May 2007 issue

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Non-English language exams

While demand for English language proficiency exams has been increasing steadily, interest in qualifications in other languages is also on the rise, and retains plenty of potential for further growth, as Jane Vernon Smith finds out.

WIAs long as English remains the world’s most widely used language in business, demand for qualifications in other languages seems set to lag behind. The global nature of the business world today means, nevertheless, that those with proof of their proficiency in other languages should hold a decisive advantage over their monolingual rivals. Yet, one factor that is currently restraining growth in demand for non-English language exams is their lack of recognition by employers and educational establishments in the English-speaking world.

According to Stephen Wittig, Vice-President of the US-based agency, NRCSA, only about one per cent of clients each year participates in an exam programme – a figure that has held steady for the past five years. He explains, “In general, the US market is most interested in programmes that will either further their careers, or earn them academic credit. Most of the formal examinations are not recognised by universities or companies in the USA, so the overall interest is pretty low.”

British agent, Katherine Hughes of Cesa Languages, tells a similar story, observing that until UK employers are more attuned to the worth of exams that are not UK-established, she cannot foresee any growth in the currently “very low” demand that exists for exam programmes in foreign languages. “Sadly,” she relates, “the UK is too narrowly focused on its own internal exams…, so there is no impetus for students to really push for external exam qualifications.”

That said, the French Delf and Spanish Dele examinations are reported by both agencies to be the most commonly requested qualifications. In the case of NRCSA’s clients, most need these to qualify for entry to an overseas university.

In Spain, Escuela Montalbán in Granada has been preparing students for the Dele exam for more than 10 years and, since 2005, the school has been a Dele examination centre. Here, according to Marketing Director, Margret Fortmann, students are increasingly requesting to finish their stay with an official examination. Generally, they are undertaking their studies for work or CV purposes, although university entry is also a factor.

Fellow Spanish language school, Caxton College in Valencia, has only recently begun offering the Dele. “However, we have already noticed a great interest in the official Spanish examinations of the Cervantes Institute,” comments Isabel Bono. This is partly a reflection of the fact that, as she observes, Valencia has become a more international community. Whereas previously, the majority of the school’s foreign students were native speakers of English, today’s students originate from countries such as Germany, Russia, Belarus, South Korea, Japan, Brazil and China. It was this diversification that led the school to begin offering the Dele, notes Bono.

The DIE is another popular Spanish language exam, which, like the Dele, is valid not only for use within Spain itself, but also in Latin American countries, such as Ecuador. Academia de Español Quito in Ecuador’s capital is a recognised training and exam centre for the DIE, and Director, Virginia Villamar, has noticed a small increase in demand for this exam over the past year. “We believe this is due to the growing use of Spanish in the world, and particularly [in] the USA, where qualification to speak our language connects students with a part of their society,” she says. Furthermore, the popularity of the DIE stems from the fact that “it offers the candidate the option to test for any level, oral and/or written,” and may also be taken by children from seven years old upwards.

When it comes to the French language, a wide range of exams is available. At Institut Linguistique Adenet in Montpellier, Director, Stefan Adenet-Kaven, acknowledges that there is some competition in the exam market. However, “The Delf and Dalf exams are by far the most popular…and recognised worldwide,” he says. “Nearly all students enquiring ask for Delf or Dalf.”

According to Nadine Vallejos, Director of France Langue in Nice, the popularity of these exams – the only official French language qualifications awarded by the French Ministry of Education – appears to have been reinforced by recent changes to their format. Since September 2005, she explains, there are now six completely independent diplomas, and, rather than being compelled to sit the easier levels first, it is now possible for students to take only the specific level they require.

At French in Normandy in Rouen, where students can choose between courses for Delf and Dalf, and take both the TFI and Bulats exams, demand for exam programmes remains low overall, although spokesperson, Eleri Maitland, says that she is witnessing increased demand for Bulats from students wishing to work in France or in a French-speaking company. “It is such a good certification, reflecting their abilities well,” she notes. In addition, “It is easy and fast, so more accessible, and cheaper.”

Bulats, a business-focused qualification created in 1998, is available in three other languages apart from French and, according to Sergio Roman, responsible for the promotion of Bulats in France, it has the benefit of a modular approach, where all four skills are assessed individually and optionally; flexibility of organisation and immediate results. Roman reports that English is the most popular language but demand is growing in all languages. In 2006, a total of 30,000 exams were sold in France alone.

In the German language, notable qualifications include the DSH and TestDaF – both suitable for university entry – and the ZMP, which has widespread recognition by employers around the world. For entry to German universities, the DSH has traditionally been the standard exam. According to Ulrich Schmidt of Friedlaender Schule in Berlin, which offers preparation for both DSH and TestDaF exams, the DSH is more suitable for university candidates, “because it prepares [for] what the students need during their university studies”. Although the TestDaF represents a more general qualification, it too is becoming increasingly popular with university-bound students. Since the introduction of TestDaF in 2001, many Friedlaender Schule students have opted for university entry via this new alternative route.

Exam programmes in Portuguese are not currently widely requested, according to Alexandra Borges de Sousa at CIAL Centro de Linguas in Portugal. However, her school provides them on an “on demand” basis, for both the European Portuguese Caple suite of exams and for the CILP Brazilian Portuguese exam of the University of Caxias do Sul, both of which were created relatively recently. The majority of candidates are preparing to sit the Caple exam at intermediate or higher level, reports de Sousa, who believes that, with Portuguese most in demand for business purposes, an international examination in business Portuguese would be a useful addition to the qualifications currently available.

When it comes to Brazilian Portuguese, the Celpe-Bras is the official examination of the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC). In order to pass this exam, students need to have at least an intermediate command of the language, and knowledge of Brazilian culture, social life, politics and economy. According to Inge Weiser, Marketing Manager at Brazilian language school, Idioma – Escuela de Português in Salvador, demand has increased over the past two years. Among typical clients, she notes, are many Germans, Swiss and Austrians, and, mostly, the motivation to take the course is for business – to back up an application for a job in Brazil, for example. As Weiser points out, “With globalisation, it becomes more and more important not just to speak the most popular languages, but to be better qualified as [an] employee.”

Mandarin Chinese is currently another “niche” language although many predict this will change in the next few years. But Wittig in the USA comments that demand has been so low that his agency stopped offering its Mandarin programme this year, while Hughes at Cesa Languages reports no demand at all. Nonetheless, the official Ministry of Education exam, the HSK – originally developed for university entry – has been conducted in increasing numbers of countries, notes Jasmine Bian of Mandarin House in Shanghai, and her own school is seeing growing numbers enrolling for the exam, thanks to China’s rapid economic development. Japanese, Koreans, Americans and Germans tend to be most interested, she says, reflecting their countries’ close business ties with China.

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





English Australia
Perth Education City

Malta Tourism

International House
       World Organisation

English Australia
Perth Education City

Bodwell College
Cowichan Valley School District # 79
Richmond School
       District # 38
Stewart College of

Mandarin House

World Education

Global Study
       (Karlov College)

Aspect (Australia,
       Canada, Ireland,
       Malta, NZ, UK, USA)
Bell International
International House
International House
       World Organisation
LAL Language and
       (England, Malta,
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Malvern House
       College London
Queen Ethelburga's
Sels College London
St Clare's Oxford
St Giles Colleges
       (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group
       (Australia, Canada,
       England, France,
       Germany, Ireland,
       Italy, New Zealand,
       South Africa,
       Spain, USA)
Tellus Group
Twin Group

AGISEFE - Université
       de Savoie
Alliance Française,
Home Language
       Austria, Brazil,
       Canada, Chile,
       China, Czech
       Republic, Denmark,
       Egypt, Finland,
       France, Germany,
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       Ireland, Italy,
       Japan, Malta, NZ,
       Norway, Poland,
       Portugal, Russia,
       Spain, Sweden,
       Switzerland, UK,
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Institut International
       de Rambouillet
Lyon Bleu
SILC - Séjours
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Carl Duisberg
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inlingua Berlin
Prolog- International
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Galway Cultural
High Schools
       (Australia, Canada,

International School
       of English
Malta Tourism

SELF Escola de

       Management AB
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University of

Cape Studies

Pamplona Learning
       Spanish Institute

EF Language
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       (Australia, Canada,
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       England, France,
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       Zealand, Russia,
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       Africa, Spain, USA)
       (Australia, Canada,
       England, France,
       Germany, Italy,
       Japan, New
       Zealand, Russia,
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ALCC - American
ELS Language
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inlingua New York
International House
       San Diego

Kaplan Educational
       (Canada, UK, USA)
University of
University of
       San Diego
University of
       Santa Cruz
Zoni Language
       (Canada, USA)



Bodwell College
Cowichan Valley
       School District # 79
Richmond School
       District # 38
Stewart College
       of Languages