Whether you are living in London or just visiting as a tourist, London is a fantastic place to improve your English. In this guide, we give you 10 fun ways to practise your English while exploring the city and its vibrant culture. Check out the vocabulary for each activity so you can use it during your time in the capital. Welcome to London!
Borough Market has existed in some form for over 1,000 years, but has been in its current location only since 1756. These days, it is a lively market that promotes sustainable food, creative cooking and community spirit.
Have a butcher’s at Borough market’s melting pot of food choices – ranging from traditional bread, cheese and meat to Spanish, Arabic and Venezuelan dishes.
Practise your English in markets by writing a shopping list and asking for the ingredients to make a meal. Ask questions like: How much do 10 tomatoes weigh? Can I ask where you source your beef? Which stall would you recommend for the best veg?
Going to any market forces you to speak English as you have to ask for items (unlike at a supermarket). Striking up casual conversations with stall owners can also bear fruit when it comes to improving your speaking skills and understanding of the local accent.
At Borough market, not only can you buy and taste food from all over the world, you also get the chance to break bread with friends in a vibrant and multicultural environment that shows you London’s true flavour.
Have a butcher’s: A butchers is a shop that specialises in selling meat. However, the phrase have a butcher’s means ‘to have a look at something’. This comes from Cockney Rhyming Slang ‘butcher’s hook’ (which rhymes with ‘look’).
Let’s have a butcher’s at your new phone then!
Melting pot: A place in which many people from different cultures live together.
London is a melting pot of cultures due to its long history of welcoming immigrants to the city.
To bear fruit: To have positive results, usually after performing an action.
Frida’s studies bore fruit because she got a good result in the exam.
Break bread: To share food or a meal.
The travellers broke bread with the locals.
Flavour: The flavour of a food is how it tastes: sweet, sour, spicy etc. However, we also use ‘flavour’ to describe the characteristics of something.
The room’s decor had a distinctly Victorian flavour.
Many museums in London are free! For history buffs there is the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. For boffins, there is the Science Museum. And for arty types, there are endless museums and galleries such as Tate Modern, the National Gallery or the Victoria and Albert Museum.
If entry is free, you can still support the museum by leaving a donation or hiring an audio device. This will also help improve your listening skills while browsing the exhibits. Alternatively, you could book a guided tour or participate in workshops or other museum events.
If you are on a tight budget, you could read the museum wall labels next to the displays or ask museum staff for recommendations on the best exhibits to visit.
While exploring artefacts from a bygone era, try asking questions like: Can you tell me a little about the museum’s history? What’s your favourite exhibit in the collection? Are there any interesting events happening this afternoon? You don’t have to be an exhibitionist (forgive the pun!) to make the most of your visit, you just need the confidence to ask a few questions.
Buff: A person who has a lot of knowledge about a subject.
Dave is a real film buff – he knows all the actors and directors in most 60s films.
Boffin: A funny slang word for a scientist, engineer or someone involved in technical research.
Our daughter is doing really well at science. She’s actually a bit of a boffin!
Arty: Connected with art, creative.
There are loads of arty cafes around London now.
Bygone era: A long time ago, a past age, old-fashioned time.
The parents said the teacher’s methods were from a bygone era!
Exhibitionist: Someone who likes the attention of other people.
Jill says Bryan is always making silly noises in class – he’s a real exhibitionist.
One of the best ways to see London is on foot. Take in the local culture and history while wandering the streets of London with a guide. If you want something traditional, try the Kensington Palace Gardens Tour and have tea and scones. Or perhaps check out the Harry Potter Walking Tour with the kids.
True crime fans can walk along the streets of Whitechapel on the Jack the Ripper Walking Tour. Or alternatively, take a stroll with the actor Vas Blackwood, who starred in the film ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’, and listen to stories about the Kray twins and London’s underworld on the Gangster Walking Tour of London’s East End (delivered in a thick London accent!).
Another great option is the Bowl of Chalk Walking Tour. ‘Bowl of chalk’ is cockney rhyming slang for ‘walk’. This is a tour with a Londoner called Jonnie around places such as Covent Garden and Trafalgar Square. It is a pay-as-you-feel tour, so is a great option if you are strapped for cash in the capital!
Walking tours are a fantastic way to listen to locals talk about their city and better understand the London accent.
Wander: To walk without purpose or clear direction, a relaxed walk.
I like to wander through the park on my way home from work.
Scone: A round cake with dried fruit, often eaten with cream or jam and a nice ‘cuppa’ (cup of tea).
The Sullivan family sat outside to have afternoon tea with scones.
Stroll: To walk at a relaxed speed.
The couple strolled along the beach.
Underworld: A part of society that belongs to criminal organisations.
The thief had been part of the city’s underworld since he was a child.
Pay-as-you-feel: pricing option where you pay what you can (within your budget)
The new community café has a pay-as-you-feel policy.
Shakespeare is difficult to understand even for native speakers, but you can find many other performances and family-friendly plays at the impressive Globe Theatre.
London is, of course, also famous for its West End: a district in central London with many theatres. You could pick a classic musical such as ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Cats’ so that you’re already familiar with the plot. Alternatively, choose something for the family, such as a theatrical remake of Disney’s ‘Frozen’.
Watching a play is a great way to listen to English while enjoying a visual performance. But you can also practise speaking by asking box office staff questions and booking tickets: Are there any family-friendly plays on tomorrow evening? Can I book four tickets for ‘Mama Mia’, please? Do you have any front row seats available?
Musical: A piece of theatre with dance and music in which performers sing words instead of speaking them.
Piotr didn’t like musicals – he didn’t understand what all the singing and dancing was about!
Plot: The basic events that happen in a story.
The writer explained the plot of her new book to the publishing house.
Remake: To make something again, redo.
The critics didn’t like the new remake of the film.
Box office: The place where you buy tickets at a cinema or theatre.
Let’s stop off at the box office and grab some tickets for a show this weekend.
If immersion is the key to quickly learning a language, then staying with a Londoner is the most immersive experience you can have!
There are many different options available. You could rent a room at an Airbnb and share the space with the homeowner during your stay. Ask your host about the local area or for recommendations on things to do off the beaten track.
If you want to stay for longer, perhaps as a student, you could try a ‘homestay’. This involves living with local people. There are websites where you can choose a host or ask to be matched with one by filling out an application form.
Living with a Londoner will give you better access to local knowledge. It will also offer you the chance to become mates with a native English speaker. Many guests keep in touch with their hosts and maintain life-long friendships with them! This can be an intense experience, but the opportunities to practise and improve your English are worth it.
Homeowner: A person who owns a flat or house.
The homeowner had to make numerous repairs on their property.
Off the beaten track: A place that people (or tourists) do not often go to.
Sally wanted to avoid the tourists, so she asked a local for a restaurant off the beaten track.
Become mates with: To become friends with, get to know.
I became mates with john during our time at uni.
Keep in touch: To maintain contact with someone.
Jorge found it difficult to keep in touch with his family while living abroad.
As London is full of people from all over the globe, it’s easy to find people who want to learn your language.
A language exchange is a meeting, usually in a public place, where people can safely teach each other their languages. For example, a Spanish and English person could speak for half an hour in English and then half an hour in Spanish at a café over coffee.
There are many groups that you can look up in London. For example, Mammoth Language Exchange, who also runs trips, walks and nights out. Many bars and cafes do language exchange nights too. If you don’t feel comfortable meeting people face-to-face, you can also arrange language exchanges online via Facebook groups or free websites.
This is a good budget study option, even though you probably won’t get the best grammar advice or corrections. A language exchange will give you a chance to mingle with new people. And, if you hit it off, you could even become besties one day!
Mingle: To mix with, socialise with others.
I don’t really know anyone here so I’ll just mingle, I guess!
Hit it off: To become friends with someone immediately
Katya and Seema really hit it off at the party last night!
Besty: Best friend, bezzy mate.
Julie and Sarah are besties at school.
Perhaps the most famous festival in London is Europe’s second biggest street event – Notting Hill Carnival. This takes place at the end of August and is a celebration of London’s Caribbean community.
Join revellers wearing brightly coloured costumes playing music, dancing and taking part in parades. There is also a great selection of Caribbean dishes, such as jerk chicken and rice & peas.
It’s a great opportunity to learn about one of the many different communities that make up London’s diverse population.
In addition to Notting Hill Carnival, many other festivals and celebrations take place throughout the year in the capital. If you like books, you could visit the London Literature Festival, which takes place at the Southbank Centre in October. If music is your cup of tea, you could try the Field Day for dance music or for something more classical give Proms in the Park a go.
Whatever you’re into, you should be able to find a festival for you, meet like-minded people, practise your English and learn more about British culture.
Reveller: Someone who dances, drinks or has a good time at a party.
The revellers partied on into the night.
Be one’s cup of tea: To be to someone’s liking or taste.
I’m afraid punk music isn’t really my cup of tea.
Give something a go: To try something.
Habib had never been mountain biking, but he decided to give it a go.
Be into: To like something or do it as a hobby.
My wife is really into tennis.
Celebrities, tourists and locals all go to this huge street market to buy bric-a-brac, vintage clothing, expensive antiques and many other items. If you want the full experience, it’s best to go on a Saturday when all the stalls are out on the streets.
Going to a street market is not only a great opportunity to pick up a bargain, it’s also a brilliant way to practise your English by haggling with the market traders to see if you can get a better price.
Try saying something like: If you can get the price down to… then I think we have a deal or That’s a bit out of my price range, can you make me a better offer? If negotiating in English is part of your job, then visiting street markets is a good place to practise your skills!
Bric-a-brac: Random items that have little value.
Kim’s Gran’s house was full of all types of bric-a-brac.
Stalls: A table that sellers put their products on to sell.
The street had stalls full of every food you could imagine.
Bargain: A good deal, cheap price.
Mia got a 75% discount on her new shoes – what an absolute bargain!
Haggle: To negotiate in order to get a better price or conditions.
In Moroccan markets, you are always expected to haggle!
In London, you never really need to speak to Tube staff (the local name for London’s underground rail service). Instead, you can get through the ticket gates with your contactless bank card or travel pass, and you do the same on busses.
Nevertheless, using public transport is great way to get to know the city, and it also involves reading a lot of signage and listening to announcements. This can be a good way to learn useful words, such as: platform, alight and mind (the gap). In addition, you can learn a lot about the city of London by researching Tube station names and their origins.
When walking London’s streets, you can also practise asking people for directions. Try saying: Excuse me. Could you tell me how to get to Marble Arch, please? Revise verbs of motion so you understand what people are saying to you (go across, turn left, cross over, head through, etc.).
Buy train and bus tickets face-to-face to get more speaking and listening practice. Doing it online is easy but doesn’t improve your English much! If you want good practice conversation, then order a taxi because London cabbies are famous for being chatterboxes!
Contactless: The word means ‘without contact’, but it’s also a new type of payment method whereby the customer pays by putting their debit or credit card next to the card reader to make the transaction.
Does the ice cream van accept contactless payments, or just cash?
Alight: To leave a train, bus or other big transport after a journey.
The announcement said to take all your luggage before alighting (the train).
Mind: To pay attention to, be concerned about.
The sign warned people to mind their heads when going through the tunnel.
Chatterbox: Someone who talks a lot (too much)
My son is only 7, but he’s a real chatterbox!
If you’re going to stay in London for a long time, return on repeated business trips or even live there, one of the best ways to learn English quickly is make use of all the services in your local area.
Get a trim at your local hairdressers and tell them your life story! Try some trousers on in a clothes shop and ask for them in different colours and sizes. Ask for bread, fruit and veg or meat at the local shops or engage in small talk with the owner of the local corner shop.
If staying longer, you could also join a local hobby or sports club. This is a great way to meet more local people and improve your English skills.
Taking advantage of all the services in your area forces you to learn a lot of words and phrases that are common in everyday life. Daily repetition then helps you remember this vocabulary.
Get a trim: An informal phrase for ‘get a haircut’.
It had been six months since Izzy last got a trim at the salon.
Try something on: To put clothes/shoes on to see if they fit well or look good.
The sales assistant asked Sue if she wanted to try the dress on.
Small talk: Conversation about unimportant things (such as the weather).
My dad loves making small talk with random strangers!
Corner shop: Traditionally, a small convenience store located on the corner of two roads.
I’m just nipping out to the corner shop. Do you need anything?
These are just some ideas to help you make the most of your time in London and improve your English at the same time. Brits have a reputation for being quiet and reserved, but you will find that most people are friendly and willing to help you in the capital.
Building up your fluency and confidence to speak English with locals can take time, but immersion is the best way to learn any language.
If you would like to improve your English with the help of one of our experienced native English tutors, please request a free consultation to get started!