Language certificates

As you may notice during the application process, some universities require you to submit an official language certificate before the start of your semester abroad. This is a common procedure, and is proven method to start safely a free mover semester: a language certificate can assure both you and the hosting university that you won’t have any problem in following lessons during your awesome free mover experience. Please note that language certificates are also asked to Erasmus and degree-seeking international students, so this is not a peculiarity of a free mover exchange, which in turn has its own advantages over other common forms of mobility.

The destinations’ offer on www.wearefreemovers.com is categorized by 5 major languages: English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish. So, while using the University Finder, you can select universities’ courses by their language. Nevertheless, if you want to follow courses in languages that are different from the five ones covered by this website, just stick to the University Finder, select the native country of your preferred language, and click on the links provided. Usually, you will find courses in many languages such as: Italian, Russian, Japanese and many more. If you don’t find them, just send an email to the contact of the university you are interested in, asking for courses in your preferred language (just don’t ask for Japanese courses to an Italian university, stick to the native country of that language).

So, having said that, what do you need to consider when taking a language test? Well, first and foremost the language proficiency level is categorized according to a standard framework, called the “Common European Framework of Reference for Languages” (CEFR). Developed by the Council of Europe, nowadays this framework is utilized all over the globe. It distinguishes learners among three categories: Basic users (A); Independent users (B); Proficient users (C).

Basic users (A)

Basic users, defined with the letter A, represent the lowest level of language proficiency. They are further divided into two subcategories: A1 and A2.

  • A1 users are called “Breakthrough users” or “Beginner users”. They are able to interact with another person in a foreign language in a very basic way, provided that the interlocutor talks in a very slow and paced way. A1 users represent the lowest proficient users in the A group.
  • A2 users are defined as “Waystage users” or “Elementary users”. They are proficient enough to understand common sentences and communicate routine-related topics.

Independent users (B)

Independent users, defined with the letter B, represent the medium level of language proficiency. As with the A category, and the C category as we are going to see, they are splitted into two subcategories: B1 and B2.

  • B1 users are called “Threshold users” or “Intermediate users”. They have a clear understanding of the majority of the common topics, such as the ones related to personal interests and travel.
  • B2 users are the “Vantage” or “Upper Intermediate” ones. They are the most skilled B users. As such, they possess the ability to understand the main ideas of a complex text and discuss technical topics.

Proficient users (C)

Proficient users, defined with the letter C, represent the highest level of language proficiency. CEFR divides C users in C1 and C2 users, with the C2 ones being the highest category in the C classification and in the whole CEFR standard.

  • C1 users are called “Effective Operational Proficiency users” or “Advanced users”. They have a full working language proficiency, and hence they are able to conduct the vast majority of the conversations in a wide range of topics, including the business and academic ones.
  • C2 users are defined as the “Mastery” or “Proficiency” ones. They have the highest proficiency, hence they do not encounter any problem while using the analyzed foreign language.

Having said that, universities most of the time ask for a B2/C1 level. It is an acceptable level for both the applicant and the hosting universities, and it could be considered a sweet spot between full proficiency and inadequate ability to follow courses in a foreign language. Pro tip: if you are reading what I have written on this site without many problems, you should already be at a B2/C1 level for the English language. Hence, you only need to take a test to certify your level and start your next free mover semester abroad!

You have many tests to choose from:

English

Two tests are predominantly accepted worldwide: the IELTS and the TOEFL. The IELTS, acronym for “International English Language Testing System”, is an English language proficiency test developed by British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge Assessment English. It was launched in the 1980s, and is now one of the two most accepted English language proficiency certificates worldwide, with millions of test takers every year. The TOEFL, on the other hand, is a test developed by Educational Testing Service in the 1960s. They are very similar, with four parts making up the test: reading, listening, speaking, writing. Their difference resides in the homeland of the organizer and hence, in the preferred recognition among institutions: the IELTS is more recognized in the British English institutions, while the TOEFL is more American English-oriented. I took the TOEFL test 5 years ago and I got a full C1 score, and you certainly could as well. It’s not that difficult!

French

For the French certification you have two options: DELF and DALF, both given by the International Centre for French Studies. The DELF covers up language proficiency levels up to the B2 one, while the DALF gives either C1 or C2 certifications.

German

German proficiency is mostly certified by four entities: Goethe Institut, Telc, TestDaF Institut, and DSH. They all offer CEFR-compliant certifications, which can be useful if you want to follow German-taught courses all over the globe (even though the Goethe Institut’s certification is the most recognized worldwide).

Portuguese

Portuguese learners can assess their CEFR level with the CAPLE test, issued by the University of Lisbon and the Instituto Camões on behalf of the Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Spanish

DELE diplomas are the best way to go. They are issued by the Spanish Instituto Cervantes on behalf of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science and divided according to the CEFR classification. A DELE test taker can count on an impressively extensive network of more than 800 centres in over 100 countries.

I hope this helps,

Fabio