City & Guilds English Language Qualifications

City & Guilds English Language Qualifications

City & Guilds English Language Qualifications are up-to-date and standardised tools of assessing the communicative skills of non-native speakers of English. The examinations are famous for their communicative approach to assessing language competencies. The English language tests are administered at educational institutions authorised by City & Guilds for the delivery of examinations and commonly referred to as “approved centres”.

The City & Guilds of London Institute is one of the biggest and oldest awarding bodies in the United Kingdom, popularly referred to as an examination board. It is a non-profit organization, awarded a Royal Charter in 1900 by Queen Victoria. In 1990 City & Guilds acquired Pitman Examinations Institute together with its world-famous legacy of assessment of language competencies, among others. City & Guilds integrated the so-called Pitman language qualifications into its examinations portfolio, and later re-developed them into what is today known as City & Guilds International English Qualifications. They include International ESOL and SESOL, International Business English, English for Office Skills and English for Young Learners.


City & Guilds ESOL Skills for Life

(ESOL = English for Speakers of Other Languages)

ESOL Skills for Life is the main publicly funded ESOL qualification for settled learners in the UK. It covers the full range of language skills and contexts set out in the Adult ESOL core curriculum, focusing on giving people in settled communities the overall language they need for social and economic inclusion.

When delivered using the NIACE/LLU+Citizenship learning materials, ESOL Skills for Life can help applicants for British Citizenship or Indefinite Leave to Remain to meet the language and UK knowledge requirements.

Structure of the Qualification

The qualification is available from entry 1 through to level 2, and at each level learners can either complete a full-mode qualification (Reading, Writing, and Speaking and Listening) or a stand-alone Speaking and Listening qualification.

All of the entry level assignments are available in two alternative formats:

  • Integrated - all modes are covered by one holistic assignment
  • Single-mode - each mode has a separate, self-contained, assignment. This allows candidates greater flexibility and enables them to gain a spiky profile.

Delivery and Assessment

At levels 1 and 2, Reading is assessed by the adult literacy national test. This enables candidates to draw on real life experiences or cover any topic that engages their interest.

City & Guilds International English Qualifications

City & Guilds’ English language qualifications are recognised as valid and reliable, with excellent test development and delivery systems in place. The qualifications are offered in hundreds of examination centres in many countries around the world. Thousands of learners are awarded City & Guilds English qualifications every year in order to increase their chances of personal growth through mobility, employability and academic progression to institutions of higher education.

Suite of English examinations

City & Guilds provides a comprehensive range of English language exams designed for those who need a passport to work, study and travel around the globe. They are recognised by ELT academia, employers and professional bodies as reliable and valid measures of language competence, as the examinations are designed to test and reflect communicative competencies in contexts of real-life language use.

Unique features of City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL

City & Guilds International ESOL examinations are available on-demand with flexible exam dates

The system allows learners to sit for the examination with their own teachers, which results in reduced examination anxiety

City & Guilds International English Qualifications have been developed on the basis of genuine needs of employment contexts and real-life situations with true emphasis on learners’ communicative skills

Written and spoken examinations can be taken independently of each other at the candidates’ and/or the centre’s convenience

Candidates sitting for the examination are allowed to use monolingual dictionaries during the test

City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL

These are examinations considered to be standards in language performance assessment by being aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR).

International ESOL

A communicative test of language proficiency in listening, reading and writing, focusing on a learner’s ability to complete realistic language tasks across the three language skills.

International Spoken ESOL

A communicative test of spoken language skills allowing candidates to concentrate their attention on this essential aspect of communicative competence, which assesses a learners’ ability to communicate in everyday situations.

Their communicative nature means that centres can be sure that they are offering their candidates a qualification which is both relevant and useful for work and study internationally.

Europass Certificate Supplement

City & Guilds is the first UK awarding body to issue the Europass Certificate Supplements for its qualifications, including International ESOL and Spoken ESOL.

Who are the City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL qualifications intended for?

  • Non-native speakers of English worldwide wishing to provide documented evidence of their knowledge of English, for study or employment
  • Students aspiring to enter or exit institutions of higher education, where proof of knowledge of English is a requirement
  • People needing English for their everyday or working life
  • Learners who require externally recognised certification of their levels in English
  • Those who are attending courses over a period and require a series of graded examinations which provide steps up in the ladder of proficiency

Descriptions of competence at each level

Preliminary (A1)

  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases satisfying practical needs in connection with education, training and social roles.
  • Can introduce him/herself and others
  • Can ask and answer questions about personal details such as possessions, address and people known.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly

and is prepared to help.

  • Can read and understand short texts on familiar topics and obtain information from common signs and symbols.
  • Can write short simple phrases and sentences in documents such as forms, lists and messages.

Access (A2)

  • Can understand sentences and frequently-used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance such as basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment, education, training and social roles.
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a direct exchange of information, feelings and opinions on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can engage in conversation to establish shared understanding about familiar topics.
  • Can read, understand and obtain information from short documents, familiar sources, signs and symbols.
  • Can write to communicate with some awareness of the intended audience.

Achiever (B1)

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard communication on matters regularly encountered in social roles, work, school, leisure, education and training.
  • Can convey information, feelings and opinions on familiar topics, using appropriate formality.
  • Can engage in discussion in a familiar situation making relevant points and responding to reach a shared understanding.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce a simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest, adapting to the intended audience.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give explanations for opinions and plans.

Communicator (B2)

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex communication on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation.
  • Can communicate with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes interaction quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can adapt to take account of the listener(s), the context and the medium.
  • Can engage in discussion in familiar and unfamiliar situations making clear and relevant contributions.
  • Can obtain information from different sources.
  • Can communicate clearly and in detail on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options, varying length, format and style appropriate to purpose and audience.

Expert (C1)

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding longer texts, both written and spoken, and recognise implicit meaning.
  • Can use the language fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can respond to extended information and narratives, follow detailed explanations and complex instructions, adapting response to audience, medium and context.
  • Can engage in discussion in a variety of situations making clear and effective contributions.
  • Can use language flexibly and understand a range of texts of varying complexity and length for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
  • Can communicate ideas and opinions effectively, using length, format and style appropriate to purpose, content and audience.

Mastery (C2)

  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarise information from different spoken or written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

The above six descriptions are adapted from the global description of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Text from these is reproduced by kind permission of the Council of Europe.

Alignment of International ESOL and Spoken ESOL to the CEFR

Given the increasing importance and high profile of the body of work around the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the decision was made early on in the development process of the IESOL suite of examinations to align the levels of these examinations with the levels of the CEFR.

The examinations were developed using the CEFR (Council of Europe 2001) as a source document to inform the assessment tasks, specifications and assessment criteria. The procedures described in the Draft Manual (2003) for relating examinations to the framework were used. In addition, procedures are in place to ensure that alignment to the levels is ongoing and CEFR methodology is imbedded into the City & Guilds quality process.

City & Guilds worked in partnership with a team of expert consultants and organisations, including the Centre for Language Assessment Research (CLARE) based at Roehampton University, London and led by Professor Barry O’Sullivan. This work ensures that there is both the necessary expertise to interpret and apply the principles described in the Manual and provides an impartial perspective on the skills tested and the levels of proficiency.

A panel of thirty testing experts is directly involved in the test development process and an additional forty language testers and other colleagues make sure that the City & Guilds tests provide valid, reliable measurement of candidates’ language proficiency. External testing experts are also closely involved in the research and development process of the City & Guilds tests to ensure that our testing system should meet the challenges that present day research in language testing offer.

CEFR Level CEFR titles City & Guilds titles
A1 Breakthrough Preliminary
A2 Waystage Access
B1 Threshold Achiever
B2 Vantage Communicator
C1 Effective operational proficiency Expert
C2 Mastery Mastery

Recognitions of City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL

Recognitions refer to the acceptance of City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL qualifications as true and valid and reliable measures of English language performance for academic progression or employment.

The following is a selection of organisations that recognise City & Guilds International ESOL and Spoken ESOL qualifications:


International ESOL and Spoken ESOL are accredited on the National Qualifications Framework of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (NQF) and have been aligned to the National Framework of Qualifications of Ireland (NFQ)

International ESOL, together with Spoken ESOL, at the higher levels, is recognised by the UK Home Office Border and Immigration Agency Points Based System as evidence of acceptable standard of English for individuals wishing to come to or remain in the UK to undertake skilled or highly skilled work

The qualifications are also recognised in the following countries:

  • In the Czech Republic, for the recruitment of civil servants
  • In Greece, for the selection and recruitment of civil servants
  • In Hong Kong, as minimum Workplace English Benchmarks for the specific job types
  • In Italy, as educational credits (‘crediti formativi’)
  • In Poland, for the selection and recruitment of civil servants, and as English language qualifications for teachers of English
  • In Slovakia, for exemption from state school-leaving exams in English


Many prestigious universities and higher education institutes in the UK, Europe and around the world recognise the International ESOL and Spoken ESOL qualifications as meeting the minimum English language entry and/or graduation requirements.

The qualifications are also listed in the UCAS guide as a quality examination system suitable to measure applicants’ English language competency for admission. UCAS is the University and Colleges Admissions Services responsible for processing applications for entry to UK higher education.

Professional associations

The Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) is one of the professional associations that recognise International ESOL and Spoken ESOL qualifications as meeting the English language requirements for registration to their professional examinations.

Format and Features of City & Guilds International ESOL

Format and features of City & Guilds International ESOL exams external link

Format and Features of City & Guilds International Spoken ESOL

Format and features of City & Guilds International SESOL exams external link

International Business English

The suite of City & Guilds Business English qualifications offer learners the opportunity to develop skills that are both relevant and sought after in the workplace. They act as proof to existing and potential employers that learners have the right skills to take a business forward in an international environment.

Spoken English Test for Business (SETB)

This qualification is designed for people wishing to use English in professional business contexts, e.g. in meetings, when talking to clients on the phone or working in a multinational team.

The Spoken English Test (SET) for Business is a qualification specifically developed for candidates who need to use spoken English in the workplace. This qualification is ideal for those who work in business in an English speaking country or in a multinational organisation which uses English for internal communications.

The qualification is available at three levels (Stage A, B and C: that are comparable to the corresponding A1/A2, B1/B2 or C1/C2 levels on the Common European Framework).

English for Business Communications (EBC)

Effective communication is key to a successful business. EBC recognises a learner’s ability to read and write the complete range of business communications from email to letter. Whatever the field or profession, it will help learners boost their confidence and proficiency in English in a business-based environment.

English for Business Communication focuses on the candidate's ability to perform in real business situations through the medium of English. This qualification evaluates understanding and writing of business communications in English. Level 1 requires learners to understand and write simple letters, memos, faxes and emails. Level 2 involves the understanding of more complex business communications, writing letters and memos and drafting faxes and emails and other business-related documents. At level 3, learners need to understand a wider range of business communications, write letters, faxes and memos in response to a wide range of situations and prepare notices, speeches, adverts, articles, and other business documents.

English for Office Skills

The English for Office Skills qualification tests accuracy in the use and transcription of English, and the ability to perform office-related tasks to spoken or written instructions. These tests are suitable for those who need to carry out tasks in English where accuracy in writing and following instructions is important. Both levels involve the demonstration of accurate down a spoken message, reading comprehension, knowledge of vocabulary, and proofreading documents.

International English for Young Learners

Our ESOL and Spoken ESOL for Young Learners are qualifications designed for children of 8–13 years of age, with the primary goal of motivating them with reward and sense of achievement attainable through sitting for an international examination in English. The layout and content of the qualification is adjusted to children’s needs, learning styles and fields of interest. English for Young Learners measures children’s ability to use English for fundamental communicative purposes and is available at Basic and Elementary levels (broadly comparable to A1 and A2 levels of the Common European Framework, respectively).

Qualifications for Teachers of English

Access Certificate in English Language Teaching (ACE) has been jointly developed with the Department of Language and Literary Studies in Education at Manchester University. The qualification is suitable for existing English language teachers who want to upgrade their skills, teachers who want to move into English language teaching, and newcomers to teaching who wish to gain an initial English language teaching qualification.

City & Guilds in the professional ELT arena

  • EAQUALS: associate membership
  • English UK: corporate membership
  • EALTA: institutional membership
  • ALTE: observer membership


City & Guilds IEQ page

EALTA Institutional Member page

EAQUALS Associate Member page


External links

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