including tips and tricks for students and teachers alike, in addition to observations and reviews regarding current available material and resources. Martin can be contacted at

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