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What is ESOL?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

ESOL means English for Speakers of Other Languages. ESOL courses are for people who don’t have English as their first language and are living in the UK. The most common curriculum and ESOL exams used in the UK are ESOL ‘Skills for Life’.

These courses are usually free if a learner meets the eligibility criteria:

aged 19 or over,
has been resident in the UK for at least 3 years or
has pre-settled or settled status or
is a refugee or
an asylum seeker who has been in the UK for at least 6 months.

* these criteria are reviewed annually and are subject to change

ESOL LEVELS

There are ESOL Skills for Life courses to help learners from complete beginner to advanced level. The levels, from lowest to highest are:

Pre-Entry (or ‘New to ESOL’) > Entry 1 > Entry 2 > Entry 3 > Level 1 > Level 2

This diagram shows how ESOL levels match the levels in other English testing systems:

ESOL qualifications for mobile phones

CEFR Level

ESOL Skills for life

IELTS

Cambridge Main suite

EELT Levels

C2

9
8.5

CPE

Advanced

Proficient user

C1

L2

8
7.5
7

CAE

Lower Advanced

High Intermediate

B2

L1

6.5
6
5.5

FCE

Intermediate

Independent user

 

B1

E3

5
4.5
4

PET

Pre-Intermediate

A2

E2

KET

Elementary

Basic user

 

A1

E1

Beginner

Pre-entry

Glossary:

  • CEFR – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
  • IELTS – International English Language Testing System
  • ELT – English Language Teaching
  • CPE – Certificate of Proficiency in English
  • CAE – Certificate in Advanced English
  • FCE – First Certificate in English
  • PET – Preliminary English Test
  • KET – Key English Test

 

For example, achieving Entry 3 ESOL is equivalent to CEFR B1, or a score of 5.0 in IELTS.

ESOL Courses

Before a learner starts an ESOL course, most organisations will give them a short interview to find out their level of English, so they can join the most suitable class.

There is no standard length for an ESOL course. They may be long (a full academic year) or short (for example 6 weeks). Most commonly, a learner will study for between 2 to 6 hours per week on an ESOL course. Check these details with the course provider.

 

The academic (school) year in the UK starts in September and finishes in July.

Month

School term

Academic term

September - October

Half term holiday

November - December

Term 1

Term 2

Autumn Term

Christmas holidays (normally 2 weeks)

January - February

Half term holiday

March - April

Term 3

Term 4

Spring Term

Easter holidays (normally 2 weeks)

April - May

Half term holiday

June - July

Term 5

Term 6

Summer Term

Summer holidays (normally 6 weeks)

* The exact dates of each academic (school) year change each year, and exact holiday dates are set locally so are often different across the UK.

ESOL Exams

There are ESOL Skills for Life exams at each level (from Entry 1 to Level 2) in Speaking & Listening, Reading and Writing. Many larger organisations, such as Further Education Colleges, offer ESOL exams (accreditation) but smaller and community-based organisations usually offer ESOL courses without exams. These courses are normally good preparation for an exam course.

Other types of English courses/exams

There are other types of English courses available, for example International ESOL or IELTS. You usually have to pay for these courses. To study at a university in the UK, you may have to prove your level of English. The most common English tests accepted by universities are IELTS, TOEFL, PTE Academic and Cambridge English Advanced, but you should always check the ‘course requirements’ of the university course you want to study.