The Common European Framework

The result of over twenty years of research, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR) is exactly what its title says it is. It was designed to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency. It is used in Europe and also in other continents and is now available in 39 languages. The Framework was developed by the Council of Europe as part of the project 'Language Learning for European Citizenship' between 1989 and 1996.

The CEFR gives a comprehensive description of what learners need in order to use a language for effective communication. In addition to this it defines levels of proficiency which allow learners' progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a lifelong basis. 

Action-oriented and Communicative

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages takes an “action-oriented” view of language use and learning. views users and learners of a language primarily as members of society who have tasks (not exclusively language-related) to accomplish in a given set of circumstances, in a specific environment and within a particular field of action. While speech acts occur within language activities, these activities form part of a wider social context which alone is able to give them their full meaning.

Six levels of foreign language proficiency

The Framework describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. It also defines three ‘plus’ levels (A2+, B1+, B2+). Based on empirical research and widespread consultation, this scheme makes it possible to compare tests and examinations across languages and national boundaries (see the section “The CEFR and language examinations: a toolkit”). It also provides a basis for recognising language qualifications and thus facilitating educational and occupational mobility. 

The Framework is much more than proficiency scales

The CEFR’s scales of foreign language proficiency are accompanied by a detailed analysis of communicative contexts, themes, tasks, and purposes as well as scaled descriptions of the competences on which we draw when we communicate. This helps to explain why the Framework is increasingly used in teacher education, the reform of foreign language curricula, and the development of teaching materials. In November 2001 a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the Framework to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency.

The Common European Framework levels

Level A - Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary

Level B - Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or pre-intermediate
B2 Vantage or intermediate

Level C - Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or upper intermediate
C2 Mastery or advanced 

The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking, and writing at each level. This simple 'Global Scale' makes it easier to communicate the system to non-specialist users and will also provide teachers and curriculum planners with orientation points.  

Common European Framework levels descriptors

C2 Mastery

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.

C1 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 texts on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.

B2 Vantage

Can understand the main ideas of complex texts on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with native speakers quite possibly without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed texts on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

B1 Threshold

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 while 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.

A2 Waystage

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.

A1 Breakthrough

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/her self 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.