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How To Get a Proof of English Proficiency to Study in the USA?

Updated: July 11, 2022 | Published: April 6, 2022

Updated: July 11, 2022

Published: April 6, 2022

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Proof of English proficiency is one of the admissions requirements at U.S. colleges and universities. Classes are delivered in English, your textbooks and course materials are written in English, and professors expect you to write your papers and communicate with classmates in English. It sounds simple enough, but what is English proficiency?

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about English proficiency and how you show proof of English proficiency when applying to colleges in America.

What is English Proficiency?

When you are proficient in English, you can communicate and understand ideas without confusion or needing to quietly translate concepts in your head. This ability is proof of English language competency, but it isn’t mastery. Most people are surprised to learn that there is a significant difference between proficiency and fluency.

When you are fluent you can speak (or read) with few interruptions and hesitations. There will be times when you have to stop and search for the appropriate words in English, but you are still able to carry on a conversation with few grammatical or syntax errors.

Proficiency in a language takes you to the next level. It suggests you have mastered the language and its concepts of logic, grammar, and sentence structures.

The 5 Levels of English Language Proficiency

Learning a new language is hard work and at times it can be frustrating. Students working towards proof of English proficiency move through 5 different levels as they learn and their skills improve.

1) Preproduction (No proficiency)

Students at this stage are complete beginners who understand almost no English. They will rely on nodding or one-word answers when asked a question. It’s helpful if language instructors use tools like photos, graphics, and simple flashcards to draw out responses and to help their students feel more comfortable. The preproduction stage lasts around 6 months.

2) Beginning Production (Beginner)

At this point on the journey towards proof of English language competency, students will speak with hesitation and will use very simple phrases. Sentences are usually in the present tense, and students will tend to repeat common phrases that they have heard. This stage can last anywhere from 6 months to a year.

3) Speech Emergence (Limited Working Proficiency)

Basic comprehension happens at this stage and students are able to get by in understanding and in making themselves understood. However, the more complex sayings, symbolism, and even humor will still be challenging for them. Students will begin to feel more confident with their language skills and will answer questions in complete sentences. Listeners will notice that the use of grammar and syntax is still bumpy. Speech emergence begins about one year after English language studies begin and last for approximately two years.

4) Intermediate Fluency (Working Proficiency)

At this level, comprehension has advanced to the point where students are speaking and writing, with occasional errors. In the workplace, a student who is at this level will be able to verbalize meaningful insight during meetings. Students with working proficiency in the English language are also confident enough to ask for specific clarifications instead of saying, “I don’t understand.” Intermediate fluency comes about after three years of study and will last for around two years.

5) Advanced Fluency

Students at this stage will use English like native speakers and their accents have faded or disappeared. They have no problem with the subtleties, jokes, and innuendos that tripped them up at the previous levels. Many students will find that they pick up regional dialects and accents. Advanced fluency typically happens after 7 years of study.

The last step is the transition from advanced fluency to proficiency. This is where students applying to U.S. colleges and universities must be.

Source: Pexels 

How to Test Your English Proficiency?

One of the most well-known English language certificates is the TOEFL (Test of English As A Foreign Language). It is most often taken online, but TOEFL paper exams are also delivered in places across the globe where internet connections are sparse or non-existent.

During the 3 hour TOEFL exam, students will be tested in 4 areas – reading, writing, listening, and speaking. There is a maximum of 30 points for each section, for a total of 120 points. Most colleges will require a score between 70 and 90, and the TOEFL certificate is valid for two years. The cost for taking the TOEFL is $205.

Another recognized language certificate is administered by the International English Language Testing System, more commonly known as IELTS. The IELTS academic version has four parts – listening, academic reading, academic writing, and speaking.

The testing lasts just under 3 hours and is delivered online and in paper format. IELTS scoring ranges from 0 to 9, and most colleges require at least a 5.5 to 6.5. The cost for the test is $210 to $340, depending on your region.

There are often many barriers to college admission but there are schools that have worked to remove some of the traditional obstacles. For example, the University of the People is one such institution. Our college offers fully online, tuition-free, accredited degree programs across several disciplines. Prospective students will need a high-school diploma or equivalent and proof of English proficiency.

How Do You Produce a Proof of English Proficiency?

If English isn’t your first language and you are pursuing higher education, you can expect to be asked for proof of English proficiency. There are several means to provide proof of English language competency, but each college or university is different. Some acceptable proofs are:

Language Certificate

The language certificate proves that you have taken and passed a comprehensive English exam that has tested your proficiency. Merely passing the test may not be enough, so make sure you understand the acceptable scores that each college requires.

Confirmation of Registration

This confirms that you are registered for the exam that will give you the language certificate. A college will rarely accept this as proof of English language competency, but you may be given conditional acceptance.

Proof of Participation

It is also rare that a college will accept this as proof of English proficiency because participation in language classes does not necessarily mean mastery.

Proof of Completed University Studies in Language

Some colleges will consider English language studies from other schools as proof of proficiency. It will depend on where you studied.

Proof of Taking a Certain Number of Language Classes

While this can be an impressive boost to your college application, it doesn’t prove proficiency and a college will rarely accept this as singular proof.

Source: Pexels 

The Bottom Line

There are many benefits of earning proficiency in English, including gaining access to higher education, social advantages, and expanded job opportunities, to name a few.

While it takes hard work to master a new language and arrive at the point where you can provide proof of English proficiency, it’s surely doable. It’s vital to have a plan and understand the scores that each college requires for admission. Admissions counselors are always happy to answer questions, so don’t be afraid to reach out and start your college journey!