How to overcome language test hurdles when moving abroad

  • language test
Published on 2023-07-28 at 10:00 by Asaël Häzaq
Language tests are often required for studying or working abroad, or obtaining a residence permit, but they are often criticized. Some people find them too numerous and costly, especially when they have already proven their language proficiency. Regardless of your reason for moving abroad, here's how you can cope with language test hurdles.

The importance of language tests during visa and residence applications

Language tests are often overshadowed by entry visas and work permits. However, when required, these tests become an additional constraint for people moving abroad. How well you fare in the language test can determine whether you will be eligible for a student visa, work visa, research visa, residency permit, or more.

But why are language tests necessary? Institutions argue that expatriates must understand the country's language to attend classes, work, and live there. However, these tests are paid for by applicants, and the cost varies, ranging from a few tens to several hundreds of dollars. For example, the TOPIK (Korean language test) costs between USD 40 and USD 50. The price of the Test de connaissance du français (TCF), required for obtaining a residence permit in France, ranges from USD 110 to USD 165. The JLPT (Japanese language test), which is essential for working in Japan (expats need at least at the N2 level), costs an average of USD 100. However, the costs may vary depending on the test level and the country in which they are taken.

Another issue is the nature of the test. Some applicants find multiple-choice questions (QCM) unsuitable. This format is precisely used in tests like TOPIK or JLPT, which lack an oral component, relying solely on multiple-choice questions. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for candidates who excel in oral proficiency to fail these QCM-based exams. Additionally, some candidates criticize the short validity periods of these tests.

Expats believe that language test constraints can have serious consequences: visa applications canceled due to delays in providing test results or requests for redoing tests because of their expiration while the visa procedure was ongoing.

Are language tests always justified?

Let's take the example of Australia. Living in Australia can be expensive, not just due to tuition fees. To apply for a visa, one must pass one of the five English language tests offered. After completing their studies, international students may need to retake English tests to enter specific professional fields or pursue their higher education to obtain a master's or Ph.D., for instance. Nursing graduates must pass a new English test to register with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is the most commonly taken test by international students, recognized by 11,000 organizations worldwide. It is owned by the British Council, Cambridge University Press and Assessment, and IDP Education, an Australian company. While it is a reputable test, it comes with a cost of USD400 and a limited validity period, sometimes as short as two years.

Who is to be blamed? In its investigation into international education, the Australian government acknowledged universities' responsibility in overseeing IDP agents. On the other hand, IDP provides support for visa and admission applications as well as course selection. However, critics have raised concerns as some high-ranking IDP officials are associated with prestigious universities and hold positions like vice-chancellor. This setup has led to accusations of potential conflicts of interest. In response, the Australian government proposed greater oversight regarding universities' responsibility in overseeing IDP agents.

Are there too many language tests?

A similar issue arises with the IELT test, managed by a company on behalf of universities. These universities are also shareholders in the same company, which makes millions of profits from English tests. This creates an apparent conflict of interest for international students. Some claimed to have paid over USD 1500 USD for four tests, each lasting barely three hours. Critics even label this situation as xenophobic, suggesting that these repetitive tests imply foreigners still do not speak English well enough, despite demonstrating their language proficiency through degrees and work experience. The government justifies the tests as necessary to manage "immigration risks," ensuring that expatriates can fully participate in Australian society.

However, this government argument fails to convince those affected. They believe obtaining a degree should be sufficient proof of their English language proficiency and integration into society—unless the value of expatriates' degrees is considered less than those held by nationals. As for the English test provider (IELTS), its website recommends a two-year validity for test results while allowing institutions to choose a suitable duration. Moreover, IELTS has stirred controversy by suggesting that they rely on the "well-known concept of second language attrition." On the other hand, IDP Education has not responded to questions about conflicts of interest or test result validity periods.