$ If my language of instruction is English, in the Philippines, am I required to take the IELTS/CELBAN exam?

Dear Friends,

Hi, I’m a recent nurse graduate from the Philippines and worked in the hospital for 5 months. Recently, my family and I acquired the Canadian Visa and are now set to go to Canada on August 27th. Just a question though, if my school’s language of instruction is English (and considering that English is widely spoken here in our country, nursing textbooks and exams are in that language as well and I’m comfortable speaking/writing in that medium), am I still required to take the IELTS/CELBAN exam? I am really anxious about my future as a nurse there and would like to work as soon as possible.

Hoping for some guidance.

Miss D

Dear Miss D,

Congratulations! I know that it takes a long time and great effort to get to where you are, so close to migrating to Canada. I am glad that you are making this move with your family: although there will be many changes, you will have loved ones with youΒ  where you can find support.

I am glad you are asking this question. The Philippines is the only nation where English is not taught by native speakers. All over the world people from Canada, the US, Australia and England (to mention a few) are invited to teach English: receiving work visas to do so. In the Philippines there is a great tradition and national pride in English being taught in the schools by people from the Philippines. While this can be a great strength, it creates a situation where individuals migrating from the Philippines have inherited this pride in their ability to communicate in English.

When it comes to the Colleges of Nursing, the registration bodies, they require a University level of English with CLB (Canadian Language Benchmark) scores from 7-10. Most people coming from the Philippines have obtained a great conversational level of English, around a 5 or 6, which is equal to a high school level. The reason for such high scores is that in many provinces this score acts as a university entrance requirement: once people have submitted an acceptable English Proficiency, they are required to take upgrading in Canadian Universities. The Colleges work to ensure the greatest success for Internationally Educated Nurses in these classes by ensuring they are competent in the English language at a University level.

What most people do not understand is that the difference between a 5 or 6, 9 or 10 is not one point. The difference is logarithmic: people who test CLB’s say it takes 100 class room hours to increase a score by one point.

What happens for many people coming to Canada from the Philippines is that they come with a score of around 5, which is high functioning in society. Backed with national pride they think that they do not need additional classes, support, preparation. Many take the CELBAN without preparation, and fail. (Very few can pass without preparation.)

What is wonderful about you, Miss D, is that by asking this question you are aware that it is possible that even though you come from the Philippines and have had all of your education in English that you may be required to take an English exam. Like people from India and Nigeria who have had all of their education in English you are required to submit an acceptable score on an English Proficiency exam, whether it be the Academic version of the IELTS or the CELBAN.

Over the many years I have spent teaching CELBANPrep, I have met many people from the Philippines, where there is a great deal of variance in competencies with the English language: like most bell curves, the average person has a level of around 5, with a few people with higher scores and some people with lower scores. In reading your question I can see that you have a higher level of competency in writing English. For you preparation for the CELBAN it would be important for you to understand the implications of the Canadian culture in nursing, to understand the structure of the exam and the expectations.

While you will be required to submit an English score, with some preparation I believe you would be able to pass the first time. You only get to take the CELBAN three times, and your exam will expire in two years so it is important to have one chance available for when it expires.

So, Miss D. You will have to submit an acceptable English score. Depending on your province you will be required to take a nursing competency equivalency exam. Once you have taken the exam you will be required to take courses to ensure you have the equivalent education to a Canadian Educated Nurse. You will be required to do practicums, and work for 225 hours as a graduate nurse before taking the national exam, the CRNE. It is a long process that takes over two years, and can cost up to $5000 CND. Passing the English requirements is only the first step.

In the mean time you can get an unlicensed position. It is at a lower pay with lower responsibilities, but if you are in a hospital setting there is much you can learn about the similarities and differences of nursing in Canada vs the Philippines. Nurses from the Philippines have traditionally have a 50% passing rate on the CRNE. The more you learn about nursing in Canada the better you will do on this exam.

Also, you may want to look into becoming a licensed practical nurse, LPN, in the mean time. (Search this topic on Dear Kim.)

I know that this may not be what you expected and wanted to hear. You may have wanted to hear that you can become a nurse as soon as you land, or as soon as you pass an English exam. But this is not so. It is a long and hard process,regardless of where you come from, which is why it is wonderful that you are coming with family. Choosing an easier path means investing in yourself and your education. It means making choices that allow you to quicken the process: taking preparation classes will help you tremendously in moving more quickly along the licensure process.

I wish the very best for you and your family, Miss D. The fact that you are seeking guidance even before you land in Canada shows how thoughtful you are. May your ability to seek guidance allow you to overcome barriers with ease.


P.S. Because it is such a great question, I have created a new post with your question! “If my language of instruction is English, in the Philippines, am I required to take the IELTS/CELBAN exam?”

5 responses to “$ If my language of instruction is English, in the Philippines, am I required to take the IELTS/CELBAN exam?

  1. Pingback: Philippine Experience and the CELBAN | Dear Kim

  2. Hi Ms. KIm! I took my ielts last Sept 15 here in manila, sadly enough I only got 6.5 on my writing, 0.5 points away to the requirement of manitoba..I am really depressed because it seem that Nursing is not for me in Canada.

    • Dear Justin,

      I understand you are stressed and maybe a little disillusioned about not passing the IELTS, but I assure you this is very common. Also I have met many people who have failed the IELTS and are going on the become an RN or LPN here in Canada. Getting a low score does not mean nursing is not for you in Canada. Instead getting a low score means you need to make new decisions about how you become a nurse here: what are you going to do to prepare so that you pass your English requirement? what are you going to do to improve your English. Not passing the exam says your English needs to be improved: you have to have a level of English that allows you entrance to a University in Canada. Thus you have to have a higher level of English than you have right now. So think and plan. Decide and choose. Determine how you can improve your English at an advanced level. In the mean time check out these books.

      Improving your grammar will increase your scores in writing, speaking and reading.

      Does this help?

  3. And why do we always have to repeat the IELTS/CELBAN every two years after passing the exam? If we are working in Canada and English is the main language use anyway. Why the nurses that graduated in canada don’t take the exam? most of them aren’t great with grammar and spelling. hope CARNA will come and see how they chart on patient’s record.:-(

    • Great Comment, John!

      I agree, Canadian born and educated students are not always the best at grammar and spelling. I know I was not when I graduated with my BSc. I had some excellent profs during my MEd that made a world of difference and inspired what I am doing today.

      As for the exam expiring, although some people remain in Canada and enhance their skills in English. But this is not so for everyone. Often people go home and speak their native tongue and their skills decrease: especially if they have been gone for 6 months or more.

      Some think it is a money grab, but I have come to develop a great respect for the Colleges of Nursing and what they do. With only a few details it is hard to understand, but with what I have learned about how the choices made from by them has helped IENS pass the CRNE with higher scores it has given me the ability to trust in what they are doing.

      I know it can be frustrating, and expensive, but once you become an RN you will not have to worry about it again!

      Thanks again for the question and comment!

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