Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – where did it come from?
Most people who have learnt or are learning a language in a formal setting will be familiar with the Common European Framework of Reference; the scale of 6 levels ranging from beginner (A1) to proficient (C2). But where did it come from, how many languages is it applicable to, and why is it so popular? Read below to find out each level’s abilities, as well as its benefits and drawbacks.
The CEFR is an international standard for describing language ability which was put together by the Council of Europe in the 90s as an attempt to develop and scale descriptors of language proficiency. It applies to all languages in Europe, as well as some others, including Basque, Catalan, Mandarin, Welsh, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hebrew, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.
A1 – Beginner
At A1 level, a language learner can:
- Understand and use very basic expressions to satisfy concrete needs.
- Introduce themselves and ask others questions about personal details
- Interact in a simple way as long as the other person speaks slowly and clearly.
A2 – Elementary
At A2 level, a language learner can:
- Understand frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance areas such as shopping, family, employment, etc.
- Complete tasks that are routine and involve a direct exchange of information.
- Describe matters of immediate need in simple terms.
B1 – Intermediate
At B1 level, a language learner can:
- Understand matters regarding family, work, school or leisure-related topics.
- Deal with most travel situations in areas where the language is spoken.
- Produce simple texts on topics of personal interest.
- Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2 – Upper Intermediate
At B2 level, a language learner can:
- Understand the main ideas of a complex text such as a technical piece related to their field.
- Spontaneously interact without too much strain for either the learner or the native speaker.
- Produce a detailed text on a wide range of subjects.
C1 – Advanced
At C1 level, a language learner can:
- Understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations.
- Express ideas without too much searching.
- Effectively use the language for social, academic or professional situations.
- Create well-structured and detailed texts on complex topics.
C2 – Proficiency
At C2 level, a language learner can:
- Understand almost everything read or heard with ease.
- Summarize information from a variety of sources into a coherent presentation.
- Express themselves using precise meaning in complex scenarios.
The CEFR framework helped standardised the levels of language exams in different regions and is useful for employers, universities and schools. Many language teachers use the guidelines to help their students clarify what they need to work on and to set goals.
The CEFR initially faced criticism due to the breadth of each level. For instance, a student who has just reached B1 is still a long way behind a student who is almost but not quite at B2 level, despite both learners being considered B1.
Take the Accent English test to find out your level!
CEFR self-assessment grid – use this self-assessment grid to see how each level translates into writing, speaking, listening and reading skills.