Proving your English proficiency as an expat

  • Do you speak English?
Published on 2020-10-13 at 09:32 by Veedushi
This article is not only meant for non-English-speaking expats. Unless English is your mother tongue, you will probably need to prove your language skills if you intend to relocate abroad. This is precisely what's likely to happen in Australia from mid-2021. The government recently announced that foreign partners and spouses of Australian citizens would need to be fluent in English to be eligible for a permanent visa. If this bill is approved by parliament, expats seeking Australian citizenship will also have to take an English test. What does this mean for expats? Why are English tests important when moving to an anglophone country?

According to the Australian Immigration Department, more than one million foreign nationals in Australia have very little or no English proficiency at all, which is quite surprising for an English speaking country. Therefore, expats seeking a permanent visa for Australia should be able to prove their language skills. Many Australians and their foreign partners are unhappy about this proposal. However, the government believes that there's a strong need for them to be able to understand and speak English, especially if they are planning to join the local workforce. Today, international students, as well as foreign professionals coming from non-English speaking countries, are required to take an English test before relocating to Australia. However, official statistics point out that one in five persons in Australia speaks a language other than English at home. Most of them live in major cities such as Melbourne and Sydney.

With this new visa requirement, permanent visa applicants will have to sign up for around 500 hours of English classes, free of charge thanks to a government program. In the meantime, foreign spouses and partners are still eligible for a temporary visa, but they will need to take the test to be able to apply for permanent residency.

Non-English-speaking expats in anglophone countries

Australia is not the only country where foreign nationals who wish to settle there have to prove their language skills, regardless of the purpose of their stay. In many English-speaking countries like the United Kingdom, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the USA, New Zealand, Canada, Belize and the Bahamas, etc., also require language proficiency tests for those who don't have English as their mother tongue. So before moving, make you sure comply with these.

It's worth noting, however, that native English-speakers no longer monopolise the language. You might be surprised to know that the Dutch, Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Singaporeans, South Africans, Finns, Austrians, Luxembourgers and Germans have the world's best English proficiency, according to the latest EF English Proficiency Index. The French rank 31st while the Spaniards are ranked 35th followed by the Italians in the 36th place.

So how can you improve your English language skills before moving to an English-speaking country?

The most popular English language tests

You have probably heard of the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or PTE (Pearson Test of English). These are the three most widespread English language tests around the world. However, make sure to enquire on the test that suits your needs best, depending on the purpose of your stay abroad, whether for work, for study, or to reunite with your partner. In general, all of these tests will assess your ability to read, listen, speak and write English. But there are specificities, like the recognition of the certificate, the content of the test, fees and the validity period.

TOEFL is a standard test that is recognised and mainly required by universities in most anglophone countries. IELTS, for its part, goes beyond academic needs. It is very often needed for obtaining a work permit or immigration authorisations in many anglophone countries. If you wish to study in the UK, for example, will have to take the CAE (Cambridge English Examination). Whichever test you have chosen, allow at least a month of preparation if you already have a good command of English, but if you're not proficient at all, it can take several months, and even more than a year. Besides, there is generally a minimum score to be eligible for a visa, regardless of the anglophone country in which you have chosen to settle. What's more, the minimum score required in the different components, as well as the total, may depend on the type of visa you're seeking.

The TOEFL exam lasts 4 hours and is divided into four parts. You will be assessed for your level of reading, listening, speaking and writing in English. Each of these components will earn you 30 points for a total of 120 points. The IELTS exam lasts two and a half hours, with an additional 15 minutes for the allocution part. Note, however, that there are two types of IELTS: one dedicated to higher education and the other to the labour market and social situations. So be sure to double-check which one best suits your needs. TOEFL and IELTS certificates are valid for two years. If you need to prove your English language skills beyond this period, you will have to take the test once again.

The PTE, being more recent, is less widespread than the TOEFL and IELTS. However, results are obtained within five working days. Also, the results are more detailed, which allows a better understanding of your skills in specific areas, such as grammar. PTE Academic is accepted by thousands of English-speaking universities around the world, including the UK, US, Canada and Australia when it comes to visa requirements.

The cost of these tests usually varies depending on the country, the centre where you would like to take the test, and the local currency. In Germany, for example, count around US$ 255 for IELTS and TOEFL and US$ 231 for PTE. In Australia, the IELTS will cost around US$ 236 while the TOEFL costs US$ 255 and the PTE US$ 246. In the UK, count between US$ 210 and US$ 234 for IELTS and TOEFL and US$ 155 for PTE. In Spain, PTE is more popular and costs around US$ 255.

It's worth noting that all three tests accept British English and American English. It's a matter of choice. However, avoid switching from British English to American English during the exam. You could be penalised!

Article translated from Expatriation : Do you speak English ?