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Depending upon the UK university that you select, up to 25% of the student population will have a primary language other than English. Many universities offer English language courses called ESOL, English for Speakers of Other Languages.

Understanding ESOL at UK Universities

If English is not your first language, there are a variety of programs to help you gain admission to a university in the UK. Generally, they are all grouped under the term ESOL, or English for Speakers of Other Languages. If you want to be more confident about your academic listening skills, EASE (Essential Academic Skills in English), may be able to help you. Many African students who have excellent skills at reading and writing English are weak in spoken English, simply because they have not had the opportunity to practice.

Before you enroll in any English program, check with your university. Most universities offer special ESOL courses for their students, either free or at very reasonable prices. Many universities offer English tutors, and many have discussion groups especially designed to improve spoken English. The British Council also provides information of English language support for students.

Every vocational college and university in the UK sets its own standards for English proficiency. The best way to learn more about English universities is to research them online. Once you have narrowed the choices down to a dozen schools or so, contact the schools. Each university should have an office for international students. Most universities accept several different tests, as proof of your ability to speak and understand English. Here’s a brief overview of some of the ESOL tests required by different universities.

One standard that many universities use is the NQF or National Qualification Framework scale. NQF attempts to set a standard across the many types of English test available. Different universities require NQF Level 1, 2 or 3 for their international students, with Level 3 being the most difficult.

Cambridge University has the Cambridge English for Speakers of Other Languages test, which is used by a number of other universities. The minimum is a First Certificate in English, which is equivalent to a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) Level 1. Some universities require a Certificate in Advanced English, the NQF Level 2. Others require a Certificate of Proficiency in English (NQF Level 3).

If you are taking the International GCSE exams, a First Language English exam (Syllabus number 0500) is often accepted with a grade of C or better. The IGCSE English as a Second Language (Syllabus number 0510) is also accepted. Again, the grade is C or better.

Another test that is widely accepted in the UK is the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB). A score of 80 or above is required for most universities in the UK. A score of 90 or above is required for programs in English literature.

The TOEFL or Test of English as a Foreign Language, may be taken either on paper or online. For the paper test, most universities require a score of 550 or higher (600 for literary programs.) For the online test, a score of 213 is usually required.

You may want to study English while you are in the UK. Many African students say that improving their English is a major reason they choose a UK university. After all, English is the universal language of the business world.

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