Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

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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, 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.


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 among language teachers 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.

A preliminary version of the Manual for Relating Language Examinations to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was published in 2003. This draft version was piloted in a number of projects, which included linking a single test to the CEFR, linking suites of exams at different levels, and national studies by exam boards and research institutes. Practitioners and academics shared their experiences at a colloquium in Cambridge in 2007 and the pilot case studies and findings were published in Studies in Language Testing (SiLT).[2] The findings from the pilot projects then informed the Manual revision project during 2008/09.

Theoretical background[edit]

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.[3] 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 with 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.[4]

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[edit]

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

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

level grouplevel group namelevellevel namedescription
ABasic UserA1Breakthrough or beginner
  • 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.
A2Way stage or elementary
  • 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.
BIndependent UserB1Threshold 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 while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that 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.
B2Vantage 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.
CProficient UserC1Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced
  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas 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.
C2Mastery or proficiency
  • 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 suggests A1 is reached with about 75 hours of German tuition, A2.1 with about 150 hours, A2.2 with about 225 hours, B1.1 with about 300 hours, and B1.2 with about 400 hours.[5]

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.[6]

Alliance Française has stated students can expect to reach CEFR levels after the following cumulative hours of instruction: A1 60–100, A2 160–200, B1 360–400, B2 560–650, C1 810–950, C2 1060–1200.[7]

Equivalences of common tests to CEFR levels[edit]

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.[8]

Equivalence with common North American standards[edit]


Canada increasingly uses the CEFR. Exams such as the DELF/DALF(French) and the DELE(Spanish) are administered. 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.[48][49]

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)[50]
  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)[51]

The resulting correspondence between the ILR and ACTFL scales disagrees with the generally accepted one.[52] 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.[53] Also, the ILR and NB OPS scales do not correspond despite the fact that the latter was modelled on the former.[49]

mulUNIcertUNIcert IUNIcert IIUNIcert IIIUNIcert IV
catCatalan Language CertificatesBàsic-A2Elemental-B1Intermedi-B2Suficiència-C1Superior-C2
cmnChinese Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)[9]HSK Level 1HSK Level 2HSK Level 3HSK Level 4HSK Level 5HSK Level 6
cmnTest of Chinese As A Foreign Language (TOCFL) (Taiwan)TOCFL Level 1TOCFL Level 2TOCFL Level 3TOCFL Level 4TOCFL Level 5
cymWJEC Defnyddio'r Gymraeg[10]Mynediad (Entry)Sylfaen (Foundation)Canolradd (Intermediate)-Uwch (Advanced)Hyfedredd (Proficiency)
czeCzech Language Certificate Exam (CCE)[11]CCE-A1CCE-A2CCE-B1CCE-B2CCE-C1-
danPrøve i Dansk (Danish Language Exam)[12]Prøve i Dansk 1Prøve i Dansk 2Prøve i Dansk 3Studieprøven
deuGoethe-InstitutStart Deutsch 1Start Deutsch 2Zertifikat DeutschGoethe-Zertifikat B2, ZDfBGoethe-Zertifikat C1 - Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung (neu)Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung, Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom
deuTestDaF[13]TDN 3 — TDN 4[14]TDN 4 — TDN 5
ellΠιστοποίηση Ελληνομάθειας (Certificate of Attainment in Modern Greek)[15]Α1
(Στοιχειώδης Γνώση)
(Βασική Γνώση)
(Μέτρια Γνώση)
(Καλή Γνώση)
(Πολύ Καλή Γνώση)
(Άριστη Γνώση)
engAnglia ExaminationsPreliminaryElementaryIntermediateAdvancedProficiencyMasters
engTrackTest[16]A1 (Beginner)A2 (Elementary)B1 (Pre-Intermediate)B2 (Intermediate)C1 (Upper-Intermediate)C2 (Advanced)
engIELTS[17]4.0 to 5.0 (5.0 is borderline between B1 and B2)5.0 to 6.5 (5.0 is borderline between B1 and B2)7.0 to 8.0 (8.0 is borderline between C1 and C2)8.0 to 9.0 (8.0 is borderline between C1 and C2)
engTOEIC[18]60 - 105 (listening) 60 - 110 (reading)110 - 270 (listening) 115 - 270 (reading)275 - 395 (listening) 275 - 380 (reading)400 - 485 (listening) 385 - 450 (reading)490 - 495 (listening) 455 - 495 (reading)
engTOEFL (IBT)[19]8-12 (speaking)13-18 (speaking), 11-16 (writing)57 to 8687 to 109110 to 12029-30 (reading)
engTOEFL ITP[20]337460543627
engTOEFL Junior Standard[21]225-245 (listening), 210-245 (language form), 210-240 (reading)250-285 (listening), 250-275 (language form), 245-275 (reading)290-300 (listening), 280-300 (language form), 280-300 (reading)
engCity and Guilds[22]PreliminaryAccessAchieverCommunicatorExpertMastery
engNQF (UK Only)[23]Entry LevelLevel 1Level 2Level 3Levels 4-6Level 7-8
engCambridge exam[24][25]KET (45 to 59)[26]PET (45 to 59)[27] / KET Pass with Merit, PassFCE (45 to 59)[28] / PET Pass with Merit, Pass / KET Pass with Distinction[29]CAE (45 to 59) / FCE grade B or C / PET Pass with Distinction[30]CPE (45 to 59)[31] / CAE grade B or C / FCE grade A[32]CPE grade A, B or C[33] / CAE grade A[34]
engPTE Academic3043597685ƒ
engPTE General (formerly LTE)Level A1Level 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
engTrinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE) / Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) / Spoken English for Work (SEW)[36][37][38]GESE 2ISE 0
GESE 3, 4
GESE 5, 6
GESE 7, 8, 9
SEW 2, 3
GESE 10, 11
engBritish General Qualifications[39]Foundation Tier GCSEHigher Tier GCSEGCE AS level / lower grade A-levelGCE A-Level (known as A2)
eusHABELehenengo maila - HABEBigarren maila - HABEHirugarren maila - HABELaugarren maila - HABE
eusEGAEuskararen Gaitasun Agiria
fraCIEP / Alliance française diplomasTCF A1 / DELF A1TCF A2 / DELF A2 / CEFP 1TCF B1 / DELF B1 / CEFP 2TCF B2 / DELF B2 / Diplôme de LangueTCF C1 / DALF C1 / DSLCFTCF C2 / DALF C2 / DHEF
glgCertificado de lingua galega (CELGA)[40]CELGA 1CELGA 2CELGA 3CELGA 4CELGA 5
itaCILSA1A2UnoDueTreQuattro / DIT C2
itaPLIDA (Dante Alighieri Society diplomas)PLIDA A1PLIDA A2PLIDA B1PLIDA B2PLIDA C1PLIDA C2
korTest of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK)Level 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5Level 6
nldCNaVT - Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (Certificate of Dutch as Foreign Language)[41]Profile tourist and informal language proficiency (PTIT)Profile societal language proficiency (PMT)Profile professional language proficiency (PPT), Profile language proficiency higher education (PTHO)Profile academic language proficiency (PAT)
nldInburgeringsexamen (Integration examination for immigrants from outside the EU)Pre-examination at embassy of home countryExamination in the Netherlands
nldStaatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal NT2 (State Examination Dutch as second language NT2)[42]NT2 programma INT2 programma II
norNorskprøverNorskprøve 1Norskprøve 2Norskprøve 3
porCELPE-Bras[44]IntermediateIntermediateSuperior IntermediateSuperior IntermediateAdvancedSuperior Advanced
rusТРКИ – Тест по русскому языку как иностранному (TORFL – Test of Russian as a Foreign Language)[45]ТЭУ Элементарный уровеньТБУ Базовый уровеньТРКИ-1 (I Cертификационный уровень) (1st Certificate level)ТРКИ-2ТРКИ-3ТРКИ-4
spaDELE[46]A1A2B1 (formerly "Inicial")B2 (formerly "Intermedio")C1C2 (formerly "Superior")
ALTE levelBreakthrough levelLevel 1Level 2Level 3Level 4Level 5
ukr [47]UMI/ULF - Ukrainian as foreign languageUMI 1UMI 2UMI 3UMI 4UMI 5UMI 6
A10/0+/1Novice (Low/Mid/High)Unrated/0+/11/2A
A21+Intermediate (Low/Mid/High)1+/23/4B
B12Advanced Low2+5/6C
B22+Advanced Mid37/8
C13/3+Advanced High3+9/10

A more recent document by Macdonald and Vandergrift[54] estimates the following correspondences (for oral ability) between the Public Service Commission levels and the CEFR levels:


United States[edit]

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:

A 2008 statistical study by Alfonso Martínez Baztán of Universidad de Granada based on the performances of a group of subjects[55] determines the following ordering of the ACTFL and CEFR levels, in which higher levels are placed further right.[56]

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,[57] the equivalences between CEFR and ACTFL standards proposed in a 2005 paper by Erwin Tschirner of Universität Leipzig[58][59] (also quoted by Martínez Baztán[60]), and the equivalences of Buitrago (unpublished, 2006) as quoted in Martínez Baztán 2008.[61]


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.[62]

This agrees with a table published by the American University Center of Provence giving the following correspondences:[63]

A10/0+NL, NM, NH
B22/2+AL, AM, AH

A study by Buck, Papageorgiou and Platzek[64] 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:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Council of Europe (2011). Common European Framework of Reference for : Learning, Teaching, Assessment. Council of Europe. 
  2. ^ Studies in Language Testing Volume 33 book description. Retrieved 2013-10-23.
  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. 9. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ "Deutsche Welle". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  6. ^ "CEFR and ALTE Can Do statements". Retrieved 2011-12-05. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ de Jong, John H.A.L. "Unwarranted Claim about CEF Alignment of some International English Language Tests - Pearson" (PDF). Retrieved August 2011. 
  9. ^ The German Association of Chinese Teachers strongly opposes this official relation of HSK to CEFR, saying HSK3 is only equivalent to A1, HSK4=A2, HSK5=B1, HSK6=B2 PDF
  10. ^ "". 
  11. ^ "". 
  12. ^ "". 
  13. ^ "Beschreibung der TestDaF-Niveaustufen" (in German). 
  14. ^ The level TDN 4 cuts across B2 and C1, with the lower half of TDN 4 lies in B2 and upper half lies in C1. See Beschreibung der TestDaF-Niveaustufen
  15. ^ "Information for the Centre for the Greek Language and the certificate of attainment in Greek". Retrieved 2012-08-07. 
  16. ^ "TrackTest Language levels". TrackTest. Retrieved 2013-12-12. 
  17. ^ "IELTS - Common European Framework". IELTS. Retrieved 2013-01-04. 
  18. ^ "Mapping TOEIC and TOEIC Bridge on the Common European Framework Reference". ETS. Retrieved 2011-09-22. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ "Research". Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  21. ^ "Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)". Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  22. ^ Amega Web Technology. "City & Guilds English - The Common European Framework". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  23. ^ "Languages Ladder". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  24. ^ "Find an exam". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  25. ^ "Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  26. ^ "Understanding your Statement of Results – Cambridge English: Key". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  27. ^ "Understanding your Statement of Results – Cambridge English: Preliminary". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  28. ^ "Understanding your Statement of Results – Cambridge English: First". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  29. ^ "Cambridge English: Key (KET) - Results". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  30. ^ "Cambridge English: Preliminary (PET) - Results". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  31. ^ "Understanding your Statement of Results – Cambridge English: Proficiency". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  32. ^ "Cambridge English: First (FCE) – Results". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  33. ^ "Cambridge English: Proficiency (CPE) – Results". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  34. ^ "Cambridge English: Advanced (CAE) – Test results". Cambridge ESOL. Retrieved 2012-01-25. 
  35. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-05-16. 
  36. ^ "". 
  37. ^ "". 
  38. ^ "". 
  39. ^ "Open University Language Modules". The Open University (2011). Retrieved 2011-11-23. 
  40. ^
  41. ^ "Certificate of Dutch as a Foreign Language". CNaVT. Retrieved 2013-10-27. 
  42. ^ "Wat zijn de Staatsexamens NT2?" (in Dutch). College voor Examens. Retrieved 2013-03-26. 
  43. ^ "Centro de Avaliação de Português Língua Estrangeira". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  44. ^ "Certificado de Proficiência em Língua Portuguesa para Estrangeiros". Retrieved 2012-09-04. 
  45. ^ "TKRI Overview". Retrieved 2012-11-22. 
  46. ^ "Descripción – Diplomas de Español Como Lengua Extranjera". Instituto Cervantes. Retrieved 2011-08-19. 
  47. ^
  48. ^ "New Canadian Perspectives" (PDF). Canadian Heritage. Retrieved August 2011. 
  49. ^ a b "Proposal of a CFR for Canada". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  50. ^ "Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour / Éducation postsecondaire, Formation et Travail". Retrieved 2013-05-02. 
  51. ^ "Qualification Standards 3 / 3". 15 April 2013. Retrieved 2013-05-02. 
  52. ^ "Correspondence of proficiency scales". 21 March 1999. Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  53. ^ "ILR Scale". Retrieved 2011-08-14. 
  54. ^ Jennifer Macdonald; Larry Vandergrift (6-8 Feb). "The CEFR in Canada" (PowerPoint Presentation). Council of Europe. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  55. ^ 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]
  56. ^ 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. 
  57. ^ 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. 
  58. ^ Tschirner, Erwin (February 2005). "Das ACTFL OPI und der Europäische Referenzrahmen". 
  59. ^ [1][dead link]
  60. ^ 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. 
  61. ^ Baztán, Alfonso Martínez (2008). La evaluación oral: una equivalencia entre las guidelines de ACTFL y algunas escalas del MCER (doctoral thesis). Universidad de Granada. pp. 469–70. ISBN 978-84-338-4961-8. 
  62. ^ Untitled Page
  63. ^ "The correspondences are attributed by the center to an ACTFL administrator" (PDF). 
  64. ^ "PowerPoint Presentation" (PDF). Retrieved 2013-05-02. 
  65. ^ Level 2+ was the highest possible classification for listening items.

External links[edit]