Language Exams and Certifications: Your Path to Proficiency

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Language Exams and Certifications: Your Path to Proficiency

Are you looking to elevate your language skills to new heights? Language exams can be your key to unlocking proficiency and gaining official recognition for your linguistic abilities. In today’s globalized world, language proficiency has become a valuable asset. Whether for education, employment, or immigration purposes, language exams open doors to many new opportunities. By acing these international language tests, you not only gain the recognition you deserve but also establish your path to language proficiency.

Did you work hard to learn a new language? It might be time for you to have your newly acquired language skills officially recognized. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the importance of language exams and certifications, offering insights into their benefits and top-rated exams across different languages. Let’s dive into the world of language exams and unlock your language potential.

Overview of Language Exams/Tests

Language exams or tests are structured assessments designed to measure an individual’s language proficiency. They evaluate skills in reading, writing, listening, and speaking, providing a comprehensive evaluation of one’s language abilities.

These exams serve multiple purposes, such as determining language competency for educational admissions, job applications, or immigration requirements. By offering standardized assessments, language exams provide a common benchmark for assessing language skills, ensuring consistency and comparability across different contexts.

Language Proficiency Scales

Language proficiency scales help to measure how effectively a language user can perform different types of language tasks. In other words – how well you know the language.

The most commonly used language proficiency scales are the ACTFL scale and the ILR scale for Americans, and the CEFR scale for Europeans.

  • IRL scale (Interagency Language Roundtable scale): Developed by the United States Foreign Service Institute as a reference for language proficiency in federal government roles, the ILR scale consists of five levels: elementary proficiency (S-1), limited working proficiency (S-2), professional working proficiency (S-3), full professional proficiency (S-4), and native or bilingual proficiency (S-5).
  • ACTFL scale (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages scale): Derived from the IRL scale, it provides a more detailed assessment of language proficiency. The ACTFL scale retains the five-level structure but uses different terms: novice, intermediate, advanced, superior, and distinguished. What sets it apart is the inclusion of low, medium, and high sub-levels within the first four proficiency levels, offering a more precise evaluation of language skills.
  • CEFR scale (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages scale): The CEFR scale consists of six levels grouped into three categories: basic user (A), independent user (B), and proficient user (C). Each category is further divided into two sub-levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, and C1 and C2. If your goal is to work in Europe or gain admission to a European institution that emphasizes language proficiency, the CEFR scale is the recommended framework to demonstrate your language skills.

Top 10 Language Exams/Tests

1. English: PTE

Pearson Test of English (PTE) is a computer-based English language exam that assesses non-native English speakers’ reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. PTE provides secure English language testing for study applications worldwide and for visa applications for work and migration in Australia, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada. The exam is known for its innovative test format and quick result turnaround time.

There are multiple types of PTE tests you can take depending on your needs:

  • PTE Academic: Accepted by over 3,200 institutions for ​studies globally, PTE Academic is the perfect choice if you need an English certification for studying in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, or the US. Some of the biggest universities that accept PTE Academic include Harvard Business School and Yale.
  • PTE Academic UKVI: The only difference to PTE Academic is that this test is approved for most UK work visas and studying at below degree level. Thus, this is the perfect test for studying and migrating to the UK.
  • PTE Core: This is a new test that assesses everyday English (not academic English), and at the moment, it is the best option for migration and work visas for Canada. Already in Canada? Don’t worry! It is approved for permanent residency, too!
  • PTE Home: This is a 30-minute test that assesses your English level for migration to the UK and some work visas.

In addition, Pearson also has a PTE Academic Test Prep to help you practice for the real English language test.

English language exams
Pearson Test of English

After completing the PTE Academic test, you will receive a comprehensive Score Report and Skills Profile, which provide valuable insights into your test performance, language proficiency level, and areas for improvement. Pearson typically sends out the score report within a maximum of five working days. In many cases, however, you can expect to receive it within just 48 hours, allowing you to access your test results and assess your performance fast.

2. Spanish: DELE

DELE stands for Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera, meaning Diplomas of Spanish as a Foreign Language.

DELE are official diplomas the Spanish Instituto Cervantes grants on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science. These certificates are awarded to individuals who have successfully passed a standardized test demonstrating their proficiency in European Spanish.

The DELE Spanish language exam has been designed following the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL) guidelines. As a result, the exam offers six versions, allowing you to choose the one that best suits your level: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. All DELE versions evaluate reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills.

Unlike other language exams, the DELE certification never expires.

3. French: DELF and DALF

DELF (Diplôme d’Études en Langue Française, meaning Diploma in French Language Studies) is an official certification of French language proficiency for non-native speakers. France Education International administers it on behalf of France’s Ministry of Education.

The DELF consists of four diplomas corresponding to the first four levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: A1, A2, B1, and B2. For higher proficiency levels, the DALF (Diplôme Approfondi de Langue Française meaning Diploma in Advanced French Language Studies) is awarded.

Widely recognized by educational institutions and employers, the DELF and DALF are lifelong certifications that don’t expire, providing long-term validity and recognition of your French language skills.

4. German: Goethe-Zertifikat or TestDaF

Goethe-Zertifikat is the official German language exam administered by the Goethe-Institut. Universities and employers in German-speaking countries widely recognize it as a measure of German language proficiency. The exam assesses reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills, providing a comprehensive evaluation of German language abilities. The Goethe-Institut offers multiple Goethe-Zertifikat exams that align with the CEFR levels, spanning from A1 for beginners to C2 for advanced learners.

Another popular option for German certification is TestDaF, which stands for Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (Test of German as a Foreign Language). TestDaF is an advanced-level language exam that covers levels B2 to C1 on the CEFR scale. Successfully completing all four sections of the TestDaF exam at level 4 grants a certificate demonstrating the language proficiency required for admission to various subjects and degree programs at German universities and higher education institutions. TestDaF is recognized worldwide, serving as evidence of your German language proficiency for research projects and academic pursuits.

Neither Goethe-Zertifikat nor TestDaF has an expiration date. However, it is common for institutions and employers to prefer certificates that are no older than two years.

5. Korean: TOPIK

TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) is a written examination designed to assess the language skills of non-native speakers of Korean.

The TOPIK test evaluates proficiency in reading, writing, and listening comprehension in the Korean language. It consists of two levels: TOPIK-I and TOPIK-II. TOPIK-I, the beginner level, is further divided into sublevels 1 and 2, while TOPIK-II, the intermediate-advanced level, has sublevels 3, 4, 5, and 6. Test takers receive a level between 1 and 6 based on their total score on the test.

The TOPIK test is conducted six times a year. Three sessions are held exclusively in Korea (January, May, and November), while the other three sessions are conducted both in Korea and overseas (April, July, and October). In most countries, the TOPIK-I test is administered in the morning, followed by the TOPIK-II test in the afternoon. This allows test takers to take both TOPIK-I and TOPIK-II on the same day if desired.

The validity of TOPIK certificates is two years from the date of test results issued.

6. Mandarin Chinese: HSK

HSK stands for Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (汉语水平考试), meaning “Chinese Proficiency Test”. It is a series of exams designed to evaluate non-native speakers’ Mandarin Chinese language proficiency. The HSK comprises six individual tests, each corresponding to a different proficiency level. Upon successfully passing a specific level, you will receive HSK certification, ranging from HSK1 (easiest) to HSK6 (most challenging).

Unlike other internationally-recognized language tests, the HSK focuses solely on written proficiency and does not assess speaking skills. If you wish to certify your spoken Chinese proficiency, you will need to take a separate exam called HSKK(Hanyu Shuiping Kouyu Kaoshi), also known as the “Chinese Proficiency Spoken Test”. The HSKK evaluates learners’ pronunciation, tones, clarity, continuity, variety, and fluency in spoken Chinese.

The HSK certificate does not have an expiration date and remains valid indefinitely. However, for academic purposes, such as applying to a Chinese university, the certificate is typically accepted for a period of two years from the date of the exam. After this period, you may be required to retake the HSK to provide a more recent certification.

7. Italian: CELI

CELI The Certificato di Conoscenza della Lingua Italiana (Certificate of Knowledge of Italian Language) is an internationally recognized qualification for assessing the fluency of non-native Italian speakers. It is administered by the University for Foreigners of Perugia.

In addition to the standard CELI certifications, specialized versions are available: CELI Immigrati, designed for foreign citizens who have immigrated to Italy, including those with limited education, and CELI Adolescenti, aimed at children between the ages of 13 and 17.

The CELI exams are aligned with the CEFR levels and are divided into six levels: CELI Impatto (CEFR Level A1), CELI 1 (CEFR Level A2), CELI 2 (CEFR Level B1), CELI 3 (CEFR Level B2), CELI 4 (CEFR Level C1), and CELI 5 (CEFR Level C2).

The Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR) recognizes CELI 3 as a valid certificate for Italian language proficiency required for university studies in Italy. CELI 4 and CELI 5 indicate an equivalent level of Italian language knowledge to that of Italian students.

CELI certificates do not have an expiration date and remain valid indefinitely, providing a lasting testament to your Italian language skills.

top language exams

8. Russian: TORFL

TORFL, which stands for the Test of Russian as a Foreign Language (Тест по русскому языку как иностранному or ТРКИ), is a comprehensive certification system designed to assess and certify the proficiency of non-native speakers in the Russian language.

The TORFL exam consists of six different levels that align with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): TEL, TBL, TORFL-I, TORFL-II, TORFL-III, and TORFL-IV. Each level represents a specific degree of proficiency in Russian.

The exam evaluates various language competencies through five sections: writing, vocabulary/grammar, reading, listening, and speaking. Typically, the exam is conducted over a two-day period. To pass the exam, a minimum score of 66% is required in each subtest. If a test taker scores below 66% in any subtest, they can retake that specific subtest for an additional fee (50% of the exam cost).

The TORFL certificates do not have an expiration date, serving as a lasting testament to your Russian language proficiency.

9. Japanese: JLPT

JLPT, which stands for the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test, is a widely recognized language exam that evaluates and certifies the proficiency of non-native speakers in the Japanese language.

The JLPT is categorized into five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5, with N5 being the easiest and N1 the most advanced. Each level assesses Japanese language skills relevant to that specific level. N4 and N5 focus on fundamental Japanese knowledge typically acquired in a classroom setting, while N1 and N2 test the understanding in various real-life situations. N3 bridges the N4/N5 and N1/N2 levels, combining elements from both.

Obtaining a JLPT certification brings several advantages, such as academic credit recognition, favorable consideration in job applications, and overall acknowledgment of language proficiency in society.

The JLPT certificate never expires.

10. Portuguese: CAPLE

CAPLE (Centro de Avaliação de Português Língua Estrangeira or Centre for Evaluation of Portuguese as a Foreign Language) is a certification that assesses proficiency in Standard European Portuguese as a second language. The official CAPLE certificate is accredited by the University of Lisbon and the Instituto Camões, which administers the exams on behalf of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The CAPLE exams are categorized into six levels, aligned with the CEFR levels from A1 to C2. Each exam corresponds to a specific proficiency level, with A1 representing a basic understanding of Portuguese and C2 indicating a near-native level of proficiency.

Depending on the level, the CAPLE exam is broken into either four or five parts: reading comprehension, written production and interaction, oral comprehension, oral production and interaction, and structural competence (which is for B2, C1, and C2 only).

CAPLE certificates/diplomas do not expire over time.

The Importance of Language Certification

Why should you take a language exam? Language certifications carry significant importance across multiple domains, including education, employment, and immigration.

In education, these certifications provide a reliable assessment of an individual’s language skills, easing admissions evaluations for educational institutions.

Employers widely recognize language certifications as concrete proof of proficiency. This is especially true within global organizations or in roles demanding bilingual skills.

Last but not least, language certifications are crucial in immigration procedures because they help to determine language proficiency requirements for visa applications or citizenship.

You might not know it now, but having a prominent language certification under your belt can give you an important advantage in securing that university spot or job you have always dreamed of. Let’s look at five English language exams that can make all the difference for your future in today’s globalized world.

Top 5 English Certificates

1. Our top choice: PTE

Pearson Test of English (PTE) is a world-leading provider of secure English language tests. PTE Academic is accepted by 3,300+ institutions worldwide, including prestigious universities like Oxford University, Harvard Business School, and Yale. It is also accepted by the Australian, UK, and New Zealand governments for visa purposes.

2. Cambridge English Certifications

Cambridge English offers a range of certifications, including Cambridge English: First (FCE), Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE), and Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE). These certificates assess different levels of English proficiency and are widely recognized by universities and employers worldwide.

3. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)

TOEFL assesses the English language skills of non-native speakers, particularly for academic purposes. TOEFL scores are accepted by thousands of universities and institutions worldwide.

4. International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

IELTS is a globally recognized standardized test for English language proficiency among non-native speakers. It is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and Cambridge Assessment English.

5. Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)

TOEIC was intentionally designed to measure the everyday English skills of people working in international environments.

With their wide-ranging impact, language certifications are valuable credentials that open doors to various opportunities.

language proficiency

Tips for Language Exam Preparation

Are you ready to ace your language certification? Let’s look at some tips for language exam preparation. Even if your language level is very good, preparing for a language exam is crucial. For example, doing a couple of sample tests can greatly improve your chances of success.

Set your goal

To begin, identify the desired level of proficiency or score you wish to achieve and establish realistic goals for each language skill. This approach will help you prioritize your study efforts and effectively monitor your progress.

Study the exam format

Familiarize yourself with the structure and sections of the test so you don’t get surprised on the spot. Make sure you know all the question types and tasks you will encounter in each section and the allocated time limits for each.

Understand the exam criteria

Find out what every section is worth! Understanding the scoring criteria and proficiency levels the exam assesses is more important than you think. Will they evaluate your reading, writing, listening, speaking, vocabulary, and grammar skills?

Establish a study plan

Create a well-structured study schedule with dedicated time for each language skill: speaking, listening, writing, etc. Use diverse study materials, such as language learning apps, textbooks, online resources, and practice tests, to ensure a comprehensive learning experience.

Practice with sample tests

This is probably the most important step in your preparation. The internet is full of sample tests for all the popular language exams. Ensure you do as many as possible (under timed conditions) to get familiar with the language exam you’re about to take. Practice makes perfect!

Practice speaking and listening

If you’re one who gets nervous during an exam, allocate dedicated time to practice active listening and speaking to get confident. Mental blocks are more likely to happen when you’re put on the spot during listening and speaking exercises.

Review and recap

Repetition is the key to learning. That’s why you must regularly review your learning material to reinforce your knowledge. If it’s too time-consuming, make summaries and review those!

Focus on the gaps

Do you have any knowledge gaps? Is there anything you keep getting wrong in sample tests? Work on strengthening these gaps to ensure a well-rounded proficiency. Focusing on your weaknesses will enable you to address them effectively and enhance your overall language proficiency.

Prepping for success in language exams is ultimately easy if you stay organized and practice as much as possible. But remember, a positive mindset can make all the difference!

How to Choose the Right Language Exam/Test for You

Choosing the right language exam/test for you depends on a lot of things. What are your expectations? What is the language you want to assess? When making your choice, make sure you completely understand what’s your purpose with this certification. Fortunately, there are enough language proficiency tests to choose from. All you have to do is weigh the options. Here are some factors to consider when deciding which language test to take.

  • Your purpose: What do you need this language certification for? Academic purposes, employment, immigration, or personal development? By choosing the test that aligns with your objectives, you can ensure that you take the most relevant and beneficial examination for your language proficiency.
  • The language: You’ll obviously need to choose a test that matches the language you want to evaluate. In this article, we listed the top language exams for some of the most popular languages in the world. Does any one of them sound good to you?
  • Recognition: Find out if the test you want to take is recognized by the educational institutions, employers, or immigration authorities in the region or country you are targeting.
  • Proficiency level: Before taking a language test, it’s important to determine your current language proficiency level. Most language tests assess users across multiple proficiency levels. By understanding your current level, you can identify the appropriate test that matches your skills and abilities. So make sure you figure out what’s your level.

language tests

  • Exam format and criteria: To make an informed decision, it’s crucial to review the format, structure, and criteria of the language test to ensure it suits your strengths. Is the test computer-based, includes written or oral components, or follows a different format? Consider your comfort level with each format and choose the one that best suits your abilities. This will allow you to approach the test with confidence and perform at your best.
  • Timing and location: Before committing to a language test, check the availability of test centers and dates in your location. Make sure you have enough time left to prepare before the date you choose.
  • Budget: Is the test you chose within your budget? If not, consider switching to a less popular language exam. You’d be surprised to find out that some language exams offer the same benefits for less money.
  • Ask for advice: If you’re still unsure, consider consulting with language teachers or professionals in your field who can help you make the best choice based on your specific circumstances.

Does your desired language exam meet your conditions? Then it is a good choice. Now let’s move on to some frequently asked questions about language exams.

Frequently Asked Questions About Language Exams

What is the purpose of language exams?

The purpose of language exams is to evaluate and certify an individual’s proficiency in a particular language. By successfully completing a language exam, you receive a certification or diploma that officially recognizes your language proficiency level. Some of these certifications are widely accepted and recognized by educational institutions, employers, and organizations around the world.

Why are language exams important?

Language exams are important because they provide objective proof of language proficiency. Additionally, they help individuals gain educational and employment opportunities because they are recognized by institutions and employers worldwide. Language exams are also required for international mobility and serve as milestones in language learning. They also serve as milestones in language learning, offering motivation and a standardized evaluation process.

How can I prepare for language tests effectively?

To prepare effectively for language tests, familiarize yourself with the test format, identify your strengths and weaknesses and take a lot of sample tests. This will help you prep for success and identify areas that need further improvement. Once you take a few practice tests, you’ll know exactly what you should learn next.

How are language exams scored?

Language exams are typically scored using established criteria and scoring systems specific to each test. The scoring process varies depending on the test format and the skills being assessed. Many language exams have established score conversion tables or band scales. These tables or scales provide a standardized interpretation of test scores, allowing individuals and institutions to compare results across different administrations or applicants.

How long are language certificates valid?

The validity period of language certificates can vary depending on the specific exam and the organization that administers it. While some language certificates have indefinite validity, others may expire after a certain period of time.

Can I retake a language exam if I’m not satisfied with my results?

Yes, in most cases, you can retake a language exam if you are not satisfied with your results. The specific retake policies and procedures may vary depending on the exam you took and the organization administering it.

Get ready for your language exam!

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Diana Lăpușneanu - Linguist at Mondly Blog

Diana is a Linguist at Mondly by Pearson. Learning English as a second language early on fueled her lifelong passion for language learning, leading her to pursue a diverse array of languages as a hobby alongside her academic endeavors. With a Master’s Degree in advertising and a fascination for historical linguistics, she brings a unique perspective to her role, making language learning fun for readers worldwide.

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