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The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated as CEFR or CEF, 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). The findings from the pilot projects then informed the Manual revision project during 2008/09.
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. 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.
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.
The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions that can be divided into six levels; for each level, it describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing. These levels are:
|level group||level group name||level||level name||description|
|A||Basic User||A1||Breakthrough or beginner|
|A2||Way stage or elementary|
|B||Independent User||B1||Threshold or intermediate|
|B2||Vantage or upper intermediate|
|C||Proficient User||C1||Effective Operational Proficiency or advanced|
|C2||Mastery or proficiency|
These descriptors can apply to any of the languages spoken in Europe, and there are translations in many languages.
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.
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.
Multiple organizations have been created to serve as umbrella for language schools and certifications businesses that claim compatibility with the CEFR. For example, the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA) is an initiative funded by the European Community to promote the CEFR and best practices in delivering professional language trainings. The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) is a consortium of academic organizations that aims at standardizing assessment methods. EAQUALS (Evaluation and Accreditation of Quality in Language Services) is an international association of institutions and organisations involved in language education, active throughout Europe, and following the CEFR.
In France, the Ministry for Education has created a government-mandated certificate called CLES, which formalizes the use of the CEFR in French teaching programs in higher education.
In Germany, telc GmbH, a non-profit agency, is the federal government's exclusive partner for language tests taken at the end of the integration courses for migrants, following the CEFR standards.
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 determines the following ordering of the ACTFL and CEFR levels, in which higher levels are placed further right.
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, the equivalences between CEFR and ACTFL standards proposed in a 2005 paper by Erwin Tschirner of Universität Leipzig (also quoted by Martínez Baztán), and the equivalences of Buitrago (unpublished, 2006) as quoted in Martínez Baztán 2008.
|B2||IH, AL||AM||IM, IH|
|C1||AM, AH||AH||AL, AM, AH|
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.
This agrees with a table published by the American University Center of Provence giving the following correspondences:
|A1||0/0+||NL, NM, NH|
|B2||2/2+||AL, AM, AH|
A study by Buck, Papageorgiou and Platzek 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:
Canada increasingly uses the CEFR in a few domains. CEFR-compatible exams such as the DELF/DALF(French) and the DELE(Spanish) are administered. Larry Vandergrift of the University of Ottawa has proposed a Canadian equivalent to the CEFR in his report Proposal for a Common Framework of Reference for Languages for Canada published by Heritage Canada. This report contains a comparison of the CEFR to other standards in use in Canada and proposes an equivalence table.
The standards compared are:
The comparison table is as follows:
The resulting correspondence between the ILR and ACTFL scales disagrees with the generally accepted one. 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. Also, the ILR and NB OPS scales do not correspond despite the fact that the latter was modelled on the former.
A more recent document by Macdonald and Vandergrift estimates the following correspondences (for oral ability) between the Public Service Commission levels and the CEFR levels:
Language school may also propose their own equivalence tables. For example the Vancouver English Centre provides a comprehensive equivalence table between the various forms of the TOEFL test, the Cambridge exam, the VEC level system and the CEFR.
The table below summarizes the correspondences between CEFR levels and common language proficiency scales around the world.
|mul||UNIcert||UNIcert I||UNIcert II||UNIcert III||UNIcert IV|
|cat||Catalan Language Certificates||Bàsic-A2||Elemental-B1||Intermedi-B2||Suficiència-C1||Superior-C2|
|cmn||Chinese Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)||HSK Level 3||HSK Level 4||HSK Level 5||HSK Level 6||-||-|
|cmn||Test of Chinese As A Foreign Language (TOCFL) (Taiwan)||TOCFL Level 1||TOCFL Level 2||TOCFL Level 3||TOCFL Level 4||TOCFL Level 5|
|cym||WJEC Defnyddio'r Gymraeg||Mynediad (Entry)||Sylfaen (Foundation)||Canolradd (Intermediate)||-||Uwch (Advanced)||Hyfedredd (Proficiency)|
|cze||Czech Language Certificate Exam (CCE)||CCE-A1||CCE-A2||CCE-B1||CCE-B2||CCE-C1||-|
|dan||Prøve i Dansk (Danish Language Exam)||Prøve i Dansk 1||Prøve i Dansk 2||Prøve i Dansk 3||Studieprøven|
|deu||Goethe-Institut||Start Deutsch 1||Start Deutsch 2||Zertifikat Deutsch||Goethe-Zertifikat B2, ZDfB||Goethe-Zertifikat C1 - Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung (neu)||Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung, Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom|
|deu||TestDaF||TDN 3 — TDN 4||TDN 4 — TDN 5|
|ell||Πιστοποίηση Ελληνομάθειας (Certificate of Attainment in Modern Greek)||Α1|
(Πολύ Καλή Γνώση)
|eng||TrackTest||A1 (Beginner)||A2 (Elementary)||B1 (Pre-Intermediate)||B2 (Intermediate)||C1 (Upper-Intermediate)||C2 (Advanced)|
|eng||IELTS  ||2.0||3.0||3.5-4.5 (3.5 is the margin)||5.0-6.0 (5.0 is the margin)||6.5-7.5 (6.5 is the margin)||8.0-9.0 (8.0 is the margin)|
|eng||TOEIC||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)|
|eng||Duolingo English Test||?||?||2.6 to 5.5||5.6 to 8.5||8.6 to 10.0||?|
|eng||TOEFL (IBT)||8-12 (speaking)||13-18 (speaking), 11-16 (writing)||57 to 86||87 to 109||110 to 120||29-30 (reading)|
|eng||TOEFL Junior Standard||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)|
|eng||City and Guilds||Preliminary||Access||Achiever||Communicator||Expert||Mastery|
|eng||NQF (UK Only)||Entry Level||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Levels 4-6||Level 7-8|
|eng||Cambridge exam||KET (45 to 59)||PET (45 to 59) / KET Pass with Merit, Pass||FCE (45 to 59) / PET Pass with Merit, Pass / KET Pass with Distinction||CAE (45 to 59) / FCE grade B or C / PET Pass with Distinction||CPE (45 to 59) / CAE grade B or C / FCE grade A||CPE grade A, B or C / CAE grade A|
|eng||PTE General (formerly LTE)||Level A1||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5|
|eng||Trinity College London Integrated Skills in English (ISE) / Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) / Spoken English for Work (SEW)||GESE 2||ISE 0|
GESE 3, 4
GESE 5, 6
GESE 7, 8, 9
SEW 2, 3
GESE 10, 11
|eng||British General Qualifications||Foundation Tier GCSE||Higher Tier GCSE||GCE AS level / lower grade A-level||GCE A-Level (known as A2)|
|eus||IVAP-HAEE||HE 1 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 2 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 3 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 4 - IVAP-HAEE|
|eus||HABE||Lehenengo maila - HABE||Bigarren maila - HABE||Hirugarren maila - HABE||Laugarren maila - HABE|
|eus||EGA||Euskararen Gaitasun Agiria|
|fra||CIEP / Alliance française diplomas||TCF A1 / DELF A1||TCF A2 / DELF A2 / CEFP 1||TCF B1 / DELF B1 / CEFP 2||TCF B2 / DELF B2 / Diplôme de Langue||TCF C1 / DALF C1 / DSLCF||TCF C2 / DALF C2 / DHEF|
|glg||Certificado de lingua galega (CELGA)||CELGA 1||CELGA 2||CELGA 3||CELGA 4||CELGA 5|
|ita||CILS||A1||A2||Uno||Due||Tre||Quattro / DIT C2|
|ita||PLIDA (Dante Alighieri Society diplomas)||PLIDA A1||PLIDA A2||PLIDA B1||PLIDA B2||PLIDA C1||PLIDA C2|
|jpn||Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)||N5||N4||N3||N2||N1||-|
|kor||Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK)||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6|
|nld||CNaVT - Certificaat Nederlands als Vreemde Taal (Certificate of Dutch as Foreign Language)||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)|
|nld||Inburgeringsexamen (Integration examination for immigrants from outside the EU)||Pre-examination at embassy of home country||Examination in the Netherlands|
|nld||Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal NT2 (State Examination Dutch as second language NT2)||NT2 programma I||NT2 programma II|
|nor||Norskprøver||Norskprøve 1||Norskprøve 2||Norskprøve 3|
|por||CELPE-Bras||Intermediate||Intermediate||Superior Intermediate||Superior Intermediate||Advanced||Superior Advanced|
|rus||ТРКИ – Тест по русскому языку как иностранному (TORFL – Test of Russian as a Foreign Language)||ТЭУ Элементарный уровень||ТБУ Базовый уровень||ТРКИ-1 (I Cертификационный уровень) (1st Certificate level)||ТРКИ-2||ТРКИ-3||ТРКИ-4|
|spa||DELE||A1||A2||B1 (formerly "Inicial")||B2 (formerly "Intermedio")||C1||C2 (formerly "Superior")|
|ALTE level||Breakthrough level||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5|
|ukr ||UMI/ULF - Ukrainian as foreign language||UMI 1||UMI 2||UMI 3||UMI 4||UMI 5||UMI 6|
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.