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Cambridge ESOL, IELTS or TOEFL – which language certificate is the right one for me?

Thursday - October 26, 2017

If you’re learning English, love travelling or are working in an international environment, you have surely already thought about certifying your language knowledge with an official certificate. But how can you know which of the different diplomas suits your needs the best?

What are the different types of English certificates?


The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) certificate verifies language knowledge for university, work and immigration. There is a difference between the IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training certificates. IELTS Academic is directed towards students and qualified professionals who work or study in specialized fields (e.g. medicine) and is tailored for the scientific use of the language. IELTS General Training assesses a more general language knowledge and is amongst others the basic certificate required to immigrate to certain countries like Canada or New Zealand.


TOEFL means “Test of English as a Foreign Language“ and similarly to IELTS it is used for university applications, scholarships and visas, and also as a proof of sufficient language knowledge for admission to certain professions. While TOEFL is mostly required for the USA, many other institutions in countries such as Canada, Great Britain and Australia also recognize it.

Cambridge English Language Assessment

The language diplomas from the University of Cambridge are especially popular in Great Britain but are also recognized by many educational institutions, companies and immigration offices in other countries.

Language Certificates for Business English

There are many language certificates which are specifically useful for the use of the English language in a professional environment. The University of Cambridge offers a certificate for business English knowledge called the Business English Certificate (BEC). You can take a business English exam at the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI). The American equivalent is theTOEIC certificate (Test of English for International Communication) which is issued by the Education Testing Service (ETS) just like the TOEFL, but is less directed towards an academic public and rather for people who would like to use English in their professional work environment.

Where and how can I take the exam?

The exams are run in specific test centers and the exams themselves are quite similar in structure. While you can prove your reading and listening skills mostly by responding to multiple choice questions and filling in gap texts, your written expression is tested by writing one or multiple short essays on given subjects.

How do I prepare?

If a language course abroad is not an option for you, you can also take a preparation course in the IELTS or Cambridge test center in your city. The great part about this is that you are learning together with your peers, you will get all of the necessary information about the exam from your teacher and also receive feedback about which parts require more practice and preparation. Alternatively, you can of course prepare by yourself.

So which language certificate is the right one for me?

Making the decision about which language certificate is the best one for you is mostly dependent on your destination country and the purpose of the certificate. If you don’t do it for a specific goal, like me, but you would like to have the language certificate for your resume or simply for yourself, the Cambridge certificates are a good option because they don’t have a period of validity. If you are not sure which language level you actually have, IELTS and TOEFL are the better choice because they are a measure of your language knowledge at the specific moment.

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