What is CLB: Canadian Language Benchmarks?

If you have been searching about English proficiency tests on the web, you certainly have seen the word CLB or Canadian Language Benchmarks

You are surely familiar with IELTS, CELPIP, and other English language exams available in the market to test your language proficiency. But, on the other hand, CLB is Canada’s standard English language descriptive scale to convert your language proficiency scores to CLB levels.

Most immigration programs in Canada require you to prove your language proficiency in English and French, which are the country’s two official languages. In that case, you need to achieve language proficiency scores that will pass their required CLB levels. 

This article will discuss the CLB and its differences between CELPIP, IELTS, and CEFR levels. Read on to learn more about the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB). 

What is CLB?

In Canada, they are using the CLB scale to prove your English language proficiency. The Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) is the national standard English language proficiency scale used in Canada. 

It is a highly reliable, fair, and practical descriptive tool for English language proficiency widely utilized throughout the country and other parts of the world. It helps provide descriptive information about an individual’s English language ability, especially for educational, community, training, and workplace purposes.

The CLB was first published in 1996, and the Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB) currently manages it. They are the center of expertise in national English and French language standards for adult immigrants and those seeking work opportunities in Canada. 

They have two versions of the CLB:

The CLB standard has a 12-point proficiency scale mainly used to assess, describe, and measure one’s proficiency in all English skills such as reading, listening, speaking, and writing. It also reflects one’s abilities and the progression of  English language knowledge among the skills. 

Common Misconceptions about CLB: 

1. The CLB is NOT an Assessment Tool

The CLB only provides a description regarding the individual’s English language abilities and communicative competencies where it reflects on the individual’s performance and tasks in daily activities, in the workplace, and a community setup. And on how one demonstrates the English language accordingly. 

The CLB also does not provide an assessment of the individual’s language skills, such as grammar structures, vocabulary knowledge, pronunciation, and other English language elements. 

1. The CLB is NOT a Curriculum

The CLB is not a standard curriculum for the English language. However, some usually get confused about the CLB levels, which they think is the standard curriculum for the language. 

Take note that the CLB is not, in any case, a curriculum for you to be dependent on. Instead, the CLB only provides a shared professional and theoretical view of an individual’s language ability. It also helps the educational institutions in articulating the English language programs that will benefit ESL learners. 

And also, the CLB provides a familiar and standardized framework for measuring the communicative ability of individuals when it comes to the English language. It ensures a common basis in creating English programs, curricula, and assessment tools across the country. 

Differences between CLB and CELPIP and IELTS

The CLB’s significant difference between IELTS and CELPIP is that it gives a descriptive language benchmark for English language proficiency. 

CELPIP and CLB are the same in that they are both standardized tools officially used in Canada. However, note that CELPIP is an English language proficiency test while CLB is a benchmark for the test scores and provides a comprehensive description of an individual’s English ability.

It is solely based on an individual’s English ability and performances on actual tasks and everyday activities in different settings such as in the community, in the workplace, and in an educational environment. 

And also, the CLB does not focus on assessments of an individual’s knowledge about grammar, pronunciation, proper usage of words, and more. On the other hand, the IELTS focuses and assesses these areas of the English language, including proper intonation, use of words in a sentence, pronunciation, and eloquence. 

Check out the details below for a comprehensive look at the differences between CLB, IELTS, and CELPIP. 

CELPIP, known as the Canadian English Language Proficiency Index Program, is one of Canada’s approved English language proficiency tests. This test is used for Canadian immigration and is only available in four countries worldwide in Canada, United States, the Philippines, and the United Arab Emirates.  

The CELPIP scoring for each English skill is given a score ranging from 0 to 12 and an increment of 1 point. And the CLB level ranges from 0 to 12, and every level belongs to the three different CLB stages, which gives a comprehensive description of the English language ability. 

Below is a table showing the CELPIP levels and their corresponding CLB levels. 

CELPIP LevelCLB Level CELPIP Level Description
1212The individual has advanced proficiency in the English language when it comes to workplace and community settings. 
1111The individual has advanced proficiency in the English language when it comes to workplace and community settings. 
1010One establishes a highly effective proficiency of the English language commonly used in the workplace and community setup. 
99One shows an effective English language proficiency that is used every day in the workplace and community environment. 
88The individual shows a good level of English proficiency fitted in the workplace and community setting. 
77There is an adequate English language proficiency that corresponds to the workplace and community contexts for this level. 
66The individual still has a developing English language proficiency and understanding of the commonly used context in a workplace and community setting. 
55The individual is still acquiring knowledge and skills in English proficiency to understand the contexts used in a workplace and community setup. 
44One has an adequate level of proficiency suited for daily life activities. 
33One shows a little proficiency in some limited contexts. 
M0, 1, 2One has only minimal proficiency or no proficiency at all. Therefore, information is hard to assess on this level. 

One of the most commonly used English language proficiency tests for Canadian immigration is the IELTS which stands for International English Language Testing System. The IELTS is available and accessible in various countries worldwide. It comprises four tests that focus on each English language skill: writing, listening, reading, and speaking. 

Below is the CLB and IELTS Score Comparison.

The IELTS scores in every four skills are given a range of 0 to nine points. On the other hand, the CLB levels range from 0 to 12. 

CLB LevelIELTS Listening
Score Level
IELTS Reading
Score Level
IELTS Writing
Score Level
IELTS Speaking
Score Level 
CLB 129999
CLB 1198.588
CLB 108.587.57.5
CLB 98777
CLB 87.56.56.56.5
CLB 76666
CLB 65.555.55.5
CLB 55455
CLB 44.53.544
CLB 33.52.533
CLB 221.522
CLB 11111

Here is the IELTS scoring level description. 

It shows the IELTS band scoring corresponding to its appropriate level and the description for each. 

IELTS Band ScoreSkill LevelDescription
9Expert UserThe test taker has fully operational command of the English language. The use of the English language is appropriate, accurate, and fluent and shows complete understanding. 
8Very Good UserThe test taker has fully operational command of the English language, with occasional unsystematic inaccuracies and inappropriate usage. May understand some things in unfamiliar situations. Can handle complex and detailed argumentation well.  
Good UserThe test taker has operational command of the English language, with occasional inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstanding in some situations. Generally, can handle complex language well and understand detailed reasoning. 
6Competent UserWith an adequate command of the English language despite some inaccuracies, inappropriate usage, and misunderstandings. Can use and understand fairly complex language, particularly in familiar situations. 
5Modest UserHas partial command of the English language and copes with overall meaning in most situations, although they are likely to make many errors. Able to handle basic communication in their field.
4Limited UserThe English language competence is only limited to familiar situations. Frequently shows problems in understanding and expression. Are not able to use complex language. 
3Extremely Limited UserConveys and understands the only general meaning in very familiar situations, with frequent breakdowns in communication. 
2Intermittent UserHas great difficulty understanding spoken and written English.
1Non-userHas no ability to use the language except very few isolated words. 
0Did not attempt the testDid not answer the test questions. 

Differences between CLB and CEFR

The CEFR or known as the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It is an internationally acknowledged standardized framework for describing the individual’s English language ability. 

The CEFR level contains a six-point scale that describes the C2 proficiency level as the highest mastery of the English language and A2 for the beginner level. In contrast, the CLB level uses 0 to 12 levels of English proficiency. 

CLB LevelCEFR Level 
12C2 Proficiency Level
11C2 Proficiency Level
10C2 Proficiency Level
9C1 Advanced Level
8C1 Advanced Level
7B2 Upper – Intermediate Level
6B2 Upper – Intermediate Level
5B1 – Intermediate Level
4A2 – Elementary Level
3 to 0A1 – Beginner Level

What are CLB levels? 

There are 12 levels of ability in the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB). It is mainly used in Canada to measure an individual’s knowledge of the four English skills: writing, reading, speaking and listening. 

Every skill in the English language will receive a different CLB level when grading, and it will give you a clear understanding of your ability in that specific English skill. 

The Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB) has three stages.

CLB StageLanguage AbilityBenchmark Points
Stage 1Basic Language Ability1 to 4
Stage 2Intermediate Language Ability5 to 8
Stage 3Advanced Language Ability9 to 12

In each CLB stage, there are four levels that assess one’s English language skills. 

Stage 1 – BasicStage 2 – IntermediateStage 3 – Advanced 
CLB 1CLB 5CLB 9
CLB 2CLB 6CLB 10
CLB 3CLB 7CLB 11
CLB 4CLB 8CLB 12

The four skills, including listening, reading, speaking, and writing, are all measured based on the different 12 levels of the Canadian Language Benchmark (CLB). 

CLB Scale Stage I – Basic Language Ability

Listening SkillsLevel 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Speaking SkillsLevel 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Reading SkillsLevel 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4
Writing SkillsLevel 1
Level 2
Level 3
Level 4

CLB Scale Stage 2 – Intermediate Language Ability

Listening SkillsLevel 5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8
Speaking SkillsLevel 5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8
Reading SkillsLevel 5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8
Writing SkillsLevel 5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8

CLB Scale Stage 3 – Advanced Language Ability

Listening SkillsLevel 9
Level 10
Level 11
Level 12
Speaking SkillsLevel 9
Level 10
Level 11
Level 12
Reading SkillsLevel 9
Level 10
Level 11
Level 12
Writing SkillsLevel 9
Level 10
Level 11
Level 12

CLB Levels and CLB Stages Explained

Here in this section, let’s expand further on each of the levels within each stage of the CLB.

CLB Scale Stage I – Basic Language Ability

CLB Scale Stage 1 — Listening Skills

Level
1
  • The individual can understand few English words, familiar short phrases, simple greetings, and common expressions. 
  • Also, one can comprehend simple information and understand conversations when spoken slowly and repeated a couple of times.
  • A visual presentation and gestures are also needed to aid the individual in understanding the English language. 
  • Level 2 
  • Can follow short and simple instructions. One needs face-to-face interaction from the speaker to understand the topic discussed or heard fully. 
  • Is able to understand simple requests and other familiar conversations. 
  • Also, one has difficulty in understanding telephone conversations. 
  • Level 3 
  • Can understand keywords and main ideas, follow and understand permission requests, and comprehend some simple facts from a simple short story. 
  • Level
    4
  • Has now the ability to understand simple communication about familiar topics. For example, can follow simple instructions from a doctor, can understand short and simple commercials. 
  • Sometimes need repetition and still struggles in understanding complex sentences and other unfamiliar topics or information. 
  • Phone conversation is still difficult at this level. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 1 — Speaking Skills

    Level 1
  • Can communicate using simple English terms and standard greetings. 
  • Has the ability to join very simple words to form sentences. 
  • Has the ability to ask for assistance and give simple information.  
  • Level 2 
  • The individual can answer simple questions about personal information. 
  • Has memorized a couple of short phrases but with grammatical errors, and speaking fluently is hard to establish. 
  • One always relies on gestures and needs a lot of support and guidance from the listener. 
  • Level 3 
  • One can provide short directions and simple warnings. Can speak simple requests and can answer simple questions at the same time. 
  • The individual now has little control over basic grammar. But still, it has errors in pronunciation and grammar.
  • The individual needs constant support from the listener to go on with the conversation.
  • One relies primarily on gestures, and pronunciation is very poor. 
  • During discussions, one is hardly understood. 
  • Level 4
  • Has now the ability to leave a simple telephone message and give simple everyday instructions. 
  • In addition, the individual can directly connect sentences and has adequate control over grammar rules. 
  • Can speak slowly with pauses, and there are still cases of difficulty in grammar and pronunciation, making it hard for others to understand the speaker. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 1 — Reading Skills

    Level
    1
  • The individual is able to read short familiar words and standard English greetings. 
  • Also, one can read words showing what to do, like “open,” “close,” “stop,” and the likes.
  • The individual highly relies on pictures to read and understand the words presented. 
  • Reading skill is very poor. 
    Level
    2 
  • Only recognized common words and phrases that are used daily and can also read a short one-word simple grocery list. 
  • Has the ability to read and follow brief, simple instructions. 
  • Can understand words and sentences but with the help of a picture. 
  • Has the ability to identify the main idea of short and straightforward common sentences. 
  • Level
  • The individual can read very short notes and simple daily instructions. Can find information on a given schedule. 
  • Also, one has the ability to comprehend the main ideas of a paragraph where it shows a clear context. 
  • One still relies on pictures to understand, and reading is still a difficult task to do.
  • Level
    4
  • Has the ability to follow simple recipe instructions and simple email messages, ad find information in online advertisements. 
  • The individual can now understand most main ideas of a very short paragraph wherein the vocabulary used is simple and familiar.
  • However, one still needs support and pictures to understand the given context fully.
  • CLB Scale Stage 1 — Writing Skills

    Level
    1
  • Can write single words and a couple of memorized phrases. 
  • Has the ability to fill in short, simple personal information and also has the ability to copy numbers and words. 
  • Level 2 
  • The individual has difficulty with grammar, spelling, and punctuation in writing. 
  • Also, one cannot write coherently, even with simple writing. Has difficulty in communicating ideas through writing. 
  • Level 3 
  • Has the ability to write single words and a couple of memorized phrases. 
  • However, there is still no control over grammar, and one commits many mistakes in spelling and structure. 
  • Level
    4
  • One can now write a short message, a simple request, and a short paragraph about a very familiar topic — the individual has adequate control over basic grammar. 
  • The individual is capable of communicating a simple message regarding a familiar topic through writing. 
  • However, there is still a struggle in word order and words forms. 

  • CLB Scale Stage 2 – Intermediate Language Ability

    CLB Scale Stage 2  — Listening Skills

    Level
    5
  • The individual can understand other people talking about likes and dislikes, a short phone message, and comprehend a brief news report. 
  • At this level, one does not fully understand all that they have heard. There is a difficulty in understanding when the language used is complex. 
  • The speaker needs to speak clearly and at an average pace. 
  • Level
    6 
  • Can now understand a few abstract ideas. But one still needs repetition, especially when the conversation is over the phone. 
  • Level
  • One can understand the main ideas, facts, and connections between conversations and contexts. 
  • Has the ability to distinguish intentions, moods, and opinions. 
  • However, there is still difficulty in comprehending complex topics wherein it is not related to daily activities. 
  • Level
    8
  • The individual can follow the sequencing of ideas, topic shifts and can now interpret moods and different opinions. 
  • But the individual still shows signs of difficulty when it comes to conversations that contain idioms and other uncommon expressions and slang. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 2 — Speaking Skills

    Level
    5
  • The individual can communicate with effort in some familiar or routine situations, such as giving instructions, inviting someone to lunch, and giving advice to friends. 
  • One also has reasonable control of basic English grammar.
  • But the individual still shows hesitation when speaking, and the grammar and pronunciation are still a problem. 
  • Level 6 
  • One can now communicate confidently in familiar situations and has great control of grammar. 
  • And also, the individual is starting to engage in more complex conversations. However, there is still an issue when it comes to grammar and pronunciation.  
  • Level 7 
  • One is now gaining excellent control in complex grammar structure.
  • And one shows confidence in speaking and communicating with others. 
  • However, there are still occasional mistakes regarding pronunciation and grammar. 
  • Level
    8
  • Can communicate with confidence, mostly in routine situations. 
  • The individual shows adequate control over complex grammar structures. 
  • And also, the individual seldom commits mistakes when it comes to pronunciation and grammar. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 2 — Reading Skills

    Level
    5
  • The individual can understand short and predictable stories and passages.
  • And the individual is also able to read emails and follow simple written instructions. 
  • However, one shows the difficulty in understanding complex structures and vocabulary. 
  • Level
    6
  • Has the ability to understand relevant reading materials related to one’s career, lifestyle, and daily activities. 
  • However, one still shows difficulty when it comes to complex spelling and word structures. 
  • Level
    7
  • One can understand some complex ideas in a context, but the topic must be familiar or relevant to the reader. 
  • And also still shows difficulty in comprehension if the materials presented contain complex language structures. 
  • Level
    8
  • Is now able to understand complex reading materials and read about less familiar topics. 
  • However, one still has difficulty reading and comprehension when the reading material contains complex vocabulary and language structure. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 2 — Writing Skills

    Level 5
  • The individual can write short communications about common topics and have a simple grammar structure — the problem encountered in this level is word forms and awkward word combinations in writing. 
  • Level 6 
  • Is developing control over complex grammar structures.
  • But one still composes awkward word combinations and has difficulty finding the correct words to choose in certain situations or topics. 
  • Level 7 
  • The individual can now write complex communications about familiar topics and can control and use more complex grammar structures. 
  • However, there are still some difficulties in word structure and combinations while using idioms.  
  • Level 8
  • One can write moderately complex topics and has excellent control over some complex grammar. 
  • The writing is mainly understood but still shows difficulty in more extended, demanding, and unfamiliar writing tasks.  

  • CLB Scale Stage III – Advanced Language Ability

    CLB Scale Stage 3  — Listening Skills

    Level
    9
  • One is capable of understanding a range of communication about various topics, which may include specializations in some issues that are familiar to the listener. 
  • Shows difficulty in comprehension when the speech is fast and often cannot interpret humor, idioms, and cultural references. 
  • Level
    10 
  • Can understand and comprehend familiar complex topics but has difficulty keeping up with a fast speaker.
  • And sometimes misinterpret idioms, expressions, and other unfamiliar cultural references. 
  • Level
    11 
  • Has occasional difficulty when it comes to understanding sarcasm, idioms, irony, and unfamiliar expressions.
  • Can effortlessly understand communication on a complex level. 
  • Level
    12
  • Has the ability to understand an extensive range of complex topics and information regarding general and specialized issues.
  • CLB Scale Stage 3 — Speaking Skills

    Level
    9

  • Has the ability to communicate, showing confidence in non-routine situations, and with excellent control of some complex grammar structures.
  • One rarely commits grammar and pronunciation mistakes. 
  • Level
    10 
  • The individual can communicate on a different level with increasing confidence about unfamiliar topics. 
  • Has the ability to give a presentation about a research topic. And also, one seldom commits mistakes when it comes to grammar and pronunciation. 
  • Level
    11 
  • With excellent control of grammar structure, and can discuss non-routine situations with great confidence. 
  • Can do a presentation at a conference and can also negotiate a business contract meeting with a supplier. 
  • Level
    12
  • Shows tremendous confidence in communication, can present a thesis defense, and mediate a conflict among colleagues. 
  • Also, grammar and pronunciation mistakes do not bother people, and they can still understand the speech entirely.
  • CLB Scale Stage 3 — Reading Skills

    Level
    9
  • The individual is now beginning to understand more complex reading materials. 
  • But one still shows difficulty when it comes to complex vocabulary and structure of the passages or context given. 
  • Level
    10 
  • One can now fully understand and comprehend a familiar complex context when reading.
  • However, there are still difficulties encountered in difficult vocabulary and unfamiliar complex structures. 
  • Level
    11 
  • The individual has the ability to understand and comprehend complex and unfamiliar reading materials. 
  • Shows occasional difficulty in reading complex vocabulary and other unfamiliar language structures.
  • Level
    12
  • Shows confidence in understanding complex reading material with ease. 
  • And one is also able to handle a variety of styles and formats when it comes to reading materials. 
  • CLB Scale Stage 3 — Writing Skills

    Level
    9
  • Shows reasonable control of complex grammar and is building more confidence in writing demanding topics. 
  • And also, the individual can write about unfamiliar issues that may require research. 
  • The individual’s tone and writing style may show incoherence as they struggle to use appropriate words and phrases. 
  • Level
    10 
  • One can write a broader range of complex topics, including writing abstract topics and unfamiliar ones requiring research. 
  • And also, one still commits occasional errors, and the tone and style of writing may not always be appropriate for the topic. 
  • Level
    11 
  • Can write confidently about various topics.
  • Shows flexibility in writing style and tone but with some random minor errors. 
  • Level
    12
  • The individual can write a range of genres. And one is also confident when it comes to complex text writing and rarely makes mistakes when writing.
  • Can easily adjust one’s tone and style while writing to suit the task at hand. 
  • Final Thoughts

    It’s very common for someone to confuse CLB with an English exam such as IELTS or CELPIP. We hope this article has provided you with some clarity on what CLB is and how it’s different from other tests. If you are applying for Canadian Immigration or seeking higher education in Canada, you will come across CLB. As long as you write and score well in CELPIP or IELTS, you should be able to proceed. CLB is nothing but a benchmark to compare your test scores against.

    Did we miss anything in this guide about the Canadian Language Benchmarks? Let us know in the comments below.

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