How to test for English fluency during hiring

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If you’re selling products or services to an English-speaking audience, your employees’ proficiency in English will help drive the success of your organization and maintain its reputation.

This means it’s vital to assess your candidates’ English proficiency. 

But how can you make sure your candidates are proficient in English and will be able to work with your English-speaking partners and clients, while keeping recruitment costs low?

One of the best ways to test for English proficiency is to use an online English test.

In this article, we’ll give you more information about pre-employment English proficiency tests and discuss how to test for English fluency during recruitment.

With that in mind, let’s start with the four basic language skills, and discuss how you can assess each one. 

The four basic language skills in English

There are four basic language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

When we say that someone is fluent in English, we mean that he or she is proficient in all four skills.

If you’re hiring for a role where the working language is English, you need to assess each of the four skills – especially if it’s a client-facing role. Let’s discuss each of the four basic skills. 

image showing the four basic language skills in English

1. Reading 

Reading skills refer to how well a candidate can understand information presented in a written form. 

If your working language is English, employees will most likely need to read articles, texts, business memos, and emails in English every day.

For this reason, it’s crucial to assess candidates’ reading skills in English, and make sure they can understand written text, even on complex topics. 

You can easily assess reading skills with an online language test where candidates must show they understand written text by selecting the right answer in multiple-choice questions. 

2. Writing

Writing skills refer to how well a candidate can communicate in writing.

It’s important to assess candidates’ writing skills in English, and make sure they can communicate clearly and concisely in writing. 

If the working language at your company is English, employees will need to write emails, memos, reports, project descriptions, presentations, and other business documents daily.

They’ll use the English to communicate with peers and managers, which makes writing skills crucial for avoiding misunderstandings and making sure everyone agrees on the tasks that need to be completed. 

Writing skills are relatively easy to test online, as well: With skills tests you can assess candidates’ grammar and vocabulary, as well as their capacity to write a well-constructed text.

3. Speaking

Speaking skills refer to how well a candidate can communicate orally.

For business communication to be successful, excellent writing and speaking skills are crucial. In an English-speaking work environment, employees will need to communicate with each other in English and also talk with clients, stakeholders, and managers. 

For this, they’ll need to be proficient in English and be able to present their ideas clearly when speaking to others. They also need to be comfortable with phone calls and video meetings.  

Speaking skills are a bit more difficult to test, as you need to talk to candidates.

You can conduct brief phone interviews, after having administered skills tests to filter unqualified candidates.

Alternatively, asynchronous video interviews (which you can integrate into skills tests) enable you to quickly assess candidates’ speaking skills.

4. Listening

Listening skills refer to candidates’ capacity to hear and understand information that’s communicated to them verbally in English. 

Listening skills are crucial to English proficiency, and it’s also difficult to obtain, since there are many accents, intricacies, and idioms to learn.

If employees at your organization need to communicate with each other verbally, or to speak to clients or managers, then you need to test their listening skills. It’s easy to do with online tests. Candidates will listen to audio snippets and select the right answer from multiple-choice questions. 

Language proficiency levels in English: Which one do you need to test for?

There are different levels of language proficiency.

Whether someone is learning Italian, Dutch, Mandarin, or English, their proficiency level determines how fluent they are with the language, and whether they can use it to communicate successfully. 

For ‌recruitment, the level of proficiency you need to test for depends on the ‌role you’re hiring for.

When you’re hiring a candidate for a specific role in your company, you will first need to analyze the requirements of that position to define how proficient they’ll need to be to be successful.

One of the most commonly used scales for assessing language proficiency is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEFR

The CEFR defines six levels of language proficiency, from beginner (A1) to native-level proficiency (C2). 

Based on the requirements of the role you’re hiring for, you might not necessarily need someone who has a C1 or C2 level of proficiency in English.

To help you define the level of fluency you need to look for, we’ve outlined the different levels below: 

image showing  the different language proficiency levels in English

A1: Beginner

Candidates with an A1 level in English only have basic language skills. They can understand simple words and phrases and have a limited capacity to communicate with others. 

They can interact with other English speakers if the other person speaks slowly and clearly, and can hold a simple conversation about everyday topics, present themselves, or ask basic questions. 

Candidates won’t be able to hold longer conversations or read and understand instructions beyond the most basic guidelines. 

A2: Elementary level

Candidates with an A2 level know and understand common phrases that are frequently used. They can share basic information about themselves, such as where they’re from, what their job is, or talk about‌ simple tasks.

They can also engage in a basic conversation about their job, and will be able to interact with coworkers, albeit to a limited extent. They can understand and follow basic instructions. 

For blue-collar jobs where employees don’t need to communicate with clients, an A2 level could be sufficient. 

To test whether candidates meet the criteria for A2 level of language proficiency, you can use TestGorilla’s English (Elementary/A2) test.

B1: Lower-intermediate

The next level is B1, also known as lower intermediate. 

Candidates with a B1 level of English fluency can understand and take part in conversations in English, although they’re likely to make errors. 

They can also follow instructions that are given in English, as long as they’re not too complex. 

At this level, candidates can also read and write about familiar topics, such as day-to-day tasks. They might make some mistakes when writing, but overall their language skills will be good enough to communicate effectively. 

A B1 level of English proficiency will be sufficient for most blue-collar jobs.

You can test for this level of the CEFR framework with TestGorilla’s English (Intermediate/B1) test.

B2: Upper-intermediate

Candidates with a B2 level are upper-intermediate English speakers and use the language with ease. They can communicate with other English speakers fluently – orally and in written form – although they may still make mistakes from time to time. They can understand different accents, as well. 

At this level, employees will be able to understand most written texts, including those that are more complex. They will also be able to write on a range of topics, although their grammar or syntax may not always be perfect. 

Employees with a B2 level of English will be able to interact confidently with customers, as well. They will also be able to understand most work-related communications, such as emails, memos, or reports.

C1: Operational proficiency

Candidates with a C1 level are operationally proficient in English. 

This means they can use the language fluently and accurately in a variety of demanding situations. They can also express themselves clearly and easily, both in written and in spoken form.

At this level, employees will be able to understand almost all written texts, including complex, specialized material. They will also be able to write texts that are clear, accurate, and nuanced, making very few mistakes, if any.

Employees with a C1 level of English will be able to communicate effectively with clients, as well as other professionals in their field. They will also be able to understand and actively take part in meetings, presentations, and other work-related communications.

For most roles, a C1 level of English proficiency will be sufficient.

You can test for a C1 level with TestGorilla’s English (Proficient/C1) test.

C2: Native-level proficiency

Candidates with a C2 level are fully independent, proficient users of the English language, with a native level of fluency.

They can participate in conversations on practically any topic and express their point of view in a clear and nuanced way with no mistakes.  

At this level, employees will be able to understand all written texts, including those that are highly specialized or technical. They can grasp finer nuances of meaning even in challenging situations and express themselves spontaneously and precisely. 

How to test for English fluency during recruitment

There are several ways to test your candidates’ level of fluency in English during the recruitment process. 

You can combine them in order to get a deep understanding of your applicants’ language skills, but we always advise you to start with an online skills test to save time and filter unqualified candidates early on. 

Let’s now look at the most popular ways to test for English fluency during recruitment.

image showing how to test for English fluency during recruitment

Language tests

The most practical way to test for English fluency is with online language tests. They’re very easy to administer and help you save precious resources that you can invest elsewhere. 

Besides that, you can combine language tests with other skills tests, such as role-specific skills tests, cognitive-ability assessments, or personality and culture tests, to gain a deep understanding of your candidates’ skills and expertise. 

Language tests have one major advantage over other assessment types: they’re reliable, objective, and bias-free.

TestGorilla offers a three tests that can help you assess applicants’ grammar, vocabulary, reading, listening, and comprehension of the language: 

  • English Elementary/A2 test: You can use this test to see whether your candidates can communicate about simple, everyday tasks that require basic literacy and direct exchange of information. 

  • English Intermediate/B1 test: Use this test to assess if candidates can communicate in English on common topics from their work or everyday life.

  • English Proficient/C1 test: You use this proficiency test to assess whether candidates can understand and take part in complex situations where they need to express themselves clearly, confidently, and with ease.

Phone interviews

One of the most widely used ways to assess English fluency is by doing brief phone interviews with candidates. 

Phone interviews allow you to evaluate candidates’ speaking skills, which cannot be easily verified with an online test, so it might be a good idea to use the two methods in combination. With phone interviews, you can also assess applicants’ listening skills and their capacity to react spontaneously to information they receive over the phone. 

Reading and writing skills are impossible to evaluate during a phone interview, however, which is why an interview alone shouldn’t be your main assessment tool. 

Video interviews

Video interviews also enable you to check your candidates’ fluency level. You can use an app such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Google Meet to talk to candidates; if the interview is only meant to assess their language proficiency, make it short.

Video interviews are very resource-intensive, however, regardless of their duration. You need to find a convenient time for you and the candidate, schedule the interview, send them an invitation, conduct the interview, take notes, and then analyze candidates’ performance.  

For this reason, we advise you to use video interviews only at the end of your hiring process, and with a select few of your candidates. Make video interviews count by using them to assess not only candidates’ language skills, but also their experience, role-specific qualifications, and personality. 

You can also simply conduct your final interviews in English, especially if you’re hiring for a role where candidates will need to speak to clients, coworkers, and partners in English. 

Asynchronous video interviews

Asynchronous video interviews are much simpler alternative to one-on-one video interviews, since they can be integrated into your skills tests.

With TestGorilla, you can use custom video questions that you add to a test, and have your candidates respond to them by recording a short video. 

This helps you see how your candidates express themselves and talk about their ideas, and test their speaking skills. Once you collect answers from all candidates, you can simply analyze the results in one go, and easily compare applicants. 

Use language tests to assess English proficiency and hire the best

Adequate English language skills are a must for many roles, and many international companies are using English as their working language.

Online language tests can help you assess applicants’ proficiency quickly, without interviewing each candidate. 

You can use English language tests if you’re hiring: 

  • Remotely, and your working language is English

  • Foreign workers in an English-speaking country

  • For client-facing roles where employees will need to communicate with customers in English

We advise you to use language tests at the beginning of your hiring process, to quickly filter out candidates who don’t have the necessary fluency level.

You can combine them with other skills tests to gain a deep understanding of the abilities and experience of your applicants, and shortlist the best candidates for an interview. 

A skills assessment is the easiest way to verify the claims the candidates make in their CVs, and do it in a way that’s fair and objective.

With TestGorilla, you’ll find the recruitment process to be simpler, faster, and much more effective. Get started for free today and start making better hiring decisions, faster and bias-free.

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