More and more students are heading for London but there are many types of destination on offer. Melanie Butler explains the market segments
In 2017 London was one of the two-fastest growing destinations for English language learning in the UK, according to statistics from language school association English UK.
But, in terms of language school locations, London is not one destination but three very different ones spread around a city, which at 1,570 square kilometres is twice the size of the nation of Singapore.
First there is Central London, which sits north of the River Thames and covers the cultural commercial centre, known as the West End, and the financial centre, known confusingly as ‘the City’.
It sits inside the Circle Line, a branch of the underground railway, and is often referred to as Zone 1 after its position in the transport system.
Zone 1 is to London as Manhattan is to New York. It is the historic cultural centre of a city full of famous shops, free museums, theatres and royal palaces.
It is home to the University of London and more than twenty accredited language schools, many of which are now found near the university neighbourhoods of Holborn, Bloomsbury and Covent Garden.
It’s a great place to study, but few students can afford to live there.
Property prices in Central London are the third highest in the world and, like Manhattan, it is inhabited almost entirely by the international super rich. And the international super rich don’t take in students.
On average, living with host families in London costs under £200 a week including meals.
This is less than in New York, Paris and even Beijing. But if there are any ordinary British families left in Zone 1 with a spare bedroom, they are unlikely to take a student. After all, they can make £300 a weekend on Airbnb.
British students live in Zone 2. There are so many student residences in the inner city areas clustered just outside the centre it should really be called the Student Zone, though it is also the centre for the tech industry and a mecca for artists and musicians.
The Student Zone, which spreads north and east of the centre and on the south bank of the Thames, is full of cool clubs and coffee shops, multicultural markets and, increasingly, language schools.
With the redevelopment of Oxford Street, the Zone 1 shopping area, pushing up rents, half of London’s low-cost language schools have followed the students out of the centre.
Increasingly, most international students live in the commercial residences that have sprung up across Zone 2.
Student accommodation here is around £250 a week before meals. That is cheaper than New York and about the same price as Sydney according to Yahoo News.
But again, space is at a premium in Zone 2 and few families have a spare room to let.
Which bring us to London’s best kept secret: the family villages such as Wimbledon and Hampstead.
Where other cities have bleak modern ‘suburbs’ filled with the city’s poor, London is ringed with green, leafy residential areas that grew up in the 19th century as the arrival of the railways allowed London to spread out to include the historic towns and villages around the centre.
This is where London families love to live. Good-sized houses with large gardens centred around historic homes, picturesque local shops and vast green parks.
These areas are famous for their great schools, including a number of the best language schools in the UK, and their rapid transport links to the centre.
This is picture postcard England 30 minutes by train from Zone 1 and the only parts of the city where you can find good host families within 15 minutes’ walk from a great language school.
The truth is that London is different from most world cities because it is not one destination but many.
As American journalist James Gearey once said: ‘London is a glorious mess.
It evolved from a score or so of distinct villages, that merged and meshed as their boundaries enlarged.
As a result, London is a labyrinth, full of turnings and twistings just like a brain.’.