Already if you are choosing an international oriented programme in your home country, but at latest when you are applying for a study programme abroad you will most likely need a language certificate, proving that you have sufficient knowledge of the language you need for your studies.
Since there are several certificates out there, this article gives an overview. Depending on the universities you choose, there can be different requirements concerning the language certificate.
Because a certificate does not only cost money but also time to prepare, it is wise to choose a certificate which is widely accepted and fits your needs! Make also sure, that you start preparing and taking your language test early enough in order to meet your deadlines. Preparation, taking the test and receiving the results usually takes several weeks!
The Common European Framework (CEFR), divides learners into six different levels:
A Basic Speaker
- A1 Breakthrough or beginner
- A2 Waystage or elementary
B Independent Speaker
- B1 Threshold or intermediate
- B2 Vantage or upper intermediate
C Proficient Speaker
- C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
- C2 Mastery or proficiency
For each level, there is a description of what the learner has to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing. Those descriptions apply to any language. Usually, the expected level for study programmes in most world countries is around B. However, certain universities or programmes (e.g. English literature) might require a higher level than that. That can be helpful if the university you are applying to does not have specific guidelines for your certificate.
English is obviously the most popular language of instruction. Even in international oriented national programmes, a certificate might be needed to proof sufficient English skills for English-taught courses. The below-mentioned certificates are the most popular ones used in the academic field.
1. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
TOEFL is an English certificate which aims for academic use and is widely used around the world. The only test form currently offered is an internet-based test (iBT) which can be taken in numerous test centres worldwide and takes about 4 hours. The grade of the test is equally combined out of the following four parts. Each part is graded with up to 30 points which adds up to a maximum score of 120 points.
- Reading comprehension
- Listening Comprehension
- Written Expression
During the entire test, you are just interacting with a computer. In the first two parts, you read and hear texts about various topics and answer multiple-choice questions about the content later. In the speaking part, your spoken answer is recorded, sent to an online scoring network and evaluated by three to six raters later. The written part is evaluated by this online scoring network as well.
The most common score required by universities is 79-90 (B1/B2). Some universities also require minimum scores in some of the 4 test parts. With $240 (can differ depending on your country) TOEFL is in the same price range as the other English language certificates. The certificate is valid for two years. Be aware that it takes several weeks after the test before you receive your results!
2. International English Language Testing System (IELTS)
IELTS offers an academic version of their test, especially suited to this user group. Like TOEFL, IELTS is widely recognised in all English-speaking countries as well as for many English-taught programmes around the world. Besides, IELTS is also accepted as language proof for certain working permits as well as for immigration. Also at the IELTS four parts are tested:
- listening (40 minutes)
- reading (60 minutes)
- writing (60 minutes)
- speaking (11-14 minutes)
This adds up to a test duration of about 3 hours. Tests can be taken in over 500 test centres worldwide and contrast to TOEFL, the speaking part is conducted face-to-face with a certified examiner. The total grade for the IELTS test ranges from 1-9. Common scores required needed to be admitted for English programmes range from 5.5 to 6.5. Currently, the IELTS costs 190 and is valid for two years. IELTS guarantees an evaluation of the test within 13 days. The results can be then viewed online and are mailed from the national office on the same day.
3. Cambridge English Examinations (CAE)
Cambridge English Language Assessment (formerly the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations) is a non-profit organisation offering English language certificates for different language levels. The First Certificate in English (FCE) as about the same level as the common scores for the TOEFL test (B1-B2) and is, if passed, graded from A-C. It is comparable to IELTS 5.5-6.5. The Certificate in Advanced English (CAE) is oriented at the quite high C1-C2 levels (IELTS 6.58.0) and is required at many British universities. The Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) is the most advanced exam ranked at C2 level which is well above the maximum scale of the TOEFL test and equals a 8 and above in the IELTS test. In contrast to the other certificates, the test consists of five parts:
- Use of English (Grammar use etc.)
The Cambridge Certificates are mainly used within the UK but they are also accepted in many universities outside of the UK. However, they are not as popular as TOEFL and IELTS certificates. In contrast to many other certificates, the Cambridge certificates do not expire.
4. Other certificates
Besides the above-mentioned certificate, also the following certificates are quite popular. They not designed for academic use but might still be accepted in some universities. Business-related certificates such as the BEC might be even required for some MBA programmes.
- Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC)
- Business English Certificate (BEC)
Especially in the field of engineering, Germany offers first-class education opportunities. Although English is getting more and more popular as a language of instruction, German is still needed in many cases. Compared to English programmes, the German language requirements are luckily not that high for many programmes. In that case, students are expected to have a basic knowledge of German and then further improve it during their stay in Germany. Usually, the following two certificates are used to certify your German language level.
1. Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang (DSH)
The DSH is a standardised test framework for German language proficiency. It is offered at many German universities and consists of the following parts:
- Listening comprehension
- Reading comprehension
- Comprehension and use of science and study related language
- Oral examination
Since the examination is individually designed by each university, you should contact the university you got admitted to for more details about the test. The examination result is expressed in three levels, DSH 1, DSH 2 and DSH 3 which equals approximately the CEFR levels B2 C2. For most programmes, DSH 2 is required. It is very important to know that both the written and the oral part of the examination have to be passed with at least the level you would like to achieve. DSH 3 in the written and DSH 1 in the oral part results just in a total level of DSH 1 for example!
Usually, you take the DSH test upon arrival at the German university you got admitted to, just before starting your programme. Despite the differences between the DSH tests of different universities, they are usually accepted at other universities as well. Alternatively, a growing number of open DSH tests are offered which you can take before you got admitted to a programme. Nowadays, many universities charge an administration fee which varies and can be up to 150.
2. Test Deutsch als Fremdsprache (TestDaF)
The TestDaF is the German equivalent to TOEFL and IELTS. It is standardised and can be taken in over 400 test centres worldwide in advance to your stay in Germany. It contains the following four parts:
- Reading comprehension
- Listening comprehension
- Academic writing
As in the TOEFL test, the spoken part is recorded and centrally evaluated together with the other three parts of the test. The result is expressed in the three levels TDN 3, TDN 4 and TDN 5 which are comparable to the three DSH levels. With a level of TDN 3 you can be admitted to certain programmes already. With a level of at least TDN 4 in all four test parts, you are qualified to study at all German universities. Depending on your country, the examination fee is up to 175. It usually takes about 7 weeks after the test until you receive your test certificate.
Find great quality German language schools in Germany offering German exam preparation in cities like:
Comparable to the situation in Germany, French is still the prevalent language of instruction in French universities. Besides individual entrance examinations at the university you are going to study at, the following certificates certify you sufficient French language skills to study at a French university. Both certifications are issued by the Centre international d'études pédagogiques (CIEP). The registration for one of the tests can be directly done at one of the examination centres.
1. Diplôme dEtudes en langue française (DELF)
The DELF certificate is offered in different CEFR levels and can be taken in over 900 test centres world-wide. By passing the DELF B2 certificate, you are exempted from a language test at the university you got admitted to. The DELF B2 examination takes about three hours and consists of the following parts:
- Listening comprehension
- Reading comprehension
The speaking part is conducted with an examiner, discussing a certain topic and expressing your point of view. Each part is graded with 25 points. In total, at least 50 points are needed to pass the examination. The individual parts have to be at least graded with 5/25 points.
2. Diplôme approfondi de langue française (DALF)
The DALF certificate offers the two more advanced language levels C1 and C2. Obtaining one of the two certificates is sufficient to be exempted from a language test at the university you got admitted to.The DALF test is similarly structured as the DELF test. However, the level is more advanced and in the oral part a presentation has to be prepared. The scoring is identical to the DELF certificates.
Find great quality French language schools in France offering French exam preparation in cities like:
1. Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE)
The Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language or DELE is an official qualification, recognised by the Ministry of Education of Spain. The exams are held at the Spanish Instituto Cervantes in countries worldwide. The tests are corrected and evaluated at the University of Salamanca.
The DELEs are divided into three levels, much like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, A1 to C2. The test can be divided in 2 to 4 parts depending on the level of the student taking the test. These include reading comprehension, writing and speaking skills, as well as listening. Your abilities to comprehend and express ideas will also be evaluated. The Cervantes Institute publishes test results approximately three months after the examination date, with approval from the University of Salamanca.
Participants need to pass all parts of the exam in order to pass the entire test. Once passed, the DELE is valid for your entire life. The test is internationally recognised by universities as well as in the business environment.
Servicio Internacional de Evaluación de la Lengua Española, or SIELE, is a new Spanish test announced by Instituto Cervantes and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in 2015.
2. Certificado de Español: Lengua y Uso (CELU)
The Certificate of Use of Language in Spanish or CELU is another internationally recognised proficiency test of Spanish as foreign language, offered in Argentina. The CELU exam is officially acknowledged by the Ministry of Education and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Argentina. The examination is organised mainly by the University of Buenos Aires and National University of Cordoba. It can be taken by foreigners whose native language is not Spanish and who need to prove their level of proficiency in Spanish speaking countries.
There are two pass grades, either Intermediate or Advanced level. Candidates who do not pass the exam do not receive a grade.
The CELU Spanish language certificate is recognised in Argentina, Brazil and China.
You'll find great Spanish language schools in Spain offering exam preparation in cities like:
Or in Latin America in cities like: