Understanding CEGEP ESL Proficiency Levels in Quebec

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College English Second Language teachers in Quebec teach almost every level of English. Why? Because people in Canada have a range of levels of proficiency. Some people grow up speaking English with their parents and go on to study at an English university. We call them educated anglophones. For other people, English is a completely foreign language that they do not use or do not understand at all. We call them absolute beginners. Everyone else falls between these two extremes.

Europe recognizes three general categories of English proficiency: A, B, and C. We often refer to these three levels of English ability as beginner (A0, A1, A2), intermediate (B1, B2), and advanced (C1, C2). Within these three categories, we distinguish between low and high ability.

Below, you will find a simple overview of the various levels we teach at college and how they relate to European categories. Each level has a course code starting with 604 in parentheses. In the Quebec Ministry of Education course objectives, 604 refers to English as a Second Language. The course numbers are linked to the government objectives for each course.

A0 Absolute Beginners

Learners at this proficiency level have no ability in English. Absolute beginners need to learn ABCs, and basic phrases. ESL courses for absolute beginners are not offered by colleges in Quebec. You might find a night course for this level at a Continuing Education Department at one of the big colleges, but I doubt it. Everybody in Canada knows at least a few words of English.

A1 Low Beginners (604-000)

Learners at this proficiency level have very basic English ability to interact using simple words and common phrases. Low beginners can introduce themselves and ask basic questions about name, address, and about what someone knows or has. Colleges in Quebec offer a non-credit course for students at this level if they didn’t pass high school English in the French system. We often refer to this level as Mise-à-Niveau.

A2 High Beginners (604-100)

Learners at this proficiency level have basic English ability to interact using frequently used expressions with immediate relevance. Despite errors, false starts and hesitation, high beginners can exchange basic personal information, ask about family, prices and locations of things. Colleges in Quebec offer a credit course for students at this level for students who have a lot of difficulty or anxiety communicating in English.

B1 Low Intermediates (604-101)

Learners at this proficiency level have some fluency in common situations with many errors. Low intermediate learners can communicate in most situations while traveling and can write and speak about topics of personal interest. Despite frequent errors and hesitation, they can describe events in the past, their hopes and ambitions, and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. Most students in Quebec graduate high school at this level.

B2 High Intermediates (604-102)

Learners at this proficiency level have fluency with some errors in most situations. High intermediates can communicate complex ideas about concrete and abstract topics without much difficulty. At this level, learners can have few errors with their verb forms but can self-correct.

C1 Low advanced (604-103)

Learners at this proficiency level have spontaneous fluency with nuance. Low advanced learners can understand implicit meaning in long, demanding texts, and can produce well-structured, detailed texts on complex subjects. Despite punctuation errors, grammar is error-free.

C2 High advanced

Language users at this proficiency level have complete mastery of English. These educated university-level English speakers can summarize arguments and stories fluently and precisely, differentiating fine shades of meaning. The CEGEP system does not offer courses for this level.

Two CEGEP ESL courses

Every student at a French college in Quebec must take at least two English Second Language courses at their proficiency level. The first course is a general 4-skill course. The second course requires students to build upon what they have learned by reading, writing, listening, and speaking about topics in their field of study. Each of the two courses is 15-weeks long. Some programs require students to do a third course. For example, Business students at Ahuntsic College also do a course on Marketing and Sales in English.

In the wrong level?

Some students wonder if it might be a good idea to try to get into a course for a lower proficiency level. Taking a lower-level course would be easier, right? Wrong.

Is boredom easy? Is wasting opportunities to develop your skills a good idea?

CEGEP ESL teachers will unanimously tell you that taking an English Second Language course at a level above or below your current proficiency level can lead to disaster. Many students who end up in the wrong level fail the course. They get bored or frustrated and don’t do the assignments.

In the end, cheaters have to repeat the course, delaying graduation and ruining their R-Score (the CEGEP version of GPA). Furthermore, CEGEP teachers take this kind of cheating very seriously and consider it a form of academic fraud.

Make sure you get into the right course. All courses require students to attend 15 weeks of classes and require regular submission of assignments. All tests and assignments require preparation. You might as well use the the time to learn something new and valuable. The economic value of bilingualism is very high. Squandering an opportunity to improve your English could be a huge financial mistake.

What is it like to teach CEGEP ESL?

If you would like to teach ESL at college in Quebec, you might like to hear my interview with Sivan Black-Rotchin from Concordia University. In the interview, I discuss my path to becoming a CEGEP ESL teacher and how to get CEGEP jobs, and the challenges and rewarding aspects of the work.

Did you know that CEGEP ESL teachers typically have 150 students per semester, divided into 5 groups of 30 students? We typically teach two different levels with 3 groups of one level and 2 of the other. You’ll hear teachers talk about having “two preps”–two courses to prepare lessons for each week. That’s the norm. In total, we spend 3 hours (2 hours in the classroom and 1 hour in the computer lab) each week with each of our 5 groups to make 15 contact hours per week. Each semester involves 15 weeks of lessons, usually with a midterm exam during week 7 and a final exam during week 15.

Over the course of two semesters, fall and winter, we teach a total of 30 weeks, with two weeks off at Christmas and two months off from mid-June to mid-August. Part-time teachers can elect to teach summer courses if they want, from mid-June to the end of July. It can take a few years to become a full-time teacher. After two to five years of teaching full-time, you’ll be offered permanence (tenure).

We are expected to provide 5 office hours each week to meet with students. We attend department meetings and participate in committees. Corrections can be onerous, but that’s why I created an automated writing evaluation plugin for Moodle and use Labodanglais.com with my students. My goal is to give students feedback within two seconds on their writing, reading, and listening evaluations. Teachers are allowed up to two weeks to return corrections. Currently, I am working hard to develop a method of automating feedback on speaking tasks as well. Stay tuned.

Teachers at public colleges are unionized. Every five years we have to strike to get contract negotiations moving. When we strike for 2 days, we effectively give up 1% of our salaries by refusing to work. The government then offers us an additional 1% at the negotiation table to stop striking. We strike again for another 2 days. They offer us another 1%. It’s a well-rehearsed three-act play. Our contract expired in April 2020, but you can see a table with full-time CEGEP teachers’ salaries listed here and part-time hourly rate for summer and night courses here.

Course books for CEGEP ESL

Each of the CEGEP ESL levels has its own course book and online course component. If you teach CEGEP ESL and are interested in learning more about the award-winning books and automated writing evaluation from Bokomaru Publications, send an email to bokomarupublications@gmail.com and ask for your free evaluation copy. Please, mention the levels you teach.

100a 100b at college 103A 103A Actively Engaged Online 103A 103A 103A Any level