In the European Union we have a "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages". In practice all language certification programmes have one of those levels associated to them (ranging from A1, the most basic, to C2, the most advanced), so that it is possible to establish equivalences between common tests. This allows me to, say, determine if my A in the (life-time valid) FCE exam is worth more or less than a 8.0 in the (short-lived) IELTS exam.

This however doesn't help the student that wants to have an exchange program outside the European Union. I heave heard rumours that, e.g., the Cambridge exams in English aren't accepted in the states, but that could very well be FUD.

What are the most universally accepted certifications in English?

  • AFAIK, the IELTS is accepted mostly in australia and new-zealand. Feb 15 '12 at 23:52
  • 1
    I was accepted for a PhD in Ireland based on the level of English I displayed in a phone interview being deemed acceptable by my then to-be supervisor. The message is that in many places a working knowledge of English will be sufficient, with no need for certificates.
    – Miguel
    Dec 23 '14 at 18:22

From what I've heard, the TOEFL is well recognised.

That being said, once you get your PhD, I don't think people ask for some English certifications (at least, I've never been asked to, and I'm not a native speaker). I guess your publications and the interview in English should be enough to see if you're able to communicate in English.

EDIT List of who accepts the TOEFL.

  • I'm not sure that's true for all cases. I know of someone who had to "prove" his English skills through IELTS/TOEFL before he joined a company in USA. He had a PhD from Germany entirely in English.
    – user107
    Feb 15 '12 at 20:49
  • Er... who said I was going for PhD? I think I'm going to stop at the Masters myself.
    – badp
    Feb 15 '12 at 22:42
  • @Nunoxic: just out of curiosity: what's the nationality of this person? Is he German? And what kind of company did he join?
    – user102
    Feb 15 '12 at 22:58
  • @badp: my bad, I extrapolated :) But I maintain that the TOEFL is quite widely accepted
    – user102
    Feb 15 '12 at 22:59
  • Indian. It is a fairly big enterprise with over 5000 employees.
    – user107
    Feb 16 '12 at 6:38

As always, it helps to be specific: - what kind of exchange program? - what is oversea? USA? Canada? Japan?

In the US for a PhD program generally TOEFL and GRE is required, and most cases cannot exchanged to other certificates. I don't know Master programs, but I would assume similar or same certificates are required. Since exchange programs are much more limited, and I saw a really wide range of people doing them, I am pretty sure that there are programs that do not require any certificates or very flexible.

In Far-East the universities are generally more flexible. Beside TOEFL, TOEIC is also a popular English test, but many have heard about IELTS, too.

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