How to Approach the CIA Exam as a Non-English Speaker

I’ve got a reader’s email on how a non-English speaker should pick the language of the CIA exam: Should he pick his native language, or stick with English?

Here are my initial thoughts.

The Challenges of Studying for the CIA Exam in Another Language

There are lots of challenges as you can imagine, but I highlight the most common ones here:

1. Review Courses are Practically Available in English Only

Most review materials are available in English only. Gleim has a Spanish version, and that’s about it. With the different terms and possibly different ways in wording a question, it takes a lot longer to understand and study for the exam.

I understand that there may be local live classes that teach in local languages. Although I normally don’t recommend that (given the quality of lecturers is unproven and hard to keep track),  you may want to consider this option if your English is not up to the required level.

2. Complaints on the Translated Version of the CIA Exam

The CIA exam is available in different languages. I have to give credits to the IIA for making this happen — other candidates have no choice but to take the English exam for CPA, CFA and CMA.

But then, I heard from my readers that the translation is awkward, or even misleading, in some cases. There are English on the side, but it takes a lot of time (and imagine the confusion!) to read each question in two languages.

My Recommendation

Because of the limitation in both the review courses and the exam, I would still go for the English version if your ability to read in English is good enough.

This is obviously a subjective comment, so I suggest a test: How do you feel after reading one full page of New York Times or Washington Post?

Do you feel:

(A) All right, understand the content and fine if asked to read further?

(B) Tired, can’t really grasp what the articles mean and you don’t want to move on to the next page?

If answer is A, take the English version; if B, take the version in your local language.

What do You Think?

I am not the best person to give recommendation because, while I am bilingual, I probably prefer to read and write in English anyway.

Because of this, I’d like you to join in the discussion. For those who have a more obvious non-English mother tongue, what do you think? How did you approach your own exam? I’d love to hear your thoughts and expand this post further. Thank you!

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About the Author Stephanie

I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley) and the publisher of this and several accounting professional exam prep sites.

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  • H Mehmet Bilgic says:

    Till reading this essay, I was planning to pick with Local language by reading English version in same time. But as mentioned it will take time and confusion to read both languages. And it will be my first attempt for the exam, i don not have idea that translation is good enough. So, now i am planing to read only English part and if i need to sure about some words then i will chek it out in Local translate.
    I am happy with wiley test bank, i hope English level will be same in actual exam:)
    Thank you

  • Secil says:

    Hi Mehmet! My native language is also Turkish. Believe me, translation is absolutely bad. However your strategy is perfect (reading only English part and checking some words from Turkish.) I also want to remember you that you are able to take a dictionary with you but this dictionary should be word to word only. Wish you luck,

  • h.mehmet bilgic says:

    Hi Secil!
    That is perfect information that dictionary is free in exam. I did not know this.

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Mehmet,

      Secil has further comments (she sent me the following via email a few days back):

      Unfortunately Turkish language is really difficult for translations. My suggestion is not to waste time reading the Turkish translation and stick with the English version. As the course materials is in English, it will be much easier , even if the doesn’t have sufficient language skills. I haven’t taken the CIA exam in Turkish, but unfortunately this is the case for all translations.

      But to help him understand the context better, I have a little tip.
      He might ask TIDE (turkish IIA) to provide him “The red book” I don’t know if they update it from time to time (I had the 2007 version) but it really helped me a lot for the vocabulary.

  • malini karmancherry says:

    I agree with Stephanie. . Selecting English as the language to attempt the exam is a better option.

  • Yogesh Malik says:

    English version, of course, is the best option. Why I say this is because of the following reasons:

    1. Translating it into a native language might give you the word-by-word meaning but there are a lot of areas where phrases are used to make the text more meaningful and provide complete insight. I doubt whether such phrasal translation in the native language would make the context as clear as it would do in English.

    2. We should bear in mind that the majority of the questions are set in English by English paper setters/question setters. Therefore, to understand the correct perspective of the question as also the mindset of the question setter (what answer is expected by the question setter because majority of the answers choices to a particular question are very similar) to arrive at the exact answer, it is important that the content of the question is understood absolutely clearly without any ambiguity.

    3. From a future perspective also, once you qualify the CIA exam, the whole world is your business place if you have proficiency in English as it is an internationally acknowledged language. Penetrating the business world with limited understanding of English will hinder your growth and business prospects. So better to work on it and improve it now rather than later.

    My native language is also not English. But I have had all my education ( both academic and professional) in English only. I did my CIA Part 1 and 2, both in first attempt in English and plan to appear for Part 3 in mid-February.

  • Diane says:

    I am juggling right now with the same issue. My mother tongue is French and cannot say fully bilingual but pretty decent. I bought the IIA Learning sytem because it was the only one available in French. Due to the fact that I am not working in audit field ( I always worked in Finance as a controller and have a degree in accounting) I was afraid of not understanding the terminology or definition in english. I have tried to pass the first exam with no luck. Close but not enough to pass. I have to say that I finished the exam 5 minutes in advance. Not good enough for me. French translation is not good and takes time to read ( longer phrases). For that reason and due to the fact that the IIA Learning system does not have enough practice questions as I woud like, I just bought the Gleim questions only. I am amazed to see that my understanding is better. I will do everything Gleim has to offer me and then will go back to IIA learning system but in english( we can switch language version from French to English and vice-versa). I will see how it goes and then will decide if my next exam will be in English or French. I would only hope that the CIA exam would offer the possibility to do the opposite of what they offer. Right now, I can scedule the exam in French and can switch to see the translation for each questions in English if I want. This takes more time.. I would have liked to schedule the exam in english and be able to see the transation in French when ever needed and would take less time because pretty sure that I would not swicth for all the questions. This would help many of us that our mother tongue is not english. When reading an article in the New-York time magazine, I must say it is difficult for me ( that confirms that I am not fully bilingual..) but if you have your CIA documentation in english, I would give it a try. Of course you can use a dictionnary as mentionned by my other collegues. To answer the question, I would give it a try in english even it it means not succed for one exam and having to repay for another one. From my experience if I dont try it in English, I will never know if I did not succed because of the language( and the bad translation) or because of my lack of understanding or studying or.. If I try in english and realize that I am missing a lot of words, then I will know for sure what to do in the future. Good luck to eveyone!

  • Mehmet says:

    i am totaly agree with Diane. As she mentioned that “I would have liked to schedule the exam in english and be able to see the transation in French when ever needed and would take less time because pretty sure that I would not swicth for all the questions. This would help many of us that our mother tongue is not english”. It would be more effective way for audit universe.
    But for now, there is no choise.
    I prepared by Wiley review book and now i am studying by test bank. I have not had any serious Language problem with these metarials. But, Ido not know that i will have any problem in real exam but i am worried about this issue.

  • Karla says:

    Hi colleagues from the hole world,

    My native language is Spanish and I’m studying with Gleim for part 1 and 2 in English.

    Many materials for the exam actually are available only in English, that’s why I decided to study in that language although I have to say that It was not easy for me (I’m intermediate English level), because I have to put and extra efford to really understand the content and the real meaning of the questions and answers.

    At first, it was a disadvantage for me, because I have had to read two or three times to understand the questions in the practice exams and therefore take an extra time of the expected minute to understand and answer each question.

    But as many practice as I take I have been learning new words and my time improving day by day because now they are familiar for me and my mind know exactly what it is.

    I took the exam part 1 in Spanish, but questions I was in doubt I put into English and believe me I could have spent two or three minutes trying to understand the question in Spanish but once I read the question in English It took me just few seconds to answer and I was really happy when I received my score saying PASS!!!

    The best wishes for all of you.

    • Mehmet says:

      Hi Karla,
      My condition is too much simililar with yours. So, you passed the exam in Spanish by reading English version in same time, correct?

      • Karla says:

        Hi Mehmet,

        Yes, I take the exam in my native language (Spanish) and my strategy was read the question and multiple choices one time (Spanish) and just in the cases that I wasn’t sure the real content of the choices (or the questions) inmediately I read it in English version.

        At last, It was an advantage for me because althougth you have to put an extra efford to read again it helps you to feel more comfortable with the choice selected.

        Believe me, sometimes when you read in English you can better understand the questions but my English level don’t allow me to take the entire exam in English.

        I hope, my advices help you. And yes, Afortunately I passed part 1 and in two months I’m going to take part 2 using the whole package from Gleim in English version.

  • Badryah Al Belooshi says:

    Dear All,

    In my point of view, English version is more sufficient to study


    Badryah Al Belooshi

  • Gökhan says:

    Mehmet is from my country as far as I can tell. In case of selecting the exam language in Turkish, you can read the questions both in Turkish and English. However, in this case it is not possible to read both versions of the questions to avoid losing time. I generally recommend to take the test in English because the study sources are in English. However, if he doesn’t see himself proficient in this situation, there may be a suggestion. TİDE (Turkish Internal Audit Institute) has prepared a website which contains Turkish translation of Gleim CIA sources. In this context, the Turkish source for Part 1 and Part 2 can be accessed from the “” web page. I hope that I understood the Mehmet’s question correctly and help as you expected ?

    • mehmet says:

      Hi Gokhan,
      Thanks for your reply. As mentioned i hv already prepared by Wiley materials ( they are all in English). Here we try to understand which way is the most effective to take exam in English or Local language.

  • Adriano CIA, CRMA, CCSA says:

    Hello everyone! I preferred to take the exam in the local language and alternated on more complex questions. Despite the poor translation in some cases, I felt more comfortable this way. I had the experience of performing the Iia CRMA exam in English because it does not have my local language (I passed) but as you said before, I felt that I lost a lot of time to understand each question and at the end of the exam I could not review almost anything. In short, it depends very much on the level of interpretation of each one. My tip is, if you still do not feel confident in your English reading, choose to do it in the local language and switch to complex questions if you feel that the translation does not make much sense. Best regards and good luck!

    Ps.: sorry my poor english^^

  • mohamed says:

    I think you should go through english & use your local language as a kind of helper

  • Edward says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    I would suggest to them that reviewing in English and taking the exam in English would be most beneficial to them because not only do they reduce the possibility of erroneous translations, but also they would improve their English language through better practice. In addition, it opens more doors in their future, like applying for international/global companies.

  • Sahil says:

    Hello Stephanie,

    A happy new year to you too. With regard to the first question i believe that the candidate should make a choice based on what language that is the most comfortable for him or her and the language that will be used at the workplace where the candidate envisages to work.

    For the second one i believe that platforms like yours should liase with the big 4s and top 50s in creating awareness that internal audit is not yet at its peak in most african countries as is in the western world hence the companies should come forward and take a stand to create awareness on the topic and i also believe that if they succeed in doing so it will be a panacea to corruption to an extent and also boost investor confidence to the emerging economic hub of africa.

  • Alexander says:

    Hi Stephanie,
    basically in my country (Italy) only the first part is available in Italian, the rest are only in English. Personally I have studied in a UK school and have no problem with English, however I have many friends who have been studying and taking the first part in Italian. They have told me that the translation is not good at all but it was a lot easier for them to grasp the CIA part 1 concepts in our mother tongue and did not have problems passing it from the first time.
    By the way did I mention that I passed the CIA part 3 in November 🙂

    • Stephanie says:

      Hi Alexander,
      Thanks a lot for your note. It is true that there isn’t a black-and-white answer on which version is better. It depends on our own background. It’s really helpful though to hear the personal experience of you and your friends.

      Wow, it’s awesome that you passed Part 3! What a great Christmas present!

  • Stephanie says:

    I am copy-and-pasting a related comment from Mitsuro Takeyama below.

    Hello Stephanie,

    Today I finally passed CIA Part3 on my 2nd try, and it was the final of all the three part for me!

    I took the exam in my native language, Japanese.
    I thought that it was the best choice for me due to my language skill, however there were some wrong translation in the questionnaire.
    So I recommend non-native test-taker also to refer to English original description sometimes, to click ” English” button.

    Thank you Stephanie, for your support!


  • Diane says:

    Dear all, In January, I could not decide if I was going to do the exam in english or french… see my comment above.
    Just want to tell you that I finally decided to go for english version only and I passed my exam! I will do for sure my other exam in english. Good luck on your side!

  • Leo Schmidli says:

    As time is no constraint in the tests I decided to take the exams in my local language, but answered about 80% of the questions in English only. Local language was for backup. The local translation helped me in identifying some definitely wrong answers due to bad translations.

  • Hosam says:

    I would like to attempt part 2 with the Arabic language to avoid the new syllabus is it a good move or not?

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