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How to Test Your English Level for IELTS

If you’re applying for a visa for work or study in the UK, you’ll need to do well on your IELTS test. So, you may be wondering how do you test your English level for IELTS? This is important, so that you can set realistic goals, and prepare properly for your test.

Of course, most students would like to speak English totally fluently. Taking an IELTS preparation course is one of the best ways to do this, but only if you have a clear picture of your current language skills.

With that in mind, today we’re going to look at how to test your English level for IELTS, so that you can choose the perfect course for you.

Let’s start with the basics.

How Does IELTS Test Your English Level?

IELTS is designed to test all different levels of English language skills, from absolute beginners, to complete fluency. Students are given a score on a nine-band scale, with zero meaning no language skills, and nine being an expert English user.

The test itself is divided into three sections:

  • Speaking,
  • Listening,
  • Reading,
  • Writing.

Unlike many English tests, IELTS does not have a particular passing grade. Instead, IELTS is aimed at accurately assessing your English skills. Different universities and governments can choose their own IELTS score to use as an entry requirement.

For all four sections of the test, IELTS assesses your ability to use and understand a range of grammar, vocabulary, accents and contexts, with accuracy and fluency.

Next, we’ll look at how you can test your English level for each of the four parts of the IELTS exam.

How to Test Your English Level for IELTS Speaking

The speaking portion of the IELTS test is probably the most difficult to self-assess. Naturally, the best way to do this is by speaking to an experienced English teacher or IELTS tutor. However, if this isn’t an option, you can still get a rough idea of your spoken English level.

One way to do this is to record yourself answering a practice question, for example describing what you did at the weekend. You can then either critique your own skills, or ask an English speaking friend to do this for you.

The key thing here is to use the actual IELTS assessment criteria.

For example, some of the key criteria include how often you hesitate in your speech, as well as the range of vocabulary and syntax which you can use to express yourself in detail. Be critical, and compare your responses in English with all the things you might say in your native language.

Once again, the most effective way to accurately test your English speaking level for IELTS is to speak to an experienced teacher. All other strategies are only an estimate.

Test your English level for IELTS speaking conversation photo
The best way to test your spoken English level for IELTS is with an experienced teacher. Image credit:
Mimi Thian

How to Test Your English Level for IELTS Listening & Reading

For the listening and reading portions of the exam, it’s much easier to accurately test your English level for IELTS. The easiest way to do this is using official practice tests. These are available in print, or as online language learning resources.

The key here is to take the practice tests under real life IELTS exam conditions. This means spending 30 minutes on the listening test, and an hour for the reading section. If you use official practice papers, you can mark your work based on the answers at the back of the book.

Both of these tests are marked out of 40, which you can then translate into an IELTS band to see how close you are to your target score. It’s generally a good idea to take a few practice tests, and then work out how you’re doing on average.

It’s also important to note that there are two different IELTS reading tests.

These are for the General and Academic IELTS streams. As such, if you want to accurately test your English level for IELTS, it’s important to use the practice papers which match your goals.

How to Test Your English Level for IELTS Writing

Like speaking, it’s a bit trickier to test your written English level for IELTS. Really, the only truly accurate way to measure your writing skills is to engage a professional English teacher. 

However, just like the speaking test, it’s possible to estimate your English level for IELTS. There are two different strategies which are popular. These are:

  • Using online assessment tools and language tests,
  • Using the CEFR framework to estimate your writing skills.

There are many different online IELTS tests out there, but some are much better than others. It’s always best to use an online IELTS test from a reputable language school, or experienced online English teacher.

If you don’t have access to an English teacher, you can also estimate your IELTS band using the Common European Framework for Reference of Languages (CEFR). Just like IELTS, the CEFR is a scale which ranges from no knowledge, to complete fluency.

These bands are as follows:

  • Beginner (A1) – You can only use or understand basic vocabulary and sentences. Equivalent to IELTS bands 0-3.
  • Elementary (A2) – You can communicate simple ideas in familiar settings. Equivalent to IELTS bands 3-4.
  • Intermediate (B1) – You can deal with most situations you might encounter as a tourist. Equivalent to IELTS bands 4-5.
  • Upper Intermediate (B2) – You can interact with native speakers with fluency and accuracy in most everyday situations. Equivalent to IELTS bands 5-6.
  • Advanced (C1) – You can confidently use English in almost all social, professional or academic situations. Equivalent to IELTS bands 6-8.
  • Master (C2) – You can use and understand virtually all written English. Equivalent to IELTS bands 8+.

There are countless resources available for assessing your CEFR English level, including online tests, quizzes, working with a professional teacher, or simple self-assessment.

Test your English level for IELTS pen and paper photo
You can estimate your IELTS level using the CEFR. Image credit:
Aaron Burden

How Can I Improve my IELTS Score?

Of course, the most important thing is not just figuring out your current English level for IELTS. It’s coming up with a plan to improve your English skills and meet your language learning goals. Knowing how to test your English level is simply the first step on your journey.

As we’ve stressed throughout, the only truly effective way to gauge your IELTS level is to work with a professional language school. This might be through a one-to-one consultation, or using their own online assessment tools.

In the same way, the most effective way to improve your IELTS score, and meet your goals, is with a specialist IELTS preparation course. At International House Belfast, we have helped countless IELTS students to move on to bigger and better things.

As part of the International House family, we have partner organisations across the UK and Ireland, including in Galway, Manchester, Portsmouth and Bristol. Wherever you are, the International House family is here to support you with your English language goals.

7 Amazing Day Trips from Belfast

One of the essential parts of international student life is getting the chance to travel, explore, and practice your English in a range of settings. Luckily, you’ll have the chance to take day trips from Belfast to towns and cities all over the UK and Ireland.

Belfast is well connected by bus, rail, sea and air. Within a couple of hours, you can be in most of the major day trip destinations around the British Isles.

Today, we’re going to look at some of the most popular day trips from Belfast. We’ll look at some of your options close to home, as well as destinations further afield, which are surprisingly accessible.

Visiting different cities is a great way to improve your English, by immersing yourself in a variety of different accents and dialects.

With that in mind, here are our top day trips from Belfast.

The North Coast

Northern Ireland’s North Coast is a world-class tourist destination in its own right. The centre-piece of this is the Giant’s Causeway, one of the Wonders of the Natural World, which is visited by thousands of tourists every year.

The Giant’s Causeways is made up of over 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, which descend down to the sea. A number of providers offer tours from Belfast, or you can get to the Causeway by car in under two hours.

Elsewhere on the North Coast, you’ll find countless stunning beaches, quaint seaside villages, and top-quality pubs and restaurants. Many of these are dotted along the Causeway Coastal Route, which is regularly voted the world’s most scenic drive.

Day Trips from Belfast to Dublin

Ireland’s capital is probably the most popular day trip from Belfast. You can travel from city to city in around two hours, by bus, train, or car. With a population of over 500,000, Dublin is a bustling city, with a vibrant and accessible centre.

Whether you’re looking for music, culture, history, shopping, or food, Dublin is Ireland’s ultimate day trip destination.

Our students particularly enjoy a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, complete with a free pint with a panoramic view of Dublin city.

Day trips from Belfast Dublin photo
Dublin is just two hours south of Belfast. Image credit:
Dimitry Anikin


Northern Ireland’s second city can be accessed in just a couple of hours from Belfast, via road, bus or train. If you opt to travel by rail, the journey is a little bit longer, but you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views along Northern Ire;and’s North Coast.

Derry is a compact city of just 150,000 people. It’s inhabitants are famed for their warm hospitality and sense of humour. Many of our students choose to make a day trip, after seeing the hit comedy, Derry Girls.

It’s also a city with a rich and varied history, with a particular highlight being a walk around the City Walls. Afterwards, you might choose to relax with some pub grub and a craft beer at the Walled City Brewery in Ebrington Square.

Visit Galway

A little bit further afield, Galway is Ireland’s artistic hub. A small university city on the West Coast, Galway is famed for its nightlife, music and laid back vibe. It’s also a popular holiday destination for families, with easy access to stunning beaches at Salt Hill and Silver Strand.

Travelling to Galway from Belfast via public transport will require a transfer in Dublin. This can make the journey time a little long for a day trip, so you may want to consider lengthening your stay.

You can get to Galway by car in a little over three hours. Even so, you’ll probably want to stay overnight, as there are so many things to do in Galway.

Belfast to Manchester

In the age of cheap flights, more and more destinations have become accessible for day trips from Belfast. One of the most popular and convenient destinations is undoubtedly Manchester.

The flight takes just forty-five minutes, and tickets can be found for as low as £30 if you book in advance. Fly out first thing in the morning, and return that evening. This is a popular option for football fans, especially Manchester United and City supporters.

Of course, even if football isn’t your thing, there are plenty of things to do in Manchester. Take a stroll around the bustling boutiques and bars in the Northern Quarter, or visit one of the city’s many art galleries.

Manchester skyline
Manchester is just as short flight from Belfast. Image credit:
William McCue

Belfast to Bristol

Bristol is one of the oldest and most scenic cities in the whole of the UK, dating back to the Romans. The city itself is stunning, with a unique blend of medieval, gothic and modern architecture. Bristol is perfect for a photo opportunity.

It’s also one of the UK’s youngest cities, thanks in part to the students of Bristol University. This gives the city a lively atmosphere, with a wide variety of bars, nightclubs, restaurants and coffee shops.

Our students particularly enjoy browsing the quirky stalls and food trucks of St. Nicholas Market, which has operated at the heart of the city since 1743. For recently, it has been voted the UK’s best large indoor retailer.

Flights depart several times per day to Bristol, with journey times of around an hour. A return trip can be found for as little as £40 per person.

Belfast to Portsmouth

Portsmouth is the perfect destination if you’d like to visit England’s South Coast for the day. Just a short train journey from London Gatwick Airport, Portsmouth can be cheaply and easily reached by plane from Belfast all year around.

As the UK’s only island city, it’s also one of the warmest places in the UK. This makes Portsmouth the perfect day trip destination to enjoy sunny weather and a day at the beach. 

With countless things to do in Portsmouth, it’s hard to choose a favourite. Gunwharf Quays is a truly unique shopping and entertainment destination, with countless independent shops and cafes, as well as over thirty bars and restaurants.

Portsmouth skyline
A little further afield, it takes just over two hours to travel to Portsmouth via Gatwick Airport. Image credit: Bea Fladstad

Belfast: Your Gateway to the UK and Ireland

Belfast is probably the best hub for exploring everything that the UK and Ireland has to offer. With extensive transport links across the British Isles, you have countless options for amazing day trips from Belfast. 

Of course, studying abroad isn’t all travel.

Take a look at our information on life in Belfast to find out what you can expect from the city itself. There’s always something new to discover.

How to Choose a Business English Course for your Industry

For many people around the world, learning English can be a huge career boost. In fact, in many industries, this is required to make it to a senior position. As such, it’s vital to know how to choose the right business English course.

Of course, learning a language is a big investment, in both time and money. When you choose any kind of language course, you want to be confident that you’re getting the most benefit from it.

A huge part of this is choosing the right course for your industry, and your own specific goals. Different industries have their own specific vocabularies, as well as different norms when it comes to how people communicate.

Today, we’re going to cover everything you should consider when choosing a business English course. But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is a Business English Course?

Business English is a broad term. Different businesses communicate differently, depending on their location, industry and company culture. For example, the ways colleagues interact in the finance industry may be a lot more formal than in the IT sector.

Business English courses allow students to learn the core skills they need to communicate properly in person, presentations, emails, phone calls and letters. You’ll also learn how to work with both clients and colleagues in English.

However, English courses can vary widely, in both quality and content.

With that in mind, here are six things you should keep in mind when choosing a course.

1. Specialist Business Language

The first thing to consider is whether you’ll need to learn any specialist language in your industry. For example, in Engineering and other technical fields, you’ll need to be able to use very specific vocabulary to communicate effectively.

You’ll also need very specialist English skills for healthcare, as well as tips for your OET exam.

In other fields, it’s not so much vocabulary that you need to worry about, as using an appropriate tone. For example, in some industries, like finance, law or consulting, there may be very strict expectations about how you communicate with clients and colleagues.

You should look for a business English course with extensive focus on your industry. Specifically, look for reviews from past pupils who work in your niche.

Business English course -Engineering colleagues speaking
It’s important to choose a business English course which covers relevant industry content. Image credit:
ThisisEngineering RAEng

2. Look for Links to Industry

Links to industry are also important. After all, a business English course is supposed to improve your career prospects. Obviously, one way to do this is improving your language skills.

Beyond this, many business English courses also offer placements in relevant businesses. Not only does this give you a chance to practice your business English skills, you’ll also get to sharpen your hard skills and gain relevant work experience.

Learners at all stages of their careers should seek out English courses with strong industry links to local companies.

Executive immersion is another popular option for improving your language skills in an industrial setting.

3. Accredited Business English Courses

You’ll also want to choose a reputable language school. If a course has accreditation, it means that it is backed up by an official authority, exam board, or university. This shows that a business English course is formally recognised.

This is important if you would like an official qualification in business English, which may be a requirement for certain job roles.

For other learners, a formal qualification may be less important than simply practicing your English skills, and gaining language immersion experience in an industrial setting.

4. Help Developing Your Soft Skills

What you learn outside the classroom is often just as important as the formal curriculum. In business, soft skills are crucial. This can mean how you build relationships, or awareness of the culture you’re working in.

The social side of any business English course is essential. Look for a course which offers social events, cultural learning, and opportunities to network with other language learners. Ideally, you’ll also want to gain knowledge of local culture, customs and traditions.

Socialising language students
The social side of any business English course is crucial for many learners. Image credit:
Kevin Curtis

5. Online vs Classroom Learning

These days, online professional English courses are a strong option. With improved technology online learning has become more and more common, and more popular with learners and employers alike.

Most online English courses combine video calls with other digital learning tools, like games, presentations and practice exercises. This can be an excellent option for students who don’t have the time or resources to travel to a physical classroom.

6. One-to-One vs Group Learning

You’ll also want to consider whether a course is offered in a one-to-one or group learning format. It’s not that one is better than the other. Rather, different kinds of learning suit different students and their goals.

One-to-one courses are popular with students who have very specific interests and needs, or who need extensive feedback from instructors. The downside is that they are typically more expensive than group classes.

Group learning also offers a number of benefits, including more time dedicated to team projects, and practicing your business English skills with other students.

Classroom photo
These days, you also have a choice of online or classroom learning. Image credit:
M. Monk

How to Choose a Business English Course

As you can tell, there are a number of things to keep in mind when choosing a business English course. The first thing to think about is what you actually want to achieve. Do you need a formal qualification, or do you simply want to sharpen your communications skills?

Beyond this, you’ll need to think about whether you need to learn specialist skills for your specific industry, or if there are opportunities to gain additional work experience in the process.

Finally, you should consider how the course itself will be delivered, and any opportunities you’ll have to work on your soft skills, like team work or cultural awareness.

At International House Belfast, we’re experts on all kinds of language learning. See our courses page to find out more.

10 Language Learning Tips for Students and Teachers

Learning a new language is one of the most rewarding things you can do. However, it’s also a big challenge. The role of a language teacher is to help their students along their journey. To help, we’ve compiled a list of language learning tips for students and teachers alike.

When learning any new skill, one of the most difficult things is knowing how to spend your time.

As you learn a language it’s only natural that you’d like to make as much progress as you can, as quickly as possible. Teachers also want this for their students. As such, you don’t want to waste any time on ineffective methods.

With that in mind, here are 8 tips language learners can use to reach their full potential.

1. Think about how you Learn

Not everyone learns the same way. Some people need more study than others, but this depends on what you want to achieve. Do you need to pass an exam? Or do you just need to socialise in English? 

Be honest with yourself. If you know you don’t study, don’t pretend that you do.

Quality is better than quantity. Spending hours trying to memorise lists of phrasal verbs may not be as effective as ten minutes listening to the radio. 

It all depends on what your goals are. Remember learning a language is not about memorising information. It is not general knowledge. There is a big difference between memorising new words and learning them. 

You learn new words when you use them. Simply memorising vocabulary won’t help you in a real life conversation. Do you want to use English in your daily life, or simply memorise lists of words? 

Only one approach actually works. 

Also, consider what motivates you. Most of us only study for exams or if we feel we will be tested. This means we study for someone else, not for ourselves. Without these tests, it can be difficult to sit down and study. 

Will you learn more English if you take ten minutes at the end of every day to quickly look at your notes?

2. Communicate with your Teachers

It’s very important to communicate with your teachers so they can plan your lessons for you. Does your teacher know why you are learning English? The more your teacher knows about you the easier it is for them to meet your needs. 

However, remember sometimes there is a difference between what you want and what you need. Communication isn’t a one way street. You should always be open to suggestions from your English teacher.

Be active! Negotiate, ask questions, make suggestions

3. Combine Language Learning with Cultural Lessons

Any good teacher will tell you there’s a lot more to learning a language than just vocabulary and grammar. Language shapes the way we think about the world, but it’s also shaped by our history and culture.

You can’t fully know a language without understanding where it came from.

Besides this, combining language learning with cultural knowledge is a great way to stay motivated. The best way to create a passion and drive for learning a language is to gain an insight into the culture of its speakers.

Then your desire to understand their culture will drive your motivation to learn the language.

4. Use Digital Tools to Complement Traditional Teaching

There are more digital tools to help language learners than ever before. However, it can be tricky to know which ones are useful, and which are just another reason to look at your phone.

For learners, the main digital resources include:

  • Language learning apps like DuoLingo or Babbel,
  • Video practice sessions and online teachers,
  • Language learning podcasts and web-series,
  • Online language practice games.

Generally speaking, these have a number of benefits. In particular, they make it easy to gain regular exposure to your new language, especially where full language immersion isn’t possible.

However, these are not a replacement for a qualified language teacher, or face-to-face lessons.

Instead, they should be used to supplement traditional language lessons. This way, they are a great way to increase your exposure, and grow your vocabulary, while also receiving guided tuition.

Teachers can also utilise a range of digital teaching aids. In particular, online language learning games are an easy way to make your lessons more fun and engaging, especially for younger students.

Language learning tips one

Digital tools are a great way to supplement traditional language classes.

5. Utilise Games and Role Play to Build Confidence

Often, it’s easy to have a conversation as part of a lesson, but in the real world students struggle. Real-life interactions are much less predictable. The problem here is that it’s often difficult to think on your feet in another language.

Role playing games are the perfect way to build this skill.

Often, language teachers use set dialogues in their lessons. This means that students don’t learn to come up with their own responses using the vocabulary they’ve learned. They also don’t get the chance to think about the emotional content of the language they’re using.

A much better approach is to create role playing scenarios, where students have to decide what to say for themselves. This improves the students’ confidence, and allows them to learn from each other’s mistakes.

6. Build Relationships with Native Speakers

It’s also worth remembering that learning a language is all about learning to communicate with new people. It’s never too early to start building relationships with native speakers. This can help you learn a language in countless ways.

Friends who speak a language natively are a great source of language learning tips.

Making friends with native speakers is also a good way to gain natural exposure to your new language. Additionally, regular contact will help with your motivation to improve your communication skills.

A great way to utilise this is to set aside time once a week to grab a coffee and speak in your desired language with your native speaker friends.

7. Set Clear Language Learning Goals

Many people give up before they reach their goals. One reason for this is that their goals were never realistic, or too vague. For example, if your only goal is to speak fluently, you’re unlikely to succeed.

This is fine as your ultimate goal, but if you want to learn a language, it should be broken into manageable chunks.

It’s a good idea to use the SMART framework when setting language learning goals. This means that all of your goals should be:

  • Specific – Effective goals are never vague,
  • Measurable – You should be able to measure success,
  • Achievable – Your goals should always be realistic,
  • Relevant – Small goals should always tie in with what you’d like to achieve in the long term,
  • Timely – Goals are only effective when they have a specific timeframe..

For example, you might want to learn 100 new nouns every month, or improve enough to be able to read a particular book.

Schedule in your language learning

SMART goals are key to successful language learning.

8. Create a Language Learning Routine

Learning a language takes a long time. At first, it’s easy to make the time to study. Eventually though, life can get in the way. For instance, one day you might be too tired after work to look at grammar exercises.

This is a slippery slope. Pretty soon, you’ll lose the habit of working on your language skills.

The best thing you can do to achieve sustainable progress when learning a language is to create a strict routine. This means blocking off time in your schedule for practice, and keeping this commitment.

It’s also important to add accountability to your routine. For example, you might partner up with someone else who wants to learn the same language. You can then set goals for each practice session, to help keep you both motivated.

9. Focus on Listening Skills

Learning vocabulary and grammar is important. It’s also one of the best ways to feel like you’re making progress. However, one of the best language learning tips teachers can give their students is to take their listening skills seriously.

Listening skills are a vital foundation when learning a new language.

For one thing, they’re a great way to pick up new words and phrases, without even noticing it. They’re also a vital way to help learners to build their confidence, by helping them realise how much they have already learned.

10. Seek out Language Learning Tips from Experts

Perhaps the best things you can do when learning a language is to seek out expert advice. This can be from qualified teachers, native speakers, or simply someone who is a little bit further along their journey.

This might be through an immersion experience, or intensive language course.

Alternatively, there are countless language learning podcasts, blogs and online communities to pick up additional language learning tips from experts all around the world.

Why Northern Ireland is the Perfect Place to Improve your English Communication Skills

If you want to find new opportunities for yourself, one of the best things you can do is improve your English. The best way to do this is to immerse yourself in an English-speaking country.

But where should you do this?

Of course, there are major cities like London or New York. These are glamorous places, but they aren’t ideal for language immersion. Big cities are expensive, and it’s difficult to get to know the locals.

Today, we’ll be looking at just some of the reasons why Northern Ireland is the perfect study abroad destination if you want to improve your English. Some of these are practical. Others relate to the lifestyle and things to do in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland is an Affordable Place to Improve your English

Belfast is one of the least expensive English-speaking cities in the world. The rest of Northern Ireland is even more affordable. Unlike larger other cities in the UK and Ireland, this means you can cover your living costs and still afford to have fun.

A massive part of language immersion is getting out and mingling with the locals. As such, it’s vital that you can afford a social life if you’re serious about improving your English.

Northern Ireland also has a range of amazing free attractions, including world-class museums, beautiful hiking trails and stunning beaches. No matter your budget, you’ll always have something to do.

Northern Ireland offers amazing scenery while you improve your English

Northern Ireland is known for its scenery.

Housing in Belfast is also some of the most affordable in the UK or Ireland. International House Belfast offers a range of award-winning accommodation options for students in Belfast.

It’s the Perfect Base to Explore the UK and Ireland

International students love to travel. This is a fact of life. As such, when moving to a new city to improve your English, you’ll definitely want to take local transport links into account. Northern Ireland has you covered.

There are two airports in Belfast, covering domestic and international routes, as well as a regional airport at the City of Derry. Dublin Airport is just a few hours from any major Northern Ireland town or city.

Buses and trains to Dublin leave Belfast several times an hour, where onward connections can be made all over the island of Ireland.

Northern Ireland also offers great connections by water. There is even a direct ferry from Ballycastle to the Isle of Islay in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, also known as the whisky capital of the world.

The UK and Ireland are both popular destinations for English language immersion. Northern Ireland offers the chance to experience both.

Northern Ireland is Steeped in History and Culture

As far as history and culture are concerned, Northern Ireland punches well above its weight. Belfast is probably best known as the city that built the titanic. This might have been over a hundred years ago, but we’re still proud of it.

Titanic Belfast was even named the world’s top tourist attraction in 2016.

For something a little bit older, Northern Ireland is also home to the Giant’ Causeway. Often described as one of the wonders of the natural world, these hexagonal basalt columns were formed by a volcanic eruption over 50 million years ago.

Northern Ireland also has a rich and diverse cultural heritage.

Whether you’re into traditional music in cosy pubs or modern theatre, there are live events to suit every taste.

For literature fans, Northern Ireland’s Mourne Mountains were the inspiration for C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. The North Antrim Coast was a major filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Mourne Mountains

The Mourne Mountains in Northern Ireland inspired much of the Narnia books.

Get to Know Some Unique English Vocabulary

If you’re a language nerd, Northern Ireland is your dream destination. Locals speak with a dialect which is highly influenced by the Irish and Scots languages. This gives you the perfect opportunity to learn new vocabulary and phrases which will impress even native speakers.

You might even start to understand Derry Girls without subtitles.

Of course, language immersion is always a challenge. Indeed, if you find every interaction easy, it’s unlikely that your English will improve at all. It’s important to spend time out of your comfort zone in order to build your communication skills.

One thing Northern Irish people are known for is speaking quickly. This may take some getting used to at first.

However, once you’ve adjusted, your English comprehension skills will improve dramatically.

It’s also sometimes claimed that areas of Northern Ireland are the only places left in the world which still speak English as they did in Shakespeare’s times. This is almost certainly an exaggeration, but there is some truth behind it.

In fact, given Northern Irish people’s history of emigrating, the local dialect often contains elements which might be more commonly associated with American English. Really, this is because of the influence local people had on the dialect across the Atlantic.

Improve your English: English in a Welcoming Environment

There are a lot of misconceptions about Northern Ireland. Around the world, people’s perception of Northern Ireland is decades out of date. Like anywhere, you’ll need to use a bit of common sense. Even so, Belfast is one of the safest major cities in the UK for visitors.

There is also considerably less tourist crime than major cities south of the border.

Instead, you’ll find Northern Ireland to be a warm and welcoming place to improve your English.

Locals are well known for their hospitality and sense of humour. It’s perfectly normal to ask strangers for help in the street. You’ll almost certainly be greeted with a friendly response.

International House Belfast also runs a busy calendar of social events in Belfast to help our students to settle into their new surroundings, and make new friends during their stay.

Our teaching and admin staff have years of experience of helping students to settle in and improve their English as much as possible, all while having an unforgettable experience in one of the most exciting cities in the world.

Is it Better to Study TEFL Online or In-Person?

In 2020, a lot has changed in the way we think about learning new skills. Studying TEFL online has been possible for a long time, but COVID has changed the way many people think about it.

For years, many people have been suspicious of online teaching qualifications.

These days, online teaching is basically a necessity. But can online lessons really ever be as good as classroom-based learning? This is a deceptively complex question. In reality, what’s right for one student isn’t necessarily the best approach for another.

And as we’ll see, choosing between online and offline learning doesn’t even need to be an either-or scenario anymore.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to figure out which TEFL delivery method is best for you.

Are Online TEFL Qualifications Legitimate?

There’s no cut and dry answer for this. Certainly, there are many online TEFL courses which aren’t totally reputable. There are also a lot of them which are out and out scams. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to tell the good from the bad with these courses.

This is because there’s no universal accreditation program for TEFL courses. As such, basically anyone can create TEFL lessons online and charge money for them.

So how do you find a genuine place to study TEFL online?

Generally, your best bet is to speak to someone who’s already done a particular course. Where this isn’t possible, there are still plenty of things to look out for:

  • Price – The cheapest online TEFL courses start from as low as about £50. Keep in mind that the standard TEFL course length is 120 hours. Simply put, there is no way that that much genuine teaching could be delivered for this price.
  • Accreditation – When considering studying TEFL online, you should also be conscious of what qualification you’ll receive at the end of the course. The British Council provides a set of minimum standards for TEFL qualifications. Most reputable schools require a CELTA qualification, which is an exam administered by Cambridge University.
  • Institutions – It’s also important to consider who is actually providing a TEFL qualification. For example, is the course provider associate with a known institution, like a major university? If not, do they also provide in-person learning, or can you find independent reviews from past students?

Study TEFL online

Legitimate online TEFL courses do exist, but it’s important to know what you’re looking for.

In short, while there are plenty of ways to study TEFL online legitimately, there are also a number of courses which are a waste of time at best.

How Much Do TEFL Courses Cost?

Typically, in-person TEFL courses cost upwards of £1,000. Remember, these generally consist of 120 hours of classroom-based teaching. They should also include 6 hours of supervised teaching practice.

When you break this down into hourly costs, £1,000 isn’t actually very much.

The right price to pay for online TEFL courses is harder to pin down. Web-based courses can use video calls, pre-recorded lessons, or a mixture of both to deliver teaching. This means that courses can be delivered to suit a number of budgets.

Genuine online TEFL certifications can be found from around £250 upwards. However, the key thing to look out for is the best balance between cost and the amount of ‘live’ teaching you’ll receive. That is, assuming that the other criteria we spoke about above are met.

Can You Fit a TEFL Course into Your Schedule?

This is a big consideration for new TEFL students. Many people want to learn to teach English to escape the rat race. However, short TEFL courses are generally not worthwhile. The trouble is, fitting 120 hours of lessons into your schedule is tough.

This is especially true with in-person learning.

One option is to study full time for four weeks. This is a good way to learn, but it isn’t always practical. Alternatively, you could commit to spending every weekend learning TEFL for a few months.

Both of these are fantastic options if they’re possible for you.

Online TEFL courses are often easier to fit into your schedule.

It can be a challenge to fit a TEFL course around a busy schedule.

However, if not, online TEFL courses offer a lot more flexibility, as you can learn at your own pace.

Pros and Cons of Studying TEFL Online or In-Person

As you’ve probably gathered, both kinds of TEFL qualifications have their upsides and downsides. Because of this, which is right for you depends on your circumstance and your goals.

In-Person TEFL Courses

There are a lot of clear benefits of classroom-based TEFL courses. For one thing, it’s much easier to take in new information in a face-to-face lesson, where you can ask the teacher questions.

For another, foreign employers are more likely to accept TEFL certifications which have been achieved in a physical classroom.

However, as noted, in-person TEFL courses are generally more expensive and less flexible than their online counterparts.

Online TEFL Courses

By the same token, online TEFL courses are much more accessible for learners on a tight budget, or people who have busy schedules. These are also good if you don’t live in a big city with a local TEFL school.

There’s also the obvious benefit of online lessons being much more COVID-secure.

However, in addition to the drawbacks we’ve already seen, online courses create a number of unique challenges. For example, there is a lot more onus on the student to carry out independent learning. 

This is especially true for courses which make use of pre-recorded materials. Because of this, online courses have much lower completion rates. Essentially, many learners find it difficult to motivate themselves without a teacher and classmates.

Hybrid TEFL Classes – The Best of Both Worlds

So if neither in-person nor online TEFL qualifications are perfect, is there a third option? Hybrid TEFL courses are an increasingly popular option for combining the benefits of classroom and web-based learning.

This style of teaching offers a mixture of in-person and online lessons. This allows teachers to offer flexible and affordable learning, which still engages students and gives them the chance to receive face-to-face feedback and teaching practice.

Hybrid TEFL courses also provide the same legitimacy and trust as fully classroom-based certifications, meaning that you can be sure your qualification will provide a lifetime of value.

Life in Belfast as an International Student: Tips for Settling in

Moving to a new city is always exciting, but it brings many challenges. This is especially true when you move to a new city to study. No matter your age or background, life in Belfast has something for everyone.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of top tips for new international students to make the most of their time here. 

So whether you’re considering a move, or you’ve already been here for months, check out our advice for settling in and experiencing everything Belfast has to offer.

Let’s jump right in!

Choose the Right Student Accommodation in Belfast

Belfast is one of the most affordable cities in the UK or Ireland. Of course, this is important, since international students are often on a tight budget. However, there is a lot more to choosing accommodation than just the price.

Finding somewhere to live in a new city can be incredibly difficult. For one thing, you’re unlikely to have a good grasp of the local market, including what’s a good location, or how much you should expect to pay.

Luckily, you have a few good options as an international student in Belfast.

International House Belfast’s Accommodation Options

International House Belfast offers a number of accommodation options for our students. These are all in ideal locations for student life, and include utilities and other facilities in a single payment.

Specifically, International House offers the following accommodation options:

  • Half-board accommodation with a host family,
  • Accommodation in student halls,
  • City centre apartments.

This makes adjusting to life in Belfast that bit easier, no matter your budget.

Life in Belfast: Get out and Explore

Belfast has a number of distinctive neighbourhoods and districts to explore. The majority of these are easily accessible on foot or by public transport. Alternatively, Belfast Bikes are a cheap and fun way to explore the city.

To get an expert insight into Belfast and its history, you have a number of options for guided tours. These include walking tours of the city centre, open-top bus tours, or private black taxi excursions around historical sites around the city.

Life in Belfast: Black taxi tours are a great way to get to know the city.

Black taxi tours are an increasingly popular way to get to know Belfast.

Transport Advice

Like other aspects of life in Belfast, public transport is cheaper than many other cities in the UK and Ireland. Essentially, there are three main ways of getting around the city using public transport:

  • Buses,
  • Trains,
  • The Glider.

All are provided by Translink NI. Trains cross the city from North to South, while the Glider runs from East to West. Buses generally run along arterial routes in and out of the city centre.

Buses and Gliders share tickets, while separate tickets are needed to use the trains. Many international students are eligible for ⅓ off public transport using the Y-Link card. Discounts can also be accessed using the M-Link app.

Seek Support from International House Belfast

Life as an international student can be daunting. Occasionally, everyone needs a helping hand. Whether this means solving a bureaucratic problem, or simply having someone to talk to, there are many support options available to you.

What Support is Available for International Students in Belfast?

One of the scariest things about settling in to life in Belfast is meeting new friends. In fact, it’s common to feel overwhelmed by the thought of living in a city where you don’t know anyone.

To help with this, International House Belfast provides a busy calendar of social activities. These include tours, day trips and weekend excursions, where you can get to know your fellow students and practise your English along the way.

International House also provides advice and support to all of our students, to help with the practical side of adjusting to life in Belfast.

Studying in Belfast as an international student.

International House Belfast provides help and advice for all of our students.

Life in Belfast: Get to Grips with Northern Irish Slang

For English learners, one of the most exciting parts of life in Belfast is picking up new vocabulary. Due to its unique geography and history, Northern Ireland is home to a range of interesting phrases and idioms.

However, the flip side of this is that non-native English speakers can sometimes be confused when talking to locals. You’re almost definitely going to encounter this in some form when you first move to Belfast.

With that in mind, here are a couple of pieces of Belfast slang you should watch out for:

  • Cheers – You might be familiar with the word cheers, as it’s used as a toast in many English speaking countries. In Northern Ireland, it’s also commonly used to say thanks.
  • Wee – When used literally, this means ‘small’. More often though, people from Belfast just add it into sentences to sound friendlier.
  • Craic – Craic can mean many things. If someone asks you ‘what’s the craic?’ or ‘any craic?’, this means something like ‘what’s up?’. Craic is also often used to mean fun or banter.

As with learning any language, your best bet when you encounter unfamiliar slang is to simply ask what it means.

Join International Meet-Ups in Belfast

Belfast has a thriving community of international residents. Since many of these aren’t students, it’s a good idea to look for international meetups. This is a great way to make friends and find people in the same situation as you.

For example, the Dock Cafe in the Titanic Quarter hosts a free weekly meetup for foreigners in Belfast. Since many locals attend, this is also a great way to gain some English-speaking practice in a supportive environment.

Another great option is to seek out a language exchange. Many locals would love to learn a foreign language, but struggle to find the time to practice. They’d be happy to help you practise your English in exchange for helping them with your native language.

Getting a TEFL Certification: Everything You Need to Know

Teaching English abroad is more popular than ever. Demand for teachers abroad is rising too. Whether it’s to earn money while travelling, or to start a whole new life in a different country, there’s never been a better time to become an English teacher.

If you’re considering teaching English, you’ll inevitably encounter a simple question. Is it worth getting a TEFL certification?

After all, we’ve all heard stories of English speakers rocking up to a foreign country with nothing but the shirt on their back, and landing their dream job. However, these people are the minority. Most people aren’t so lucky.

Today we’re going to take a reality check. Specifically, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about getting a qualification for teaching English as a foreign language.

Let’s start with the basics.

What is a TEFL Certification?

This might sound like a silly question, but things can easily get confusing here. There are a number of different kinds of English teaching qualifications, so it’s worth nailing down exactly what we mean by a TEFL certification.

Essentially, there are three terms widely used when speaking about English language teaching qualifications:

  • TEFL – This stands for Teaching English as Foreign Language
  • TESL – This stands for Teaching English as a Second Language
  • TESOL – This stands for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

Things really get confusing when these terms get used interchangeably. 

Getting a TEFL certification through face-to-face teaching is the best option.

TEFL certifications qualify you to teach English abroad.

Do You Really Need a TEFL Qualification?

This is a very common question. It’s understandable that you’d be tempted to simply pack your bags, and take your chances finding a job without a proper qualification. After all, plenty of places do offer jobs to unqualified teachers, as long as they’re native speakers.

However, this causes a number of problems.

For one thing, having a certification will make it much easier to find a well-paid job in a school which treats its staff properly. Without a qualification, you could easily end up with poor pay or long working hours. Or you might struggle to find a job at all and blow all your savings.

By contrast, most reputable schools require a bachelor’s degree and a TEFL certificate.

Besides, there’s one more pretty obvious reason why you’d want to take a TEFL course. That is, you probably don’t actually know how to teach English. On top of settling in to a new country, do you really want to figure out how to do a job you have no training for?

TEFL certifications give you the tools you need to actually succeed as an English teacher. This includes specific teaching methodologies, as well as soft-skills like how to manage a classroom.

How do You Choose a TEFL Course?

The next thing to consider is which TEFL course is right for you. As we said, demand for English teachers is higher than ever. This is great, but it also means that there are a greater number of different certifications and courses to choose from.

And not all of them are legit.

The trouble is, there isn’t one universal standard for teaching qualifications. This makes it easy to charge money for courses which don’t really provide much value. In extreme cases, these can even be complete scams.

Here are some of the main things you should consider when choosing a TEFL course.


Prices for TEFL courses vary massively. Unsurprisingly there’s a wide range of quality and legitimacy in these courses too. Some discount websites even advertise TEFL certification courses for as little as £50.

Most reputable courses include at least 120 hours of training. This simply can’t be provided for such low costs. In reality, with one of these cheap online courses, either there are hidden fees, or you’re simply paying for access to pre-recorded video lessons.

At best, these should be used to get a flavour of teaching English, so you can decide whether to invest in a proper course.

If you’re serious about teaching English as a foreign language, you should expect to pay a minimum of £1,000 for your certification. This might seem expensive, especially if you’re already saving to travel.

However, this is simply what high-quality training costs to deliver. Luckily, with a recognised TEFL certificate, your earning potential as an English teacher will be considerably higher. In fact, you can easily recoup your course costs in your first few months of working.

TEFL certifications make teaching while travelling much easier.

A reputable TEFL qualification makes it faster and easier to land high paying jobs while travelling.


We mentioned already that there isn’t a single recognised accrediting body for TEFL. In fact, there are a number of reputable bodies which offer professional accreditation for English teachers.

There are two criteria you should look for when choosing a TEFL course:

  • British Council Standards – The British Council is a UK government organisation, which provides help and support for people who want to work and live abroad. As part of this, they provide a set of minimum standards for reputable TEFL certifications.
  • CELTA – This is the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults from Cambridge University. CELTA is the most widely known TEFL exam in the world. Most reputable TEFL courses are specifically focused on helping students receive their CELTA.

Beyond this, there are a number of other signs you should look out for when choosing a TEFL course. Links to high quality educational institutions, such as universities, are often a sign of quality.

Independent reviews from former students are also invaluable.

Content and Duration

As noted, the standard TEFL programme lasts 120 hours. This normally comes along with a further 6 hours of teaching practice. When delivered full-time, this adds up to 4 weeks in total.

Some course providers might also provide more flexibility. For example, by providing teaching over 8-12 weekends instead. The same number of teaching hours are provided, but some students find this mode of delivery easier to fit into their lives.

Always avoid courses which claim to offer TEFL qualifications over a single weekend.

Courses which follow the CELTA syllabus offer a range of teaching and professional skills development. These include:

  • Specific teaching methods and methodologies,
  • Cultural awareness,
  • Planning and resource management,
  • Professional development.

Requirements to Get a TEFL Certification

There are a number of myths about requirements for teaching English as a foreign language. For instance, it’s often claimed that you need to have a degree, or be under a certain age to teach English.

It’s true that some language schools or government-run programmes have criteria like this.

However, these are in the minority. The reality is that the vast majority of schools don’t mind how old you are, or if you have a degree. They care about your qualifications and experience.

This is why CELTA is ideal if you’re serious about a career teaching English abroad. It’s specifically aimed at aspiring teachers with little or no formal qualifications in the field. Because of this, it’s often seen as the gateway to a TEFL career.

What can You do with a TEFL Certification?

Teaching English is the obvious answer. There are almost 2 billion English learners in the world, and they all need teachers.

However, there are really two kinds of aspiring TEFL professionals. There are people who want to teach English for a couple of years while they travel, and then there are those who are in it for the long haul.

But TEFL experience allows you to learn so much more than just how to stand in front of a classroom. Even a year or two of teaching English will teach you amazing new professional skills, like better communication, cultural awareness and how to thrive under pressure.


In light of the ongoing situation regarding Covid-19 (Coronavirus), we have written the following statement.  This is an evolving situation and we will adapt our procedures as the needs arise:

International House Belfast is following advice from the World Health Organization (WHO), The UK Ministry of Health (MOH), the National Health Service (NHS) and the Northern Ireland Public Health Agency (PHA).  Our advice to clients at this moment is to continue with their travel plans, keeping up-to-date and following the recommendations of the official health authorities.

We strongly advise all of our students to purchase travel insurance prior to travelling.  As the UK and Ireland are considered low-risk areas, our insurance provider’s policies are continuing to be honoured as normal. We recommend Guard.Me for all insurance needs. If any of our clients are prevented from travelling due to official restrictions imposed by the authorities on departure or in the UK, International House Belfast will change the booking dates free of charge. We do not foresee any classes being cancelled here in Belfast due to the spread of the virus. In the highly unlikely event of Belfast being placed “on lockdown” we have contingency plans in place to ensure classes continue.

Public health authorities should provide travellers with information to reduce the general risk of acute respiratory infections, via health practitioners, travel health clinics, travel agencies, conveyance operators and at points of entry.

The World Health Organisation WHO’s standard recommendations for the general public to reduce exposure to and transmission of a range of illnesses are as follows, which include hand and respiratory hygiene, and safe food practices:

  • Frequently clean hands, using soap and water or alcohol-based (>60%) hand sanitiser;
  • When coughing/sneezing, cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash hands; Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever and cough;
  • If you have a fever, cough and difficult breathing seek medical care early and share previous travel history with your health care provider
  • When visiting live markets in areas currently experiencing cases of novel coronavirus, avoid direct unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals; The consumption of raw or undercooked animal products should be avoided. Raw meat, milk or animal organs should be handled with care, to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods, as per good food safety practices.

Please download our IHB Coronavirus COVID-19 Policy for further reference.  More information is available on the WHO website.

Useful expressions – I beg to differ