What Is The ESOL Qualification?

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Most jobs in the UK require a proficiency in English, which can often be intimidating for non-native speakers; thankfully, there are now so many pathways that support your English learning and provide a certification to prove your skills! There are several different brackets that accommodate students with different levels of English proficiency, such as ESL, EFL, and ESOL – but what is the ESOL qualification, and where do you get it?

The ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) qualification is a qualification for non-native speakers of English who live in an English-speaking country. An ESOL qualification is earned by completing full-time or part-time study, in colleges that offer ESOL courses, or online. There are no official entry requirements other than you must be at least 16 years of age.

This article is here to explain everything you need to know about an ESOL qualification and how you can get one for yourself!

*Please note that this article is particularly in reference to the ESOL assessments and Skills for Life qualifications that can be taken in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and may not be entirely accurate for other ESOL qualifications.

What does ESOL stand for?

ESOL stands for English for Speakers of Other Languages. However, ESOL specifically refers to people who are living in an English-speaking country but whose first language is not English.

For example, you might have received an education in English, but if it is not your first language, you can still earn an ESOL qualification.

As another example, if English is not your first language but you are currently living in a non-English-speaking country (or a country where English is not the most spoken language), you would be classed as an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) student, not an ESOL student.

ESOL takes into account that students may already know some English, but they are not proficient at a native level (naturally), whereas other qualifications might not.

What does an ESOL qualification entail?

An ESOL qualification is taught much like many other qualifications – in the traditional way with classroom learning. If you are taking an online course, it will most likely also be divided into sections with relevant activities.

To earn an ESOL qualification, you will be required to sit an assessment. However, unlike other assessments for English such as Functional Skills, ESOL assessments test individual skills, not all skills at once.

Who is the ESOL qualification for?

An ESOL qualification, as you may be able to decipher from the name, is a qualification for students for whom English is not their native language.

It doesn’t matter what your proficiency in English is – whether you can speak and understand English pretty easily or whether you only know a few words and phrases. As long as you are a non-native English speaker, you can earn an ESOL qualification!

What is the ESOL qualification equivalent to?

To understand the ESOL qualification equivalents, first I’ll take you through the different ESOL qualification levels.

There are 6 levels in ESOL, which you can see in the list below:

  • Pre-Entry
  • Entry 1
  • Entry 2
  • Entry 3
  • Level 1
  • Level 2

Although ESOL is a qualification, it is not an academic qualification in the same way that GCSEs or A-Levels are.

Therefore, while ESOL is not directly comparable to academic qualification levels, we can compare it against the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages).

The table below shows how the ESOL levels compare to the CEFR levels:

ESOL qualification level CEFR equivalent
Pre-Entry No equivalent (pre-A1)
Entry 1 A1 (basic learner)
Entry 2 A2
Entry 3 B1 (independent learner)
Level 1 B2
Level 2 B2-C1 (proficient learner)

You can learn more about these levels and how they match up to the CEFR levels in this document by SQA.

Where do you study the ESOL qualification?

Most ESOL courses in the UK are classroom-based. ESOL courses are offered by colleges across the country, so you might be able to take a course at a college in your local area.

If you’d like to search for ESOL courses in your area, check out this page of the government’s Skills for Careers website.

Most colleges will have several different ESOL courses, at different times of the year and at different times of day. This hopefully means that you can take a course that works for your schedule!

However, there are also ESOL courses that are available online! Local colleges may offer online classes as well as in-person classes, so always check their website if you want to take an online course. There are also lots of independent online course providers, which can allow you to do ESOL courses.

How long does an ESOL qualification take to complete?

According to this page of the Reed website, an ESOL qualification takes between 4 months and a year to complete depending on the level.

If you are aged between 16 and 19, the majority of ESOL courses will be full-time; for students aged 19 and over, part-time courses are available.

Generally, ESOL courses take from 30 to 60 hours to complete, but this will vary between colleges. As an example, at the City of Bristol College, the ESOL course is 3 hours a week for 10 weeks. You can read more about their course on their website, linked here.

On the other hand, at the College of West Anglia, their ESOL course is 60 hours, spread across 3-4 days a week for an academic year. You can read more about this on their website linked here.

Is the ESOL qualification free?

Whether or not your ESOL qualification is free will depend on where you take the course, which course you take and your own financial circumstances.

For example, the government’s Essential Skills ESOL course is completely free. This is because, as suggested by the name, it is an essential skill for employment in the UK.

To read more about the Essential Skills English course, check out this page of the government’s Skills for Careers website.

Furthermore, if you are unemployed, or receiving benefits from the government, then most likely your ESOL qualification will be free. This may also be the case if your income is below the tax threshold.

To read more about circumstances in which you may get the ESOL qualification for free, check out this article by Skills and Learning Adult Community qualification.

What are the entry requirements for the ESOL qualification?

According to this document by Ofqual, available on this page of the government website, the ESOL qualification “will be for learners from the age of 16 upwards only and must be specifically designed to address the needs of those in work or seeking work.”

This means that if you are aged 16+ you can pursue an ESOL qualification. There are no other formal entry requirements for non-native English speakers studying in the UK.

However, because there are different ESOL qualification levels, you will most likely sit an assessment with your accredited college to determine which level will best suit your needs.

*The information above is partially based on this page on the Indeed website.

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