14 Fun Ways to Practise Your English in London
No trip to the UK would be complete without some sightseeing in its thrilling capital, London, where there’s enough to do to fill an entire year.
The good news is that as well as enjoying the numerous places of interest that London has to offer, you can use your trip to improve your English. If you’re heading to London as a tourist this year, take advantage of these tourist favourites (and a few less well-known ones) to have a go at practising your English in its natural habitat.
1. See a West End show
There’s a reason why London’s West End is equalled in fame only by New York’s Broadway. The world’s most exciting theatre is to be found here, from weighty Shakespeare plays to Andrew Lloyd Webber classics and brand new comic musicals. West End shows are much loved by tourists and locals alike, and on any given night you have a huge number of performances to choose from. It’s little wonder that this is one of the most popular things we do on our coach excursions during our summer school. Even better, they’re all in English, so as well as enjoying a tourist favourite, you’ll be improving your English in the process. Will you see Billy Elliot, The Lion King, Mamma Mia!, The Phantom of the Opera, or something else?
2. Browse the British Museum
The British Museum isn’t just one of the finest museums in the country – it’s one of the largest and finest on the planet, housing a priceless collection of over 8 million objects from around the world. Among its incredible treasures are the Rosetta Stone – which allowed us to understand hieroglyphs – and the Parthenon sculptures. To improve your English, rather than wandering around aimlessly looking at objects without understanding what they are, use one of the museum’s Multimedia Guides. They cost just £4.50 for students (museum entry is free), and they’re available in ten languages, but clearly you should select English! The guides will teach you about more than 200 different objects in 61 of the museum’s galleries, providing you with audio commentary and images so that you can hear English being used to describe the objects you see in front of you.
3. Take a tour of the Tower of London and other famous tourist spots
Another famous London landmark to offer Multimedia Guides is the Tower of London. The Tower of London is an essential stop on the London tourist trail, with a long and interesting history. Its use as a prison during the 16th and 17th centuries is best known, gaining it notoriety as a place of torture and death. That’s just one aspect of its past though, as you’ll discover as you learn about this symbolic English landmark whilst improving your English listening to the audio guide. Other places offering useful audio tours to help you practise your English listening skills include the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace, the Houses of Parliament and the Tate Modern.
4. Order a meal in a famous restaurant
Eating out requires you to practise your English, as you’ll have to order food, ask for the bill, and understand questions from the waiter. Luckily, there’s no shortage of interesting places to eat at in London that are perfect for enjoying as a tourist as well as being good places to practise your English. There are innumerable cheaper eateries, but if you have the budget, some of the famous places are worth splashing out on just for the experience. For afternoon tea, try opulent Claridges or Fortnum and Mason. For an unusual dining experience, you can’t get much more bizarre than Dans le Noir, the selling point of which is that you eat in pitch black darkness and you’re guided around by blind waiters. The idea is that, robbed of your sight, your sense of taste is heightened and the food tastes even better; also, if you can’t see the food in front of you, you’re stripped of the ability to make any preconceptions based on its appearance, and you’re therefore free to approach everything you try with an open mind. Because you’ll be in the dark, unable to see each other’s body language, talking will be even more important, so it’s the perfect opportunity to practise your English!
5. Go on a walking tour
There are lots of organised tours of London encompassing various modes of transport, but arguably the best way to appreciate the city is to go on a walking tour. These are more intimate than bus tours and allow you to interact with the tour guide more easily, thus providing you with the opportunity to ask questions and practise your English. London Walks gets excellent reviews and its walking tours cost £7 for students.
6. Buy a book at Southbank book market
A great way of improving your English is by reading English-language books. If you don’t have many – or any – get yourself down to London’s Southbank and while away half an hour or so browsing the books on offer at the Southbank Centre’s Book Market. This authentically ‘London’ experience has to be one of the most appealing ways of acquiring second-hand English-language books, as it’s held underneath Waterloo Bridge every day, in all weathers. With masses of titles to choose from at great prices, you’re sure to find a few books you can look forward to reading in English to help you learn. Once you’ve bought books to your heart’s content, you could find a bench along the riverbank and enjoy some quiet reading, watching the world go by on the river and its shore.
7. Buy a ticket on the London Underground
The London Underground is vast and pretty confusing for those unaccustomed to it. It’s definitely something to be experienced while you’re in London though, and you can use your trip on it to help improve your English by using the English on-screen instructions rather than setting it to your own language when you buy your ticket.
8. See a film in an old – or secret – cinema
London has numerous cinemas, including some real gems. Take your pick from the unique cinemas on this list, and imbibe the historic atmosphere while enjoying an English-language film. If you want an even more original experience, you could try London’s worst-kept cinematic secret: Secret Cinema. It’s a monthly gathering of film enthusiasts who meet at different (secret) locations across London for a fully immersive cinematic experience in which the world of the film being shown is brought to life. You don’t know what the film is in advance, and you’ll be involved in the action surrounding the film as a participant – dressing up and taking on the name and personality of a character, rather as you would in a murder mystery. This article gives you a bit more information and tells you about what happened for a screening of The Shawshank Redemption. For the more adventurous among you, it’s a great opportunity to practise your English by interacting with fellow participants as well as seeing an English-language film.
9. Shop at Portobello Market
You might have seen London’s famous Portobello Market in that famous scene in Notting Hill in which Hugh Grant walks through it as the seasons change. Noted for its antiques, the market is also a good place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as lots of other foods, clothes and miscellaneous new and second-hand goods. Get there early to avoid the crowds, or hang around late on a Saturday to bag the best bargains.
10. Blast out some karaoke tunes
Get together a group of friends and head to Lucky Voice, a Japanese-style karaoke venue in Soho that allows you to hire out private karaoke booths. This is a great opportunity to practise your English by singing some classic tunes, without the intimidating audience you’ll get in many karaoke bars. There’s room for between four and twelve of you and you can order drinks and snacks direct to your booth. You’ll be improving your English without even realising it, and songs are a particularly good way to remember vocabulary because the rhymes and rhythms make the words stick in your head.
11. Go cheese-tasting at Neal’s Yard Dairy
If you consider yourself to be a bit of a foodie, there are numerous places in London for gourmet tasting sessions. If, like London’s famous 17th-century diarist Samuel Pepys, you’re a lover of good cheese, you’ll love taking part in one of the cheese-tasting classes run by Neal’s Yard Dairy in London’s Borough Market. You’ll put your English skills to good use in learning all about a mouthwatering selection of artisanal cheeses, both from the UK and overseas, with one of Neal’s Yard’s expert cheesemongers and a knowledgeable guest speaker as your guides. In addition to the delicious cheeses you’ll try, you’ll also be treated to food and drink (designed to match the cheeses, of course), and there will be lots of opportunities to ask questions – the perfect way to put your English skills to the test and feast on some incredible cheese at the same time!
12. Visit an auction at Sotherby’s
Auction house Sotherby’s is one of the most famous in the world, and it’s been going since 1744. As a member of the public, you’re able to go in and watch an auction, and perhaps even bid on something that takes your fancy. It’s not just fabulously expensive art, antiques and jewellery that goes up for sale here – there are more affordable things too. But the main appeal is to experience the excitement of an international auction house and improve your English by listening to what’s going on, learning about the items on sale and perhaps chatting to fellow attendees.
13. Take a Warner Brothers Studio Tour
Harry Potter fans will love the new Warner Brother Studios Tour, as it takes you around many of the sets used in the Potter films, including the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office and Diagon Alley. Walking tours take place throughout the day, giving you the chance to hear about the filming of Harry Potter – in English, of course, so you can improve your listening skills and ask questions in English. It’s not in central London, but Watford is an easy train journey from London Euston.
14. Listen to debates on Speakers’ Corner
Speakers’ Corner – in the corner of Hyde Park near Marble Arch – has long been a forum for open-air public speaking on any topic, and it’s become one of the most famous free speech locations in the world. If you’re looking for ways to practise your English, you can do a lot worse than going to Speakers’ Corner on a Sunday morning, listening to what the orators there have to say, and perhaps even engaging in debate with them, if you’re feeling particularly confident in your English abilities. You might see speakers here throughout the week if you can’t make a Sunday. The great thing about Speakers’ Corner is that you never know what topics you’re going to be hearing about, so it forces you to think on the spot and be creative with your use of English. Anyone can stand up and speak, and you never know – perhaps the inspiration will strike you and you’ll want to speak too!
If none of the things on this list appeal to you, don’t worry – there are countless more art galleries, museums, restaurants and other attractions that all offer you the chance to practise your English. Just hearing English spoken around you when you visit these places will help you tune into the language and improve your knowledge of pronunciation, vocabulary and syntax. Who’d have thought a holiday could be so educational?