Doctors could also face language checks to register with the GMC from 2014, or sanctions if language problems arise after registration.
The NHS Commissioning Board (NHSCB) has begun work to move all GPs in England to the national performers list, which will replace PCT lists in April.
Doctors moved to the national list will not face retrospective checks and new applicants face a similar process to current PCT checks, an NHSCB spokeswoman said. But she said the single national list would 'give added assurance of equally robust standards throughout England'.
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey said: 'It is something we have called for before. It should ensure consistency across the country.'
The DH said that to be accepted on the list 'every GP will have to demonstrate their ability to speak English'.
Ministers have been under pressure to toughen up checks on doctors since German locum Dr Daniel Ubani accidentally killed a patient on his first UK shift in 2008.
Overseas doctors from outside the European Union (EU) face language tests under current arrangements, but EU law means the medical qualifications of doctors from other countries in the European Economic Area must be recognised in the UK.
But from 2014, the government plans to enable the GMC to check doctors' language 'where legitimate concerns arise about a doctor's ability to communicate effectively during the registration process'.
It also plans a 'category of impairment relating to deficient language skills' that would allow the GMC to investigate and apply sanctions if concerns arise about a doctor.
Responsible officers will have an explicit duty to ensure any doctor employed in a hospital or GP practice can speak the necessary level of English to perform their job in a safe and competent manner before they can treat patients, the DH said.
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: 'Patients should be able to understand and be understood by their doctor if we are to give them the best care.' A consultation on the plans will be launched later this year.
GMC chief executive Niall Dickson said the move was 'good news for patients'.
The government is working on a revision of EU law so tougher checks can be applied to all European doctors who want to work in the UK. The DH said it hopes to agree on a revised directive this autumn.