Sydney, the capital of New South Wales and Australia's most populated city, was first settled by Europeans in 1788, following the arrival of the First Fleet from England. There were over 1480 men, women and children on board, half of whom were convicts. Although most were British, there were also convicts of African, American and French descent, and so began Australia's first wave of migration.

Originally, Botany Bay was to have been the landing destination for the First Fleet, however, Governor Arthur Phillip deemed it unsuitable, and moved north to Sydney Cove instead. Governor Phillip named this place 'New Albion' but it was later changed to 'Sydney' after Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary responsible for suggesting the establishment of a British colony in Australia.

Known worldwide today for its beautiful harbour and as a leading global city, Sydney has expanded to host a population of over 5.1 million people — more than one-fifth of Australia's total population.

One of the great things about Sydney is that it has a great acceptance of everyone and everything. It's an incredibly tolerant city, a city with a huge multicultural basis.

— Baz Luhrmann

A key destination for international businesses and overseas students, over 40 per cent of people living in Sydney during the most recent census (2016) identified as being born overseas. In addition, 38.2 per cent of Sydney inhabitants indicated they spoke a language other than English as their primary language at home.

With these statistics, it comes as little surprise that there is a huge market for English as a foreign language lessons in Sydney. It is also clear that English language learners will have diverse needs, from wanting classes in conversational English for Beginners for day-to-day life and tourism, through to needing Business English and IELTS exam preparation to enter one of Sydney's prestigious higher education institutions.

Be reassured — whatever your English learning needs are, Sydney will be able to cater for you.

What English do I need to use public transport?
Getting around in Sydney could be daunting if you don't speak English well. (Source: Unsplash Credit: Madeleine Ragsdale)

What Type of English Lessons Do You Need?

Sydney is a great place to live, work or study, or just visit. Depending on what your reasons are for being in Sydney — work (either you or a spouse), study or as a tourist — the English courses, or how and where you learn English, will vary.

Working in Sydney

If you are thinking of moving to Australia with the intention to work, the main thing you need is the relevant visa. There are numerous work visas available, from working holiday to temporary or permanent, so your best option is to contact the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Depending on your visa, you may need one, or both, of the following:

  • employer sponsorship
  • proof of English competency (if your visa is a working holiday one, or temporary, you may not need this)

Whether or not you need prior proficiency or fluency in the four English language skills, once you are in Australia, you will certainly need to improve your English for simple daily tasks as well as work-related communication.

Many employers, particularly if you are sponsored, will either pay for your English lessons or allow you the time to attend ESL classes.

There are numerous English classes Sydney has available to suit your needs. For example, the Sydney Community College offers a range of levelled courses, including one that covers resume writing skills and speaking skills for interviews. Check Superprof's tutors and teachers for one-to-one assistance with language learning in your work environment.

Studying in Sydney

Perhaps your goal is to move temporarily to Sydney for the sole purpose of improving your English skills.

Alternatively, you may want to gain entry to university to study a specific degree.

In both cases, you require a student visa.

In the latter case, you will need either an IELTS or TOEFL ranking. The good news is, both of these can be obtained by enrolling in a bridging course.

There is an abundance of IELTS and TOEFL test preparation courses in Sydney. These can be taken with a school, online or with private teachers, such as those listed with Superprof, and all are easily found on the internet.

Living in Sydney with Family Members

Maybe one of your family members is moving to Sydney for work or study, and you are joining them.

Maybe you are only working or studying part-time?

In both cases, you might consider one of the following opportunities or English classes Sydney has:

  • short-term English for beginners courses
  • hire a tutor who is a native English speaker and practise your pronunciation and listening skills
  • download the Meetup app and learn English with other students
Combine English lessons with a surfing lesson
Make the most of your time in Sydney - organise a trip to the beach with native speakers of English. (Source: Unsplash Credit: Adrian Rem)

Holidaying in Sydney

Sydney is a fantastic holiday destination. Many people now want to combine English lessons with their leisure-time interests.

Home Language International is one of many companies providing non native English speakers with the opportunity to live with a local English teacher, participate in English classes and spend time sightseeing, surfing, playing golf or experiencing an Australian Christmas.

Of course, these experiences come at a price and you can have equally fulfilling experiences by organising a personal tutor who can meet you at the beach.

English Course for Beginners or Intermediate Levels — Free Courses in Sydney

The best things about Sydney are free: the sunshine's free, and the harbour's free, and the beach is free.

— Russell Crowe

And so are some of the English classes — if you know where to look.

Throughout Sydney, there are numerous government-funded programs aimed at teaching English to migrants for free. One such program is the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) which offers up to 510 hours of free English instruction to eligible migrants. Most government programs have strict eligibility criteria but they are worth investigating.

If you find you can't access these programs, have a look at the English classes Sydney public libraries offer. Eventbrite lists a range of classes, held at libraries and other locations, which are run by English speaking volunteers and include intermediate level English as a second language sessions, English for beginners adult classes, and English grammar and vocabulary classes, amongst others.

Learning English with other students can be rewarding
You may wish to start your journey by taking your 'English for Beginners' classes together with other students. (Source: Unsplash Credit: Edvin Johanss)

Of course, if you want to learn English in a more structured environment, and be taught by a qualified English teacher, there are many other options available, depending on how far your budget stretches.

One of the most economical options is to find a tutor and either learn English online or face-to-face with Superprof or other tutoring agencies.

If you would rather learn in a group or classroom setting, we've listed some reputable language institutions in the table below. Of course, you can find plenty more via the internet, or other community noticeboards in your local area.

FacilityClass TypeLocationWebsite
Sydney Community Collegebeginners-advanced; conversation; businessvarious locations in
Navitas Englishgeneral-academic English; test preparationHyde
EF Sydneyvarious + summer/winter teen
Kaplan Internationalflexible-longterm; business; exam prepSydney
Sydney College of Englishgeneral-academic; exam prep; primary-high school

For extra practice, you can always combine formal classes with supplementary activities such as joining the Meetup group,  Sydney Free English Lessons and Fun Events or by working with a private English tutor in Sydney.

Find a Private Teacher or Group English Class? The Pros and Cons

The decision about whether to go private, or enrol in a group class really boils down to two things:

  • your English learning goals
  • your budget

Group classes, either in a language school setting or group classes organised by libraries and other community institutions can be beneficial because of the group atmosphere. You will have greater opportunity to practise speaking English with other English learners in a safe, controlled environment. There will probably be a text or a curriculum to follow, so you will know what's coming up and can prepare for it.

English lessons taken with small groups also lead to expansion of your social circle — particularly important when you are new to a foreign, English speaking country. You may also have other students in your class who speak the same language you do, which is reassuring if you do not understand something.

The downside to group English classes includes all the reasons private tutoring can be considerably more beneficial, if not more economical.

A private teacher will come to know your learning style and your desired outcomes. They will tailor your sessions to meet these. An English teacher in a group lesson cannot do this.

Private tuition is a team effort. As the student, you can have just as much input into the content of the lesson and how it will be taught as the tutor. And, if you don't understand something, you won't be left behind — your private teacher will work with you until you master that concept.

Practise English and learn how to cook at the same time.
Cook a meal with your tutor and practise your English reading and verbal communication at the same time. (Source: Unsplash Credit: Edgar Castrejon)

Location is flexible with private tutoring. Depending on how you both feel, and what you're learning, you can have your session online, at a coffee shop, in a library or at a park. You can go sightseeing together, or shopping, or even cook a meal — all while practising your English skills with a native speaker, and having fun.

Come and experience everything Sydney has to offer — including its abundance of English learning opportunities.

Look for English courses Sydney? Check Superprof's English tutors profiles to find a tutor who is right for you.

Or looking elsewhere in Australia? Read our guide on finding a private English tutor near you in Australia. We also have guides for personal English courses in Canberra

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Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.