How can I test my language level and obtain an official certificate?

When you learn a foreign language it is not very easy to assess your level of proficiency and progress. Moreover, if the project is to study or work abroad, then it is often essential to assess your level by means of an official test.

– Why are language tests necessary?

– What are the main existing certificates?

Language tests: why and how?

Alone, it is really difficult to objectively assess one’s language level.  How can I be sure that my skills will enable me to follow the planned university course or to take up my position in a company abroad?  What’s more; nowadays recruiters and higher education institutions are increasingly demanding detailed information on the language level of candidates. A simple statement “written, read, spoken” is no longer enough.

Language tests provide an objective insight into the candidate’s language skills and reassure both the candidate and recruiters. These tests lead to an internationally recognised diploma.

There are a multitude of foreign language tests available to assess a candidate’s level of language proficiency for a university degree or job search abroad. These tests cost between 100 and 250 euros and are usually divided into several parts: assessment of listening, reading and speaking skills.

Most of these tests are for English, but there are a few others for other languages.

What tests exist?


TOEFL, Test of English as a Foreign Language

A benchmark English test, it is recognised by 9,000 institutions and 130 countries worldwide. The test lasts 4 hours and is divided into several tests, each of which is marked out of 120 points. The results of the test are valid for 2 years and it is possible to take it once a month.

– TOEIC, Test of English for international communication

It certifies the knowledge of oral and written comprehension in professional English for intermediate and advanced levels. Several types of TOEIC are offered, Listening and Reading, for oral and written comprehension, Speaking and Writing, for oral and written expression, and Bridge for oral and written comprehension as well.

Like TOEFL, it is valid for 2 years.

– GMAT, Graduate Management Admission Test

This test of American origin is designed for students who wish to enter a university or business school. It lasts approximately 3h30 and evaluates knowledge through: an “essay”, a data analysis, a quantitative section which assesses the candidates’ reasoning in the face of problems. A final section is dedicated to reading comprehension and includes syntax correction. The test is marked out of 800.

– IELTS, International English Language Testing System

This is one of the most popular language tests as it is aimed at higher education institutions and companies, but can also be used as a proof of language proficiency for immigration purposes. It is available in two versions, Academic and General Training, and includes, in addition to the classic tests, a face-to-face session with an examiner. The results range from 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest mark.

– The Cambridge English exams

They are subdivided into 8 exams at different levels and cover a variety of topics (general English, business English, legal and financial, etc.).


 It is used to validate the language training provided in university FLE centres. Recognised by many universities as proof of the language level required to enrol in a department.

Some centres also offer a complete course in FOU (French for University Purposes), which is validated by a DU (University Diploma).

 TCF – Test de Connaissance du Français
Issued by the International Centre for Educational Studies. General French language test intended for all non-French speaking people who wish, for professional or personal reasons, to have their knowledge of French validated simply, reliably and quickly.

 TEF – Test d’Évaluation de Français
Issued by the CCIP – Chamber of Commerce and Industry Paris Ile de France. Test recognised by the French National Education system. Students who wish to register for undergraduate studies at a French university can take the TEF test.

 DCL FLE – Diplôme de Compétence en Langue
Issued by the Ministry of National Education. Designed specifically for adult and professional audiences.

Since 1961, Sorbonne University has been offering 5 diplomas corresponding to 5 levels of mastery of the language and knowledge of French culture.

The professional French diplomas of the Paris Region Chamber of Commerce and Industry are aimed at all those who wish to validate their ability to communicate in French in a professional context.


The CELPE-Bras, Certificado de Proficiência em Língua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros or Certificate of Proficiency in the Portuguese Language for Foreigners, is the reference certificate that certifies knowledge of Portuguese. It is only issued by the Brazilian Ministry of Education, with the support of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is the only document recognised by the Brazilian government.


To test your level of Spanish, you should take the DELE, Diploma of Spanish as a Foreign Language. There are 6 levels of exams to choose from according to your objectives. The exams are supervised by the Cervantes Institute and issued by the Spanish government through the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.


For Italian, the focus is on the CILS, Certificazione di Italiano come Lingua Straniera and the CELI, Certificato di Conoscenza della lingua italiana. These are divided into 6 and 5 levels respectively, from beginner to advanced.

The less well-known CIC, Certificato dell’italiano commerciale, issued by the University of Perugia, and the PLIDA, Progetto Lingua Italiana Dante Alighieri, certification issued by the head office of the Dante Alighieri Company and recognised by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, complete the range of Italian language tests.


To test your German language level:

– the TestDaF, Test Deutsch als Fremdsprach, for advanced candidates,

– the DSH, Deutsche Sprachprüfung für den Hochschulzugang, developed by the universities ;

– the ZDfB, Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf, of the Goethe Institute, which assesses the ability to use German in a professional context;

– the WiDaf, proposed by the Franco-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which certifies knowledge of professional German.

– the Goethe-Zertifikat examinations, which are divided into six levels and six separate diplomas.


The HSK, Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi, often compared to TOEFL, was created in 1984 by HANBAN (International Bureau for the Promotion of the Chinese Language). Candidates are given 6 levels of assessment.


– The JLPT, Japanese Language Proficiency Test, a generic test

Examination for Japanese University, for those who wish to study in Japan

Business Japanese, to assess the language level from a professional perspective

– The J-Test, similar to the JLPT.

Good to know!

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFRL)

It provides a common basis for the design of language programmes, diplomas and certificates. It has introduced six common reference levels (A1 to C2) which are now used in many European countries.

Written par Ingrid, Coliglote

Sources :

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