CEFR Levels (EU Language Framework): Everything You Need To Know

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CEFR Levels (EU Language Framework): Everything You Need To Know

What is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages?

Let me explain it for you.

EU countries are experiencing a growing influx of migrants who are looking to establish themselves with permanent residency seeking new opportunities and experiences to enjoy different cultures.

Of the many challenges that come with settling in into a new area, one of the most common obstacles is the language barrier.

With the language barrier, you typically would need a translator to better understand how to properly communicate with the locals to enjoy the experience of what the native country has to offer.

What has evolved over the years to improve the gap that persists and help with standardization of testing is what’s called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR or CEFRL for short).


Looking for one of the most comprehensive online courses for studying major EU languages to pass CEFR?


What is CEFR and what do the levels mean?

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) was designed by the Council of Europe for standardization of language exams in different EU countries and is often used by language learners to measure their own ability/fluency.

CEFR is generally only meant to be applied to EU languages although it is increasingly adopted outside of Europe.

Originally, it was developed as a tool to further educational transparency and to allow for an easier transition when maneuvering between countries for you to work, study or establishing permanent residency in throughout the European Union.

Since its introduction in 2001, the CEFR grading has been translated and utilized in about 37 languages and has gained so much popularity that it’s used outside of the European bloc.

For example, the CEFR tool has established a strong presence in Latin American countries and also in parts of Asia.

The CEFR levels

A levels

A1 level

At level A1, one can be expected to be familiar with basic everyday concepts and phrases and will be able to introduce themselves along with being proficient enough to answer questions about personal details.

Some of these details include, where you live, people you know and things that you may have.

This level allows one to interact by speaking slowly in a clear tone in preparation of the next level.

A2 level

At the A2 level, one will be able to better understand progressive sentences and normal expressions of immediate relevance such as:

  • Personal information
  • Family information
  • Shopping concepts
  • Local geography

In addition, one may be able to have a simple exchange with others concerning routine matters that are familiar to both as the language relates to areas of immediate need.

This level improves confidence in the student that will result in enhanced motivation to improve their fluency.

B levels

B1 level

At this level, a student will be able to properly handle most situations that are likely to reveal more about themselves wherever the language is spoken.

They will also be able to describe events, dreams and ambitions.

In addition, before progressing to the next level, a student will be able to provide reasoning and to further explain in better detail their opinions and plans that they may have.

B2 level

The B2 level begins the introduction into both concrete and abstract areas as well as subject matter in their field of business.

The degree of fluency makes its introduction along with proactive interactions with native speakers with less stress and clear and precise communication. Spontaneous communication should be the norm at this level.

C levels

C1 level

The student at the C1 level has an advanced understanding on a wider variety of subject matter.

Communication is more detailed and demanding and the sentences should be longer. The understanding of the student receiving a native speaker’s communication should be more recognizable, and include the ability to properly express themselves with less of a struggle for proper expression.

The learned language should cover areas such as social and academic and also professional discourse.

C2 level

The C2 level requires a student to understand communication with ease.

The student has the ability to properly summarize information from not only verbal but also written communications.

They can reconstruct accounts in a much more cohesive manner and better position themselves for different levels of meaning in more difficult situations.

History and development of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

CEFR is used by language learners, polyglots and educators for assessment (including self-assessment) but it began its evolution in 1991 at a European symposium of language learning.

The concept began with establishing it as a ground rule for any language in its objectives, certifications and evaluations.

Through a joint effort by the Council of Europe and Federal Swiss authorities, both began, in a collaborative effort, with the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Directors of Education, the Migros Club Schools, the Eurocentres Foundation and the Interuniversity Commission for Applied Linguistics.

Through the success of their efforts, the first draft was published in December 1995.

In 1996, 3,000 copies were sent to respected institutions and experts in the field of language learning with the request to provide responses to questionnaires that would be under analysis to design the framework for the CEFR project.

The following year, a second draft was proposed and submitted for examination to what has been identified as the conference language learning for a new Europe, according to Strasburg, April 15-18, 1997.

In 1998, after undergoing several revisions, a second draft was distributed with the details of a pilot program with supporting documents that would be used as a guide.

Over the next two years, a final revision was submitted for publication, and in 2001, CEFR was officially launched at the start of the European Year of Languages.

In 2018, the Publication of the CEFR Companion Volume was introduced, and hence, CEFR is now available in over 40 languages.

How CEFR is used in employment and academia

Generally, most universities and colleges in Europe will require a minimum B2 level for entrance to a university course (though some institutions may be more flexible than others).

Employment obviously varies considerably depending on the type of position one’s applying for.

Many careers that require little or no customer interaction for example may accept applicants with A2 level proficiency.

On the other hand, specialized roles and jobs requiring high-level interaction with clients or customers may require C1-C2 proficiency.

Translation and interpreting (especially government roles) will most certainly require C2 level proficiency.

How to find out what your CEFR level is

There are several online tests (including free tests) that you can use to get a fairly good idea of your CEFR level.

However, you can only truly get an accurate CEFR grade by taking a physical test.

The reason I say this is that the CEFR covers all the main language skills which include speaking and listening (meaning that it’s practically impossible to self-assess your own conversation level).

If you segment your skills and focus on the literacy aspect (reading and writing), then you can absolutely self-assess this with an online test (I can’t personally verify the quality of any of the free ones but a quick Google search will bring up plenty of options – Deutsche Welle is a popular one for German).

For physical tests throughout Europe, these are some of the most respected and well-known:

Obviously, there are loads more depending on the country you’re in and language you’re learning.

The best way to find the most reputable CEFR test is to enquire with local universities as to what they accept.

Other international grading systems and how they compare

There are a variety of international grading systems that assess the proficiency of different languages very similar to the CEFR.

Three well-known, official grading systems are:

1. Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)

HSK is the official Chinese proficiency test that’s internationally recognized as a standard exam which evaluates fluency in the Chinese language.

The HSK consists of six levels to determine Chinese language proficiency.

2. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)

JLPT is an assessment tool that’s used to evaluate non-native speakers and their proficiency in the Japanese language.

The JLPT tests their aptitude in the language, with a focus on literacy and listening ability. There are 5 levels in total.

Read more about the JLPT.

3. The Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK)

TOPIK exists to assess non-native speaker’s abilities and proficiencies in the Korean language (see this post on TOPIK).

Typically, there are six opportunities in South Korea to take a test:

  • January
  • April
  • May
  • July
  • October
  • November

Outside Korea, there are many locations to take TOPIK (TOPIKGuide provides information on these).

CEFR is a respected framework for standardization and a useful self-assessment tool

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is not only an excellent way to learn a new language but useful for self-assessment (and therefore great progress indicator).

It’s worth reiterating that you can’t truly self-assess CEFR as it contains conversational segments.

You’ll find many online polyglots, bloggers, Redditors and so on claiming CEFR levels that they’ve never been tested in – you can safely assume in nearly all cases that it’s not true unless they have a certificate from an accredited institution.

But as a tool for giving you a general idea of where you’re at (at least in terms of literacy), it serves a useful purpose.

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Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Icelandic

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