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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What are the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB)?

The CLB describe what adult second language learners can do, using English, at twelve levels of proficiency, or benchmarks. The twelve Benchmarks are separated into three progressive levels of proficiency:

  • Stage I (CLB Levels 1-4) - basic level of proficiency
  • Stage II (CLB Levels 5-8) - intermediate level of proficiency
  • Stage III (CLB Levels 9-12) - advanced level of proficiency

Each Benchmark for the four language skills - reading, writing, listening and speaking - includes examples of the kinds of real life tasks that an ESL learner should be able to perform under specified conditions in four specific competency areas:

  • social interaction - using ESL speech or writing in interpersonal situations
  • giving and receiving instructions
  • suasion (getting things done)
  • information - exchanging, presenting, talking about information

The CLB provide a standard framework that can be used to plan teaching and assessment in Canadian adult ESL programs.

2. How do the CLB relate to language-learning levels?

The CLB provide descriptions of twelve communicative proficiency levels in four skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. The twelve CLB are divided into 3 stages:

Basic Proficiency (Stage I - CLB Levels 1-4) is the range of abilities needed to communicate in common and predictable settings to meet basic needs and to carry out everyday activities. A curriculum aligned to the Benchmarks and targeting the language proficiencies of stage 1 learners would focus on topics of immediate personal relevance.

Intermediate Proficiency (Stage II - CLB Levels 5-8) represents the range of abilities which enable a learner to participate more fully in social, educational, and work-related settings. The contexts in which English is used are less familiar and predictable and the proficiencies demonstrated by learners enable them to function more independently. Competencies acquired in this stage may enable a learner to move beyond the ESL classroom into new opportunities. Many learners, at the end of Stage II, are ready for post-secondary academic programs.

Advanced Proficiency (Stage III - CLB Levels 9-12) is the range of abilities which enable a learner to communicate effectively, appropriately, accurately and fluently in most settings. Learners at this stage demonstrate a sense of audience and communicate using language features such as appropriate style, register and formality.

3. Who developed the CLB?

In 1993, the Government of Canada set up a National Working Group on Language Benchmarks to guide the design and development of a set of language proficiency standards. The National Working Group represented ESL teachers, learners and academics along with federal, provincial and territorial governments.

4. When were the CLB introduced?

A draft version of the CLB was field-tested across Canada in 1995. Learners, adult ESL teachers, academics, and other stakeholders provided input into the working document released in 1996 for use in programs in all parts of the country. More recently, the national standards have been revised as the Canadian Language Benchmarks 2000 to reflect the ongoing feedback received from the ESL field.

5. Who is responsible for maintaining the CLB?

The Centre for Canadian Language Benchmarks (CCLB) was set up in March 1998 to promote excellence in the teaching and learning of French and English by adults across Canada. The CCLB supports the use of national standards (CLB) in adult education, labour market access and immigrant integration programs. A non-profit corporation, the CCLB is located in Ottawa although its Board of Directors represents the federal and provincial governments, TESL Canada and its affiliates as well as other stakeholders. Funding to fulfill its mandate comes from federal and provincial governments.