Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

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The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries (for example, Colombia and the Philippines). It was put together by the Council of Europe as the main part of the project "Language Learning for European Citizenship" between 1989 and 1996. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe. In November 2001 a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the CEFR to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency.

Common reference levels

The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions which can be divided into six levels:

A  -Basic User

A1 Breakthrough or beginner

  • A beginner can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • A beginner 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.
  • A beginner can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 Waystage or elementary

  • An elementary student 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).
  • An elementary student can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • An elementary student can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

B - Independent User

B1 Threshold or intermediate

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

B2 Vantage or upper intermediate

  • An upper intermediate student can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • An upper intermediate student
  • An upper intermediate student can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation.
  • 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.

C - Proficient User

C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced

  • An advanced student can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
  • An advanced student can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • An advanced student can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • An advanced student can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

C2 Mastery or proficiency

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

The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level.

These descriptors can apply to any of the languages spoken in Europe, and there are translations in many languages.

The English College often uses an extra Independent User level of Pre Intermediate as in the first column of the chart. This is normal in language schools and helps the student through this difficult level.


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