2023-01-09T09:09:00-05:00November 29th, 2022|

Understanding the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB): Immigrating to Canada

Language test scores are a key factor in determining your eligibility for many Canadian immigration programs. They provide proof of your ability to communicate in one or both of Canada’s official languages—English or French. If you want to move to Canada as a permanent resident (PR), you must take a language test that measures your proficiency in at least one language. You may also require a language test score if you’re applying for a work permit or admission to a Canadian university or college.

The score you need is dependent on various factors, such as the immigration program you’re applying to, the National Occupational Classification (NOC) code of your work experience, and more. While you can take either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) to prove your proficiency in English, both these tests are measured using the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB). In this article, we help you understand what the Canadian Language Benchmark is, how your CLB score can impact your application, and what tests are acceptable.

In this article:

What is CLB?

The Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) is the standard used by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to describe, measure, and recognize the English language ability of immigrants and prospective immigrants who plan to live and work in Canada. IELTS and CELPIP have different scoring systems, and the CLB provides a common benchmark to compare the performance of all test applicants. After you complete a language test, the CLB provides the measurement of your proficiency, so you know whether you meet the minimum requirement for your immigration application.

 The CLB measures four language skills (or abilities)—listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each skill is measured against 12 levels of proficiency or benchmarks. So, you will receive a benchmark for each language ability that indicates how well you function in that particular skill.

The Niveaux de compétence linguistique canadiens (NCLC) is used to assess abilities in the French language in the same way CLB does for English.

Why is CLB required for Canadian immigration?

As a bilingual country, Canada’s two official languages are English and French, and the ability to communicate in one or both languages is a necessity to work, live, and ultimately thrive here. To apply for permanent residence (PR), you must take a language test that is approved by IRCC to meet the application requirements. The key reasons why CLB is required for Canadian immigration are:

  • Standardized scoring: The CLB standard ensures every applicant is evaluated the same way using a single standardized scoring system, regardless of which approved test you take. The scale of language ability is made up of 12 benchmarks or reference points that range from basic to advanced. The higher your language test score, the higher your CLB level. The score you earn on your language test is recalculated to the CLB standard so that every applicant is compared using the same benchmark.
  • Impacts your CRS points: The Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) is a points-based system used by the Government of Canada to determine your eligibility for the Express Entry immigration program. Your CLB level can impact your CRS points. If you’re applying for PR under Express Entry, the higher your CLB level, the more CRS points you earn. Some permanent residence programs also require a certain minimum CLB score to qualify.
  • Minimum score requirements: Your application will only be processed if you meet the minimum CLB score requirements for your program. For example, when applying for the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program under Express Entry, you need a score of at least CLB level 7 in each language ability.
  • Test for both languages: If you plan to take both an English and French language test, your NCLC score for the French language test can also be assessed against the Canadian Language Benchmark. Candidates can earn additional CRS points for proficiency in their second official language, so it’s a good idea to take both tests if you’re fluent in both official languages. 
Note Icon  Note: If you’re taking both English and French language tests, the minimum acceptable second language score for the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program is equivalent to CLB 5.

Approved language tests for Canadian immigration 

The IRCC accepts the results of approved language tests that are administered by approved agencies. It is up to you to schedule your test with an agency and pay the costs. Once you complete the test, you can enter the test scores into your Express Entry profile. If you are invited to apply, you must include the results with your application.

The approved English language proficiency tests are:

  • Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP)
  • International English Language Testing System (IELTS)

 The approved French language tests are:

Understanding your IELTS score

The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam consists of four sections: reading, writing, speaking, and listening. For each of the four sections of the test, you’re given a score from 0 to 9, with 9 being the highest at “expert user”. Your four marks are then used to create an average which becomes your overall score. The scoring scale is as follows: 

9 – expert user

8 – very good user

7 – good user

6 – competent user

5 – modest user

4 – limited user

3 – extremely limited user

2 – intermittent user

1 – Non user (no ability to use the language except a few isolated words)

0 – didn’t attempt the test

Note Icon  Note: There are two types of IELTS tests: IELTS General Training and IELTS Academic. You must take the IELTS General Training test to apply for permanent residence or work permits. If you’re applying for admission into a Canadian university or college and enrolling into a study program delivered in English, you’ll be required to write the IELTS Academic test.

Understanding your CELPIP score

The Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) is a general English language proficiency test that evaluates English speaking, reading, listening, and writing skills. 

CELPIP’s scoring model is based on 12 levels, similar to CLB benchmarks. At the top of the scale is 12 indicating advanced proficiency in workplace and community contexts. A level of 6 means developing proficiency in the workplace and community contexts. Any score under 3 is classified as level ‘M’, which means minimal proficiency or insufficient information to assess. 

Note Icon  Note:There are two types of CELPIP tests: The CELPIP-General Test and the CELPIP-General LS Test. You must take the CELPIP-General test as it is officially designated for PR applications. The IRCC will not accept results from the General-LS test.

Understanding your TCF Canada score

The Test de connaissance du français (TCF) Canada is a test accredited by IRCC to evaluate French language proficiency. The test includes four sections: oral comprehension, written comprehension, oral expression, and written expression.

The TCF Canada is scored using six levels of knowledge of French ranked from A1 (limited ability) up to C2 (advanced ability). Each candidate receives a certificate which includes a score for each section as well as a level per skill scored between A1 to C2.

Note Icon  Note: To apply for immigration to the province of Quebec, you must take the TCF for Quebec (TCFQ). 

Understanding your TEF Canada score

The Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) Canada and TEFaQ (Test for Evaluating French for Access to Quebec) are both approved tests to prove French language proficiency for immigration to Canada and Quebec, respectively. Similar to TCF Canada, these exams include four sections to assess oral and written comprehension and expression.

The TEF Canada assesses six levels of knowledge of French ranked from A1 (limited ability) up to C2 (advanced ability).

How your CLB score is calculated

The score you earn on your English language test (IELTS or CELPIP) will be recalculated using the CLB standard so that every applicant is compared by the same benchmarks. You can determine your CLB score for your own test results with equivalency charts provided by the Government of Canada. Here are the conversion charts for IELTS and CELPIP:

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) – General Training Test score equivalency chart

CLB Level  Reading Writing Listening Speaking
10 8.0-9.0 7.5-9.0 8.5-9.0 7.5-9.0
9 7.0 7.0 8.0 7.0
8 6.5 6.5 7.5 6.5
7 6.0 6.0 6.0 6.0
6 5.0 5.5 5.5 5.5
5 4.0 5.0 5.0 5.0
4 3.5 4.0 4.5 4.0

Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program (CELPIP) – General score equivalency chart

CLB Level  Reading Writing Listening Speaking
10 10 10 10 10
9 9 9 9 9
8 8 8 8 8
7 7 7 7 7
6 6 6 6 6
5 5 5 5 5
4 4 4 4 4

The CLB is used to score English language tests only. French tests are evaluated using the NCLC benchmark. You can refer to equivalency charts provided by the Government of Canada to convert your TCF or TEF score to NCLC or CLB benchmarks. 

What is the minimum CLB score required for Express Entry?

As you begin preparations for your language test, you should be aware of the minimum CLB score you need to achieve as it differs across the three Express Entry programs. The requirements for the first official language are outlined below. 

  • Federal Skilled Workers Program (FSW): You must earn a minimum score of CLB 7 for all four language abilities, or NCLC 7 if French is your official language.
  • Federal Skilled Trade Program (FSTP): You must earn a minimum score of CLB 5 (or NCLC 5) for both listening and speaking abilities, and a minimum CLB 4 (or NCLC 4) for both reading and writing abilities.
  • Canadian Experience Class (CEC): If you’re applying through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program, the minimum CLB score you need will depend on the TEER level of your occupation.
    • TEER 0 (previously NOC skill type 0): minimum CLB 7 in all four abilities, or NCLC 7
    • TEER 1 (previously NOC skill level A): minimum CLB 7 in all four abilities, or NCLC 7
    • TEER 2 (previously NOC skill level B): minimum CLB 5 in all four abilities, or NCLC 5
    • TEER 3 (previously NOC skill level B): minimum CLB 5 in all four abilities, or NCLC 5

If you’re taking both English and French language tests, the minimum acceptable score for the second language is CLB 5 (or NCLC 5).

What is the minimum language test score required for a Canadian study permit?

If you’re planning to come to Canada to study, you may need to prove your language proficiency both when applying to a university or college, and when applying for a study permit.

Each university or college has its own minimum language requirement, depending on the study program you’re applying for. This ensures that all enrolled students can understand the class content and can communicate with fellow students.

You must also submit your language test scores if you’re applying for a study permit through the Student Direct Stream (SDS). Students from 14 countries, including India, China, Pakistan, Brazil, and Philippines are eligible for faster processing of their study permit through SDS. 

To qualify for the Student Direct Stream, you must have an IELTS Academic score of 6.0 or more (CLB 7) in each language ability or a TEF Canada score that’s equivalent to CLB 7 for each ability. 

Tips Icon  Tip: Although language test scores are not required if you apply for a study permit through the general (non-SDS) process, they can help convince the visa officer that you’re a genuine student and the purpose of your visit is to study.

How long are language test results valid?

Language test results are valid for two years. Your test results must be valid both when you complete your Express Entry profile and when you apply for permanent residence after receiving an Invitation to Apply (ITA). 

Keep in mind that your Express Entry profile is valid for up to 12 months, so make sure your language test results are valid for at least one more year when you submit your profile. If your test results will expire before you’re invited to apply, you should retake the test and update your profile with your new results. If you apply for PR with expired language test results, your application will be refused.

How do CLB levels translate into Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points?

All three economic immigration streams under Express Entry—the Federal Skilled Worker (FSW) program, the Federal Skilled Trades Program (FSTP), and the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) program—use the Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS).

Since you can submit your language proficiency test scores for English or French or both, it’s important that the first official language you choose is the one in which you are most fluent. If you’re proficient in both English and French, you can write both language tests to earn additional CRS points for proficiency in the second official language. 

CRS points for language test scores for the FSW program

If you’re applying through the Federal Skilled Worker program, you can receive a maximum of 24 CRS points for the first language, depending on your level of proficiency, as follows:

  • CLB level 7: 4 points per ability (reading, writing, listening, and speaking)
  • CLB level 8: 5 points per ability
  • CLB level 9 and above: 6 points per ability

If you write a test for a second language, you can additionally earn a maximum of 4 points if you score a minimum of CLB 5 or NCLC 5 on the test.

CRS points for language test scores for FSTP and CEC programs 

If you’re applying through the Federal Skilled Trades Program or Canadian Experience Class program, you can earn a maximum 136 CRS points for your first language (if applying without spouse), based on your score as follows: 

  • CLB level 4 or 5: 6 points per ability
  • CLB level 6: 9 points per ability
  • CLB level 7: 17 points per ability
  • CLB level 8: 23 points per ability
  • CLB level 9: 31 points per ability
  • CLB level 10 and above: 34 points per ability

If you’re applying with a spouse, you can earn a maximum of 128 points plus a maximum of 20 points for your spouse for a total of 148 points. 

If you write a test for a second language (French or English) you can additionally earn a maximum 24 points based on your score of the second language test, as follows:

  • CLB level 5 or 6: 1 point per ability
  • CLB level 7 or 8: 3 points per ability
  • CLB level 9 or above: 6 points per ability

Additional CRS points for French language skills

You can earn additional CRS points for strong French language skills, even if French is your second language. If you score NCLC 7 or higher on all four French language skills, you can get:

  • 25 additional points if you scored CLB 4 or lower in English, or didn’t take an English test.
  • 50 additional points if you scored CLB 5 or higher on all four English skills.

How to improve your CLB level

Like any exam, proper preparation can help improve your performance and final language test score. While reaching the minimum required score for your Express Entry application is crucial to your application, there are additional benefits to getting as high a score as possible on your IELTS or CELPIP test (as well as the French language tests). 

Not only can a higher score increase your CRS score, if you write a test for both English and French, your performance on the second language test can also significantly improve your chances of being invited to apply for PR.

In short, there are plenty of motivating factors to excel on one or both language tests. Learn more about how prepare for the English language tests with Arrive’s useful tips on how to improve your score on the IELTS or the CELPIP.

Figuring out how your IELTS or CELPIP score translates into CLB levels and impacts your CRS points can be confusing. However, becoming familiar with the ways your test performance impacts your PR application can be the difference between getting an approval or a denial. If your CRS score isn’t high enough to qualify for an immigration program, retaking your language test is an easy way to improve your chances of success.