How to Choose Between IGCSE English as a First or Second Language


IGCSE (International General Certificate of Secondary Education) offers up to 70 subjects to its students, including more than 30 languages where students have to choose 2 languages.

The curriculum is further divided into the Core level and the Extended level for some subjects. The right choice of levels can be chosen by the students depending on their learning abilities.

There are two options for the language English – English as the first language (EFL) and English as the second language (ESL).

IGCSE English as a first language (EFL) is curated for students whose first language is English. This course enables the students to:

  • Enhance their ability to articulate clearly, accurately, and effectively, especially when writing and speaking
  • Use a wide range of vocabulary, and correct grammar, spelling, and punctuation
  • Develop their personal style and understand the audience they are addressing

The students are moreover encouraged to read a lot both for their own enjoyment and to enhance and discover the ways in which English can be used. The EFL also further increases and develops the inferential skills and the ability to organize facts and put forth the opinions effectively.

IGCSE English as a second language (ESL) is curated for students whose first language is not English but have a working knowledge of the language. ESL syllabus:

  • Can be opted by the student who have studied in English medium throughout
  • Develops the students’ ability to understand and use English in a range of situations
  • Helps students use English in the four language learning skills – reading, speaking, writing, and listening
  • Helps focus on the use of English in the everyday communication, enabling in the use of the language in more-in-depth study of the language

The ESL enables the students to be independent learners of English, enabling them to use the language in a variety of practical contexts.


Assessment Overview for ESL/EFL

Two syllabus course code are available – Code 0993 / Code 0991

Course Code 0991 All students irrespective of the levels they have opted for – either Core Level or Extended Level have to complete a component – component 5 paper – apart from the respective papers allotted to them in the levels.

Component 5 of both the syllabus code 0093 and syllabus code 0991, the speaking task is of duration 10-15 minutes wherein the students after 2-3 minutes of warm up conversations, engage in 6-9 minutes of discussion. with the examiner on a given topic. This task is internally assessed and externally moderated and the component is for 30 marks.

In speaking endorsement(syllabus code 0991), the component 5 is certificated separately from the main grade allotted for the written papers, on a scale of 5-1. Performance on this task does not affect the syllabus grades for the written papers. Yet the component is mandatory and is recognised by the UK and other international universities.

In the count-in-speaking, (syllabus code 0993), the component 5 accounts for 20% of the final syllabus grade and is reported on a standard IGCSE grade scale of A*-G. The other components are weighted as Reading/Writing – 60% and Writing – 20%.


How to Choose Between EFL and ESL for IGCSE English?

Two major parameters need to be considered when students choose IGCSE English as EFL or ESL.

  • Familiarity, fluency, and comfort level with the English Language
  • Future academic or career options/ambitions

Basically, EFL is for the students who are studying in countries where the English language is non-dominant, therefore English becomes a path for survival, And ESL is for the students are in a country where English is widely spoken and therefore provides the opportunity to communicate with the co-exiting people around them.

Thus, the main goal to choose EFL is to learn grammar, phrases, sentences. On the other hand, ESL is chosen to improve fluency.

If the student decides to study or work in a country where English is the primary language of communication, then by default the college admissions department or the prospective employers of that country, will hold preference over students who have studied EFL and are sure that English will not be a disrupting factor in the students’ academic or career progress. Though not officially announced, a lower grade in EFL may take preference over a higher grade in ESL.

On the other hand, if the student decides to study or work in a country where English is not the primary spoken language and it is not the native language of the student, ESL works out to be a better option. Then there are chances to get better grades, thus impacting the overall performance of the student and enabling a better option for the admission departments or potential employers. Further EFL offers strong transition to Cambridge International AS and A Level and is highly suitable for further learning in English.

Self-evaluation plays an important role in judging one’s strengths and comfort levels. Depending on their strengths and comfort levels, the students can choose the English language as the first language or the second language.

If the students are comfortable with the English language and if it is their major language of communications, then EFL would be a better option, because the course is more advanced in terms of evaluating vocabulary, grammar, spelling abilities, and punctuation, and the premise is that the students are already fluent users of English – both in speaking and writing.

And ESL is for students who want to improve their language skills either to increase their opportunities for higher education or plan a career.


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What level is IGCSE English as a first language?

As a substitute for the GCSE in English, there is the Level 2 Certificate in First Language English (IGCSE). You will adhere to the IGCSE CIE Level 2 Certificate in First Language English course, which will expose you to a wide range of literary and non-literary elements.

Is a second language compulsory in IGCSE?

Speaking is a required component of the IGCSE English Second Language syllabus, which is accepted by many universities in the UK and abroad.

What exam board is IGCSE English?

IGCSE is recognized by Cambridge (Cambridge Assessment International Education).

Is IGCSE English first language hard?

It can be challenging to prepare for the challenges of the IGCSE English Language exam due to its variety of questions kinds, mind-boggling assessment criteria, and a full number of challenging books to explore.

Which IGCSE variant is hardest?

Additional Mathematics is the hardest IGCSE subject now.

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