Language Tests for Canadian Immigration 

Language Tests for Canadian Immigration

What is the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB)? 

The CLB is a Canadian language standard used to grade an individual’s ability to speak and understand English as a second language. There are twelve benchmarks that grade the individual’s ability from ‘basic’ to ‘advanced.’ The CLB measures four aspects to gauge a person’s proficiency – Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing. 

How are the Benchmarks organized? 

The CLB’s twelve benchmarks are divided into three stages: 

  • Stage 1 – Basic Language Ability (CLB level 1-4) 
  • Stage 2 – Intermediate Language Ability (CLB 5-8) 
  • Stage 3 – Advanced Language Ability (CLB 9-12) 

History of Canadian Language Benchmark 

The Canadian Language Benchmark’s (CLB) foundations can be traced back to a Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) funded project for a Canadian language standard in 1996. 

A Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB) was introduced in 1998 as a non-profit corporation responsible for the CLB. The current iteration of the CLB is the result of years of development revision by the CCLB. 

A parallel French standard, the Francais langue seconde pour adultes (NCLC), was also released in 2006. 

Why are Language Benchmarks necessary? 

Language tests are an essential component of Canadian immigration. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) requires a certain level of proficiency in either of the two official languages- English or French. The test covers all aspects of a candidate’s language proficiency- listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. The requirement is so that immigrants have an easier time settling in Canada. 

How many language tests does the IRCC recognize? 

Currently, the IRCC recognizes four language tests. In English: 

  • CELPIP – Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program 
  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System 

In French: 

  • TEF Canada – Test d’evaluation de francais 
  • TCF Canada – Test de connaissance du francais 

What is CELPIP? 

Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program is a test administered by Paragon Testing Enterprises- a subsidiary of the University of British Columbia (UBC) 

The CELPIP test is scored in 11 levels, M- for minimal proficiency, followed by grades 3 through 11 and 12 for advanced ability. 

It is one of the two English proficiency tests accredited by the IRCC. 

What is IELTS? 

The International English Language Testing System is an English proficiency score officially recognized in most predominantly English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Canada, the UK and the USA. 

It can be used as proof of English proficiency for work, study or immigration. 

The grading follows an incremental 1-9 scale that rank the applicant’s ability to listen, read, write and speak in English. 

What is the TEF Canada? 

The Test d’evaluation de francais (TEF) is a French language assessment test officially recognized by the IRCC. It was introduced in 1998 by the Le francais des affaires of the CCI Paris Ile-de-France. 

What is TCF Canada? 

Test de connaissance du francais (TCF) is a French Proficiency test recognized by the IRCC and the Ministry of Immigration, Francisation and Integration (MIFI) for immigration to Quebec. 

Who needs to take Language Tests? 

Most of Canada’s Immigration streams require candidates to have a Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) score from an IRCC accredited test. The required CLB level varies according to the stream. 

The CLB levels required under the Express Entry route are: 

The provinces also prescribe CLB requirements under their Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP). Below is a list of the language requirements for some popular PNP streams: 

  • Alberta Opportunity Stream 
    • Minimum of CLB 5 in English/ French for NOC- 0, A or B occupations 
    • Minimum CLB 4 in English/ French for NOC- C or D occupations. 
  • British Columbia PNP language requirements for all Skill Immigrants 
    • Minimum CLB 4 for NOC Skill levels B, C or D 
    • NOC Skill levels A and 0 do not require a compulsory language test result 
  • Manitoba PNP Skilled Workers Overseas under this program require: 
    • Minimum CLB 4 in each skill for NOC Skill levels C and D. 
  • New Brunswick PNP The eligibility requirements for selection under this stream are 
    • Minimum CLB level 7 for English/ French. 
  • Newfoundland and Labrador PNP’s Express Entry Skilled Worker program requires applicants to score 67/100 on the PNP point assessment grid
    • A CLB 5 is worth 19 points in this point assessment grid 
    • A CLB 6 is worth 21 
    • A CLB 7 is worth 23 
    • A CLB 8 and above is worth 27 points 
  • Nova Scotia Skilled Worker stream, requires applicants to fulfil a language requirement of: 
    • Minimum CLB level 5 for skilled workers 
    • Minimum CLB level 4 for Semi-skilled and low-skilled workers 
  • The Ontario Immigrant Nominee Program’s (OINP) Express Entry Human Capital Priorities stream requires that candidates understand, read, write and speak English/ French at a CLB level 7 or higher. 
  • Under the PEQ- Quebec experience program, candidates are expected to have a minimum proficiency of level 7 in the Échelle québécoise des niveaux de compétence en français des personnes immigrantes adultes 
  • The Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP) has its language assessment scores to be eligible for its streams: 

Differences between the CELPIP and IELTS tests 

The Ashton college website lists the difference between the two tests as follows: 

Listening  47-55 minutes, 7 components, total 40-46 questions  30 minutes; 4 components, a total of 40 questions  
Reading  55-60 minutes; 4 components, 38-45 questions (38 scored)   60 minutes; 3 components, 40 questions  
Writing  53-60 minutes; 2 components: Writing an Email and Responding to Survey Questions   60 minutes; 2 components: Writing a Letter and Responding to a Point of View, Argument or Problem  
Speaking  15-20 minutes; 8 components, a total of 8 short-answer questions   11-14 minutes; 3 components: Introduction, Individual Speech and Two-Way Discussion  
Details  The test times include the transition times between the test components CELPIP exam is computer-based    The test times exclude the transition times between the test components The IELTS is a Paper-based test  
Time  3-hour exam completed in one sitting.  3-hour exam with a separate speaking component. 
Score breakdown  A score of 1-12 for each section; calibrated against the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) levels   A score of 1-9 for each section. 
Price  A CELPIP- General test costs $265  An IELTS test costs $309 in Canada. 

Equivalency charts for the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) and the CELPIP and IELTS language tests. 

The IRCC website has a complete table on the CLB’s equivalency with other recognized English proficiency tests. 

Below is an equivalency chart of the two tests and the CLB. 

Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) – General Test score equivalency chart 
CLB Level  Reading  Writing  Listening  Speaking 
10  10  10  10  10 
International English Language Testing System (IELTS) – General Training – Test score equivalency chart 
CLB Level  Reading  Writing  Listening  Speaking 
10  8.0  7.5  8.5  7.5 
7.0  7.0  8.0  7.0 
6.5  6.5  7.5  6.5 
6.0  6.0  6.0  6.0 
5.0  5.5  5.5  5.5 
4.0  5.0  5.0  5.0 
3.5  4.0  4.5  4.0 

Changes to the International English Language Testing System after the pandemic 

on 25 July 2021, The British Council announced that it would no longer deliver the IELTS tests in India. 

The responsibility was handed over to the IDP– making them the only distributor of IELTS tests in India. 

Will there be any changes in the near future? 

There are reports of a new language test in the works for applicants under the economic immigration streams. However, the IRCC is surprisingly mum on the details. The new test is likely to be introduced by early to mid-2023. 

Language tests are a mandatory part of the immigration process. Today, the process is more streamlined and accessible than ever, and the upcoming changes will help immigration for all categories, including students and economic migrants. 


Janggoulal Sitlhou

Janggoulal Sitlhou

Janggoulal Sitlhou is a content writer with SettleCanada. He is a Political Sciences graduate and a keen follower of international affairs and contemporary history. He has a background in publishing and regularly dabbles in writing and game development projects. Janggoulal currently writes on issues related to Canadian Immigration.