London is one of the greatest cities in the world, because it is the world in one city. Not a day goes by where you don’t hear different languages, eat different foods, or feel overwhelmed by the sheer range of different sights and activities that are on offer.
If you’re a language lover and are planning a trip to the Capital, here are some tips for navigating London’s language safari, and some sites that you definitely won’t want to miss out on:
Click on the maps to explore!
London’s buzzing centre is where most of the action is. You’ll hear tourists from all over the world jostling between the city’s towering skyscrapers and elegant terraced houses. You will also find the British Museum, which is free to enter and houses the legendary Rosetta Stone. A short ten minute walk from there will bring you to Foyles, where on the fifth floor you will find London’s largest selection of language books, for almost every language you can imagine.
People joke about London being France’s sixth largest city, as there are more French people living there than in Nantes, Strasbourg or Bordeaux. You’ll find most of them in Parisian-style cafés in South Kensington, scattered around the French embassy, French Lycée and French Institute. The Institut Français is a must visit for any Francophiles, with its regular film screenings, lectures and exhibitions about French culture.
Brick Lane and Whitechapel
Obviously the biggest attraction in Brick Lane is coming to see Memrise’s shiny new offices, but once you’ve done that there are many other interesting things to see too. Brick Lane is known as Banglatown, as it is home to a large Bangladeshi community who run excellent restaurants and shops on Brick Lane itself, as well as down-to-earth Whitechapel Market slightly further up the road. Brick Lane has had a colourful history, and was once the home of Protestant Huguenots fleeing France, then later the heart of the Jewish East End (its salt beef bagels are world famous). Brick Lane Mosque was originally a Huguenot church in 1743 (La neuve église), then turned into a synagogue in the late 19th Century (HaMachzike HaHadach), before finally becoming the London Jamme Masjid in 1973.
Hammersmith and West London
Polish has become one of London’s most commonly heard languages over the past ten years, and it’s roots in the city run quite deep. Traditionally, the Polish community has lived in West London, with Hammersmith as its epicentre. That is because the Polish Social and Cultural Association is located in Hammersmith, in the building that housed the Polish government in exile for fifty years from 1940 to 1990. Nowadays you can attend many cultural events at the centre, as well as sample some Polish food in the nearby delicatessens and restaurants.
Green Lanes and Stoke Newington
After civil war in Cyprus left many homeless, a large number of Cypriots moved to London. The Turkish Cypriots mainly settled in Stoke Newington, particularly along the lower part of Green Lanes around historical Newington Green. Nowadays there area boasts a large number of grocery stores, restaurants, social clubs, and arguably some of the best kebab shops in London, all run by the local Turkish Cypriot community. That makes this a great place to stop by if you’re interested in hearing some Turkish!
Slightly further north, at the top of Green Lanes, is Palmers Green, where you will find the Greek Cypriots who largely came to London at around a similar time and in similar circumstances. Tucked away amid the unsuspecting houses of North London you will find Myddleton Road, lined with Greek Cypriot bakeries, cafes, restaurants and sports bars on either side and Greek Cypriots spilling out into the road with their iced coffees, worry beads and lots of opinions about football. The non-Cypriot Greek community is more scattered, but tends to congregate at Easter time at St. Sophia Church on the Moscow Road in Bayswater.
London’s large Jewish community is centred around Golders Green, and is a delight for anyone interested in Hebrew or Yiddish. You’ll be able to visit the humorously named Chinese restaurant Met Su Yan (which means ‘excellent’ in Hebrew, despite its Chinese-sounding name), as well as tuning in to the many different languages spoken around you. There is also a growing Japanese and Southeast Asian community in the area, with shops such as Seoul Plaza specialising in Far Eastern food.
This spot of South London is known as ‘Little Portugal’ due to the large number of people from mainland Portugal and Madeira that settled there in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a great place to hear Portuguese, and has even attracted a sizeable community from Brazil as well. Some of London’s greatest Portuguese restaurants are to be found on the South Lambeth Road. Stockwell is also home to many people of West African and Caribbean origin.
Ham and Petersham
Most people have never heard of Ham, but this sleepy little village between Richmond Park and the Thames, in the heart of leafy South-West London, is the home of London’s German community. Known as ‘Kleindeutschland’, the community is based around the German School, in a Grade II listed mansion house in Petersham. There are also German bakeries and delicatessens, such as the aptly named ‘Hansel and Pretzel’, which allegedly has queues of Germans outside every morning, who might have travelled from as far as ten miles away to put freshly baked Brötchen on their family’s breakfast table.
Just west of Hammersmith is another of London’s most diverse areas, which is slowly becoming the heart of London’s Japanese community. This was heralded by the Japanese School, which moved to the area from Camden, with shops, restaurants and families soon following. Japanese is the language you are most likely to overhear at West Acton station after English.
Alex is Memrise’s Language Learner in Residence. He spends his time working with the Language Research Team, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex.
In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.
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