Almost every Canadian immigration program requires an applicant to provide language test results. This article covers approved exams and the minimum level of language proficiency for immigration to Canada.
If you speak neither English nor French, it would be almost impossible to immigrate to Canada: it would be difficult to find a job, negotiate the price of a rental home, register children for kindergarten, and there would be many other everyday problems. If you have just started planning your immigration to Canada, go ahead with learning a language as soon as you can.
Canada is a bilingual country: 75% of its inhabitants speak English and 23% name French their native language. French is most used in Quebec, the only Canadian province where English is not an official language. In other provinces and territories, it is enough to speak English. However, you can increase your chances of immigration if you are proficient in both languages.
Types of Language Tests
To be able to immigrate to Canada, you are required to prove your English or French skills with language tests. The results must not be older than two years at the time of applying for permanent residence or at the time of creating the Express Entry profile.
The following types of tests are accepted for immigration to Canada: IELTS and CELPIP for English, TEF and TCF for French. These tests assess your language proficiency by four types of skills: reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
You are advised to sign up for a language test several months ahead, since there may be queues. The cost may vary between $150 and $250 depending on the test location.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
IELTS (International English Language Testing System) is an international system for assessing proficiency in the English language. It is the most popular English test in Canada. Note that only General Training IELTS is accepted for immigration.
IELTS results give a score for each language ability, as well as an overall score that averages the results for each ability. The total score does not matter for immigration.
Find an IELTS location on the IELTS.org website.
CELPIP (Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program)
The CELPIP test has been developed by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Unlike IELTS, which is intended for international English, CELPIP has been designed for the Canadian language version, which contains elements of British and American English and focuses on the Canadian accent.
There are two types of CELPIP tests:
- CELPIP — General: for those who apply for permanent residence in Canada; includes 39 listening questions, 39 reading questions, 9 speaking tasks, and 2 written tasks
- CELPIP — General LS: for those applying for Canadian citizenship
The CELPIP — General test can be taken only in India, Canada, the Philippines, the UAE, and the USA, and General LS can be taken only in Canada. A list of centres can be found on CELPIP.ca.
TEF (Test d’évaluation de français)
TEF is intended to prove proficiency in French. It includes 60 listening questions, 50 reading questions, 2 speaking tasks, and 2 written tasks. There are two types of this test: TEF Canada and TEFAQ. It is generally recommended to take TEF Canada since TEFAQ is only accepted for immigration to Quebec.
Find a TEF location on the Lefrancaisdesaffaires.fr website.
TCF (Test de connaissance du français)
Like TEF, the TCF test is designed to test your French language proficiency. There are two test types:
- TCF Québec: is accepted only in Quebec, includes 29 listening questions, 29 reading questions, 3 speaking tasks, and 3 written tasks
- TCF Canada: is accepted throughout the country, includes 39 listening questions, 39 reading questions, 3 speaking tasks, and 3 written tasks
Find a TCF location on the CIEP.fr website.
Immigration Programs Requirements
To measure language proficiency, immigration programs use the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) for English and the Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadien (NCLC) for French. NCLC and CLB levels are equivalent. The correspondence table can be found on the official website.
The minimum CLB level is 1, and the maximum is 12. When Canadian immigration programs indicate language requirements, they usually use the CLB.
I. Basic: CLB 1–4 (interpreting and creating simple communication in routine contexts)
II. Intermediate: CLB 5–8 (interpreting and creating moderately complicated communication in more demanding contexts)
III. Advanced: CLB 9–12 (interpreting and creating complicated communication in demanding contexts)
For example, if the minimum level of language proficiency for participation in the program is CLB 4, this means that your lowest score among the four language skills must be at least CLB 4. If you scored below this level for any of the skills, you do not meet the requirements of the program.
Each immigration program has its own requirements. Some set a minimum threshold on the CLB or NCLC scale, others use a system that awards points not only for language proficiency but also for age, education, and work experience.
Minimum CLB or NCLC levels for Canadian immigration programs:
- Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSW): 7 for the first official language and 5 for the second official language
- Canadian Experience Class (CEC): 5 (for NOC B) or 7 (for NOC 0 and A)
- Federal Skilled Trades Program (FST): 5 for speaking and listening, 4 for reading and writing
- Atlantic Immigration Pilot: 4
- Rural and Northern Immigration Pilot: 4 (for NOC C and D), 5 (for NOC B) or 6 (for NOC 0 and A)
- Agri-Food Immigration Pilot: 4
- Home Child Care Provider Pilot, Home Support Worker Pilot: 5
- Provincial immigration programs: the minimum level varies depending on the particular program’s stream. Candidates who immigrate through streams functioning within the Express Entry system must meet the requirements of one of the federal programs (FSW, CEC or FST)
Under the Express Entry programs, candidates get points according to various criteria (language skills, age, work experience, education, and others). You need to have a minimum score of 440–470 points (it may vary depending on the draw). The proficiency in the first official language will get you a maximum of 136 points, and the command of the second official language will get you a maximum of 24 points (a total of 160 points).
To send the results of language tests for immigration under one of the Express Entry programs, you need to:
- Schedule testing at an IRCC approved centre and pay fees
- Get a minimum score according to the requirements of the selected immigration program
- Enter the test results in your Express Entry profile (and the Personal Information Number, if the system requests it)
- Keep the original results and attach a copy to the application (if you have been invited to submit an application)
Quebec uses its own scale (Échelle québécoise des niveaux de compétence en français des personnes immigrantes adultes) to assess the level of language proficiency for immigration. The minimum level of French on this scale is 7, which corresponds to level B2 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.
You can try out the self-assessment tests for written expression and reading comprehension before you take the official tests: