Breaking down Canadian Language Benchmarks 1-4
By Michelle Boon
Posted on June 21, 2021
What are Canadian Language Benchmarks?
Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB) are an essential part of learning English as a second language (ESL). These benchmarks set the ESL standards in Canada. There are 12 benchmarks, and they describe your language skills including listening, speaking, reading, and writing. You may have a different benchmark level for each skill. These benchmarks are divided into three categories: beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
All government-funded ESL programs and curriculum are based on CLB. They are essential for language assessors to place newcomers in the right ESL classes and for teachers to make lesson plans. Employers also use CLB during the hiring process.
For newcomers, it’s useful to become familiar with CLB. If you haven’t started taking any ESL classes yet, CLB can help you gage your language ability before you get a formal language assessment. (See this article for more information on English language proficiency tests.) The benchmarks are also useful for helping you set language goals and determine how many classes you need to take. For more information on ESL programs, check this article by The Newcomer.
You do not necessarily need to reach CLB 12, the highest level, to be a successful newcomer. For example, newcomers can apply for citizenship when their English speaking and listening skills reach CLB 4.
Let’s take a look at the breakdown of CLB in the beginner tier.
Beginner (CLB 1-4)
At this stage, you can understand simple language. You recognize words from everyday life. You can read short phrases with pictures. You can tell someone your name. You can ask for help at a store.
CLB 4 is a great level to reach. You develop basic language skills to navigate daily life and connect with others. Getting to this level can also help you get a job. Mastering beginner CLB can help you identify and compare important information. This is a great skill to have when looking for jobs and in the workplace.
Listening: At this benchmark, you can understand a few words and simple phrases. You understand best when you can see the other person and when they speak slowly. Pictures and gestures help your understanding. You recognize words and phrases about things you know about or need. Here are some phrases you can understand:
- “Hello, my name is Brenda.”
- “Can I see your health card?”
- “What time is it?”
Speaking: You can say a few words and simple phrases. You know numbers, names, times, dates, and the alphabet. You can communicate when you can see the other person. Pictures and gestures help your understanding. You know simple greetings. You can also make simple requests. You can make conversation by asking simple questions. Here are some phrases you are able to say:
- “Nice to meet you.”
- “I’m from the Philippines.”
- “Please, come in!”
- “It is 9:30.”
Reading: You can read the alphabet, numbers, and common words. You understand best when the topic is familiar. Pictures help your understanding. You use a dictionary in your first language for words you don’t know. Here are some things you can read:
- A birthday invitation
- An advertisement for a sale
- A street sign
Writing: You can write the alphabet, numbers, and common words. You can write on familiar topics with someone’s help. Here are some things you can write:
- An invitation to a party
- You name, address, and phone number
Listening: You can understand short, simple sentences. You listen best when you can see the other person. It helps when they speak slowly. Pictures and gestures also help your understanding. You understand best when the topic is familiar or related to what you need. You can understand greetings, small talk, requests, dates, and times. Here are some phrases you can understand:
- “Can I get you something to drink?”
- “Your dentist appointment is June 12 at 1 o’ clock.”
- “Can you please pass me that book.”
Speaking: You use a greater variety of simple words and phrases. You communicate best when you can see the other person. Pictures and gestures help you understand. Sometimes you need assistance to find the correct phrase. You can greet others and introduce yourself, make requests, give simple instructions, and describe familiar things in simple terms. Here are some sentences you can say:
- “Hi, my name is Sam. What is your name?”
- “That coffee is hot. Be careful.”
- “Please sign this form at the bottom.”
- “My favourite thing about Canada is the food.”
Reading: You can read short, simple sentences. You recognize common words and phrases. Pictures are helpful to your understanding, and you use a dictionary to understand difficult words. You can read short personal messages, labels, maps, and instructions. Here are some things you can read:
- A thank you note
- A caption describing a photo in a newspaper
- A four-step instruction on how to wash your hands
Writing: You can write short, simple sentences. You use common everyday words. You write confidently when the topic is familiar and with help from another person. You can write social messages, fill out paperwork, copy lists, and write a few sentences about yourself. Here are some things you can write:
- A holiday card
- Paperwork at the doctor’s office
- A copy of your work schedule
Listening: At this benchmark, you can understand most simple sentences. You still understand best when you can see the other person, but they don’t need to speak as slowly. Pictures and gestures help your understanding. Familiar topics are easiest to understand. You can comprehend various social interactions from beginning to end. You can also understand requests, instructions with up to four steps, and a short description. Here are some phrases you can understand:
- “Hi, Barry. This is Stan. He’s the new sales manager, and I wanted to introduce you two.”
- “Can I borrow this book?”
- “The bathroom is straight down the hall and to the right.”
- “I went to a birthday party yesterday. The house was decorated with blue balloons and green streamers. The cake was chocolate. It was delicious.”
Speaking: You can speak in short, simple sentences. You can speak most confidently about common topics and about your own experiences. At this level, you begin to use basic grammar and connect ideas. It still helps when you can see the other person, but you don’t necessarily need gestures or pictures to get your point across. You can make an appointment, make a request, offer help, give warnings, give directions, and describe your feelings and experiences. Here are some phrases you can say:
- “I’d like to make an appointment for next week, but I am busy on Monday and Tuesday.”
- “Would you like my help with that?”
- “The roads are icy. Be careful on the drive home.”
- “Hi, Dr. Chang. I came in because my neck is sore, and I have pain in my left shoulder.”
Reading: You can read most short sentences. You can also understand simple paragraphs. Familiar topics are easiest to comprehend. Pictures, charts, and diagrams help your understanding. You only need to use a dictionary in your first language sometimes. You can read simple messages, find key information in a chart or flyer, understand instructions with up to five steps, and identify the main idea of a short story. Here are some things you are able to read:
- A note from your teacher about your progress in the class
- A bus schedule
- Instructions on how to take care of your friend’s pet
Writing: You are confident writing short sentences and start to write short paragraphs. You have a greater understanding of how to use simple grammar, for example, where to put commas. It is easiest to write about familiar topics. You can write more detailed social messages, write a formal request, copy simple paragraphs, and write descriptions of your surroundings and own experiences. Here are some things you can write:
- A note to a family member reminding them to take out the trash
- A copy of a short recipe
- An emergency contact form
- An email to a friend about what you did on the weekend
Listening: At this benchmark, you can understand both formal and informal communication. You understand the difference between a conversation with your friend versus one with your boss at work. You can comprehend conversations about familiar topics easily. It is still easiest to understand when you can see the person speaking, and they speak at a moderate speed. You can understand small talk, identify advertisements and persuasive communication, follow instructions with up to five steps, and understand short stories and descriptions. Here are some things you are able to understand:
- “I’m going to hang out with my brother this weekend; how about you?”
- “This blender is the best in the industry! It’s easy to use and easy to clean, and for you it’s 20 per cent off!”
- “Make sure to take this medication twice a day for two weeks. Take it with food, or you might experience stomach pains.”
- “The weather today will be 23 °C and sunny with light rain in the afternoon.”
Speaking: You can speak about everyday activities, experiences, needs, and wants. You can also use basic grammar and connect your ideas. You can have conversations in person and short conversations on the phone. You occasionally need help from another person to find the right words. Sometimes you need pictures and gestures to convey your points. You can easily make casual conversation, make a request, give someone else directions with up to five steps, describe your feelings, and describe an experience using five to seven sentences. Here are some things you can say:
- “I’ve never been to this store before. Can you help me find the women’s clothing section?”
- “We’ve been getting a lot of snow lately, and I don’t like it.”
- “Today, work was really great. All of the customers were friendly, and my coworkers brought their dog.”
- “I’m having a difficult time adjusting to Canadian life. I miss my friends and family from home, and it’s frustrating that they can’t come to visit.”
Reading: You can read short, simple paragraphs on familiar topics. Sometimes you need pictures, graphs, and diagrams to help you understand. You only need to use a dictionary for words on occasion. You can read all kinds of simple social messages with ease. You can find information on tables and schedules, follow instructions with up to six steps, and identify and compare key information across two to three paragraphs. Here are some things you can understand:
- The Newcomer! This publication is written at CLB 4
- An email from a friend explaining why they weren’t in class
- A directory of phone numbers
- The differences between two apartment listings
Writing: At this benchmark, you can write simple sentences and short paragraphs. You use simple punctuation and grammar throughout your writing. You write most confidently when the topic is familiar. You can write social messages that are up to a paragraph long, complete long applications and forms, and descriptive paragraphs. Here are some things you can write:
- An email to a family member describing your life in Canada
- A message to your manager asking for a day off and explaining why you need it
- A definition from a dictionary
When you reach CLB 4, or are at CLB 4 already, you have the communication tools to get through day-to-day life. You can make appointments, go shopping, introduce yourself to new people, and ask for help when you need it.
You may want to pursue a higher benchmark level for your future goals. Intermediate and Advanced CLB levels may be a requirement for certain jobs as well as for post-secondary programs.
To learn more about CLB, Canadian Language Benchmarks have compiled a summary of each level in their Can Do Statements package.