Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment[1], abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries (for example 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.



In 1991 the Swiss Federal Authorities held an Intergovernmental Symposium in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, on "Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe: Objectives, Evaluation, Certification". This symposium found that a common European framework for languages was needed to improve the recognition of language qualifications and help teachers co-operate, eventually leading to improved communication and cooperation generally in Europe.

As a result of the symposium, the Swiss National Science Foundation set up a project to develop levels of proficiency, to lead on to the creation of a "European Language Portfolio" - certification in language ability which can be used across Europe.

Theoretical Background

The CEFR adopts an action oriented approach that, according to Carlos César Jiménez of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, can be traced back to theoretical proposals made by philosophers of language such as Ludwig Wittgenstein in the 1950s and sociolinguists such as Dell Hymes.[2] The approach regards language users as social agents who develop general and particular communicative competences while trying to achieve their everyday goals.

The CEFR divides general competences in knowledge (Descriptive knowledge), skills, and existential competence and the particular communicative competences in linguistic competence, sociolinguistic competence, and pragmatic competence. This division does not exactly match previously well-known notions of communicative competence, but correspondences among them can be made.[3]

General and particular communicative competences are developed by producing or receiving texts in various contexts under various conditions and constraints. These contexts correspond to various sectors of social life that the CEFR calls domains. Four broad domains are distinguished: educational, occupational, public, and personal.

A language user can develop various degrees of competence in each of these domains and to help describe them the CEFR has provided a set of Common Reference Levels.

Common Reference Levels

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

A Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary
B Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or intermediate
B2 Vantage or upper intermediate
C Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
C2 Mastery or proficiency

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

level description
A1 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.
A2 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.
B1 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 & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2 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.
C1 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.
C2 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 the most complex situations.

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

Deutsche Welle (sponsored by the German government) suggests A-1 is reached with about 75 hours of German tuition. A-2.1 about 150 hours. A-2.2 about 225 hours. B 1.1 about 300 hours. B 1.2 about 400 hours.[4]

Cambridge ESOL said that each level is reached with the following guided learning hours, A2, 180-200; B1, 350-400; B2, 500-600; C1, 700-800, and C2, 1,000-1,200.[5]

Equivalences of Common Tests to CEFR Levels

Language schools and certificate bodies evaluate their own equivalences against the framework. Differences of estimation have been found to exist, for example, with the same level on the PTE A, TOEFL, and IELTS, and is a cause of debate between test producers.[6]

CEFR level City and Guilds [7] NQF (UK Only)[8] Cambridge exam[9] CIEP / Alliance française diplomas DELE[10] Goethe Institute IELTS PTE Academic PTE General (formerly LTE) AMCAD EFL TOEIC [11] UNIcert (different languages) Versant YKI ALTE level TOEFL (IBT)[11] British General Qualifications [12]
C2 Mastery Level 7-8 CPE / CAE grade A [13] TCF C2 / DALF C2 / DHEF C2 (formerly "Superior") Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung, Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom IELTS 8.5-9.0 85 Level 5 C2 - UNIcert IV 79-80 6.taso Level 5 - -
C1 Expert Levels 4-6 CAE, FCE grade A[14] TCF C1 / DALF C1 / DSLCF C1 Goethe-Zertifikat C1 IELTS 6.5-8.0 76 Level 4 C1 490 - 495 points (listening) UNIcert III 69-78 5.taso Level 4 110-120 -
B2 Communicator Level 3 FCE TCF B2 / DELF B2 / Diplôme de Langue B2 (formerly "Intermedio") Goethe-Zertifikat B2, ZDfB IELTS 5.0-6.0 59 Level 3 B2 785 - 990 points UNIcert II 58-68 4.taso Level 3 87-109 AS/A/AEA
B1 Achiever Level 2 PET TCF B1 / DELF B1 / CEFP 2 B1 (formerly "Inicial") Zertifikat Deutsch IELTS 4.0-4.5 43 Level 2 B1 550 - 780 points UNIcert I 47-57 3.taso Level 2 57-86 Higher GCSE
A2 Access Level 1 KET TCF A2 / DELF A2 / CEFP 1 A2 Start Deutsch 2 30 Level 1 A2 225 - 545 points 36-46 2.taso Level 1 - Foundation GCSE
A1 Preliminary Entry Level no scored TCF A1 / DELF A1 A1 Start Deutsch 1 Level A1 A1

120 - 220 points 26-35 1.taso Breakthrough level - -

Equivalence with common North American standards


The following table establishes approximate equivalences between the CEFR and some Canadian and U.S. standards. It is based on the tentative "preliminary alignment tables of other language frameworks with the CEFR" in the report Proposal for a Common Framework of Reference for Languages for Canada by Larry Vandergrift of the University of Ottawa, published by Heritage Canada.[15][16]

The standards compared are:

  1. The CEFR itself
  2. Interagency Language Roundtable Scale (ILR, United States)
  3. American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages Proficiency Guidelines (ACTFL)
  4. New Brunswick Oral Proficiency Scale (NB OPS, English and French only) [4]
  5. Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB, English and French only)
  6. Public Service Commission of Canada Second Official Language Proficiency Levels (PSC, English and French only) [5] [17]

The resulting correspondence between the ILR and ACTFL scales disagrees with the generally accepted one.[18] The ACTFL standards were developed so that Novice, Intermediate, Advanced and Superior would correspond to 0/0+, 1/1+, 2/2+ and 3/3+, respectively on the ILR scale.[19] Also, the ILR and NB OPS scales do not correspond despite the fact that the latter was modelled on the former.[16]

A1 0/0+/1 Novice (Low/Mid/High) Unrated/0+/1 1/2
A2 1+ Intermediate (Low/Mid/High) 1+/2 3/4 A
B1 2 Advanced Low 2+ 5/6
B2 2+ Advanced Mid 3 7/8 B
C1 3/3+ Advanced High 3+ 9/10 C
C2 4 Superior 4 11/12

United States

Other work has addressed correspondence with the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines and the United States ILR scale specifically.

For convenience, the following abbreviations will be used for the ACTFL levels:

  • NL/NM/NH — Novice Low/Mid/High
  • IL/IM/IH — Intermediate Low/Mid/High
  • AL/AM/AH — Advanced Low/Mid/High
  • S — Superior
  • D — "Distinguished" (a name sometimes used for levels 4 and 4+ of the ILR scale instead including them within "Superior")

A 2008 statistical study by Alfonso Martínez Baztán of Universidad de Granada based on the performances of a group of subjects[20] determines the following ordering of the ACTFL and CEFR levels, in which higher levels are placed further right.[21]

NL___NM__A1___NH___A2/IL_____IM__B1____IH____B2 _AL____ AM__C1___AH___C2__S_

The following table summarizes the results of Martínez Baztán,[22] the equivalences between CEFR and ACTFL standards proposed in a 2005 paper by Erwin Tschirner of Universität Leipzig[23] (also quoted by Martínez Baztán[24]), and the equivalences of Buitrago (unpublished, 2006) as quoted in Martínez Baztán 2008.[25]

CEFR Martínez Tschirner Buitrago
<A1 NL, NM
C2 AH, S S S

In a panel discussion at the Osaka University of Foreign Studies, one of the coauthors of the CEFR, Brian North, stated that a "sensible hypothesis" would be for C2 to correspond to "Distinguished," C1 to "Superior," B2 to "Advanced-mid," and B1 to "Intermediate-high" in the ACTFL system.[26]

This agrees with a table published by the American University Center of Provence giving the following correspondences:[27]

A1 0/0+ NL, NM, NH
A2 1 IL, IM
B1 1+ IH
B2 2/2+ AL, AM, AH
C1 3/3+ S
C2 4/4+ D

A study by Buck, Papageorgiou and Platzek[28] addresses the correspondence between the difficulty of test items under the CEFR and ILR standards. The most common ILR levels for items of given CEFR difficulty were as follows:

  • Reading — A1: 1, A2: 1, B1: 1+, B2: 2+, C1: 3
  • Listening — A1: 0+/1, A2: 1, B1: 1+, B2: 2, C1: 2+ (at least)[29]

See also


  1. ^ Council of Europe (2011). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Council of Europe. 
  2. ^ Jimenez, Carlos César (2011). El Marco Europeo Común de Referencia para las Lenguas y la comprensión teórica del conocimiento del lenguaje: exploración de una normatividad flexible para emprender acciones educativas (essay). Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. p. 9. 
  3. ^ Jimenez, Carlos César (2011). El Marco Europeo Común de Referencia para las Lenguas y la comprensión teórica del conocimiento del lenguaje: exploración de una normatividad flexible para emprender acciones educativas (Essay). Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. p. 11. 
  4. ^ "Deutsche Welle". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  5. ^ "Can Do statements and the CEFR". Retrieved 2011-09-26. 
  6. ^ de Jong, John H.A.L,Unwarranted Claim about CEF Alignment of some International English Language Tests, Pearson. Retrieved August 2011
  7. ^ Amega Web Technology. "City & Guilds English - The Common European Framework". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  8. ^ "Languages Ladder". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  9. ^ "Find an exam". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  10. ^ "Descripción – Diplomas de Español Como Lengua Extranjera". Instituto Cervantes. Retrieved 2011-08-19. 
  11. ^ a b [ "Mapping TOEFL iBT, TOEIC and TOEIC Bridge on the Common European Framework Reference"]. ETS. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  12. ^ [ "The Languages Ladder Steps to Success"]. Teachernet (2007). Retrieved 2011-10-10. 
  13. ^ "Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) – Advanced English language exam". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  14. ^ "Cambridge English: First (FCE) – Upper-intermediate English language exam". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  15. ^ New Canadian Perspectives, Canadian Heritage. Retrieved August 2011
  16. ^ a b "Proposal of a CFR for Canada". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  17. ^ Jennifer Macdonald; Larry Vandergrift (Feb 6-8). "The CEFR in Canada" (PowerPoint Presentation). Council of Europe. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  18. ^ "Correspondence of proficiency scales". 1999-03-21. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  19. ^ "ILR Scale". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  20. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. [page needed]
  21. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. p. 459. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. 
  22. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. p. 461. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. 
  23. ^ Das ACTFL OPI und der Europäische Referenzrahmen, Erwin Tschirner, February 2005 in the journal Babylonia [1][2]
  24. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. p. 468. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. 
  25. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. p. 469–70. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. 
  26. ^ Untitled Page
  27. ^ [3] The correspondences are attributed by the center to "an ACTFL administrator."
  28. ^ PowerPoint Presentation
  29. ^ Level 2+ was the highest possible classification for listening items.

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