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Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

A reference instrument for transparency and consistency

The 'Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment' (CEFR) was designed to provide a transparent, consistent and comprehensive basis for:

  • the identification of the level of language classes,
  • the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and
  • the assessment of foreign language proficiency.

One of the basic principles of the CEFR is to express proficiency in a positive way, in terms of what the learner is able to do. Its definition of the different aspects of proficiency, expressed as "I can ...", provides a clear, common road map for learning. The CEFR describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2.

The CEFR was drawn up under the auspices of the Council of Europe in 2001 and adapted in 2018. It is used worldwide, not only in Europe, and is available in 40 languages.

Reference levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2

The CEFR describes foreign language skills; it is divided into six levels - A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2 - progressing from beginner level (A1) to advanced (C2).

CEFR_Tree structure in three general levels

To meet local needs and stay connected to the general system of the CEFR, the competence levels can be divided into intermediate or sub-levels.

The Framework has a flexible tree structure (e.g. A1 - A1.1, A1.2); institutions are therefore able to develop those branches which correspond to their situation down to a level of precision that suits them in order to situate and/or describe the levels used in their systems in terms of the CEFR.

Example of flexible tree structure:

CEFR_Flexible tree structure

More information

Levels of competence - global scale

This scale makes it possible to compare tests and examinations in different languages. The CEFR also provides a basis for the mutual recognition of language certification, thereby promoting educational and professional mobility.

Basic user
Breakthrough or beginner level
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Waystage or elementary level
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Independent user

Threshold or intermediate
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Vantage or upper intermediate
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Effective operational proficiency
Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

Self-assessment grid

To enable learners to situate their level of competence in the Framework, there is a self-assessment grid showing the main categories of language use at each of the 6 levels.

Categories of language use:

  • UNDERSTANDING: Listening / Reading
  • SPEAKING: Spoken interaction/ Spoken production

Consult the CEFR self-assessment grid.

Last update - 20.05.2022
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