Planning to Move Abroad in Europe? Language Proficiency Is Essential

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

Germany is bucking the trend and is allowing more flexibility for new entrants to the country. Speaking German fluently is an advantage (an intermediate level in the German language will get you far) but it is not absolutely essential to live and work in Germany and new rules have made it easier even to apply for German residency and citizenship.

However, many other countries are preferring to filter out incoming people by assessing their language skills first and foremost.

Euronews reported that places such as France are introducing more stringent language requirements to be able to apply for residency. From 2024 France has raised the expected language proficiency levels and you need to be able to demonstrate you have an in-depth knowledge of French, which will be assessed when you apply for residency.

In Italy, for example, it would be very difficult to arrange the simplest things like opening a bank account without being able to speak Italian and an intermediate language fluency level is expected.

Similarly, in Norway and Switzerland require that new arrivals to the country pass language exams. In the case of Switzerland there are three official languages: German, French and Italian.

A 2010 report from the Council of Europe looked at the language requirements in Member States, mostly from a perspective of providing support to immigrants considering how important languages are for academic and work progression.

It has been reported that 56% of Europeans can speak a second language according to a 2020 study by the European Commission, which also highlighted that, in sharp contrast, 62% of English people can’t speak a second language.

This means that the language barrier has prevented many foreigners, especially those who can only speak English, from entering a number of countries.

English speakers are likely to settle in quite seamlessly in The Netherlands, where more than 90% of the people speak English as a second language fluently.

Language Proficiency Scores

EF (Education First) has listed the levels of English language proficiency with scores and this classification has been adopted for all European languages.

One standard classification is the CEFR, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.

Generally speaking, language proficiency is scored between A1 for beginners to C2 for advanced. Here is a more detailed background.

  • Beginner is grouped in the A1 category with a score below 30/100. In this level you are expected to know everyday expressions and be able to complete some basic tasks. Normally if you are a beginner you are likely to ask people to talk slowly and explain things to you.
  • Elementary is grouped in the A2 category with a score from 31/100 to 40/100. At this level you are expected to be able to interact with colleagues at work, share about your experiences, discuss your plans.
  • Intermediate is grouped in the B1 category with scores from 41/100 to 50/100. At this level you are expected to be able to talk about your goals and objectives, perform well in a job interview, discuss business and personal relationships with ease.
  • Upper intermediate or B2 with a score 51/100 and up 60/100. At this level you can take part in meetings about your expertise and have an in-depth conversation about your career. You are also expected your feelings with the right nuances.
  • Advanced is grouped in the C1 category with scores from 61/100 to 70/100. At this level you can interpret complex texts and understand their meaning, when speaking you are fluent with no hesitation.
  • Proficient or C2 with a score 71/100 to 100/100. At this level you can tackle specialised topics such as in science and technology, you can express yourself confidently in writing and produce unique content. It has been calculated that a student can reach a C2 level after accumulating 1,000 hours of lessons.

Examples of Language Proficiency Levels for Residency and Citizenship

In France if you want to apply for a multi year residence card you need to demonstrate you have achieved a French language level of A2 as tested in the CEFR. For a 10 year residence card, or Carte de résident (résident longue durée UE), you need to have a B1 level in the French language.

However, if you are applying for citizenship in France you must demonstrate that you are at B2 level of proficiency.

In Spain if you want to become a citizen you are requested to obtain an A2 qualification (Diploma de Español como Lengua Extranjera) in Spanish which is somewhat similar as an Elementary level in CEFR.

Similarly, Portugal only needs you to have an A2 level of CEFR Portuguese language proficiency to apply for citizenship.