Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated in English as CEFR or CEF or CEFRL, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries. The CEFR is also intended to make it easier for educational institutions and employers to evaluate the language qualifications of candidates to education admission or employment. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing that applies to all languages in Europe.
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. 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 (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency.
An intergovernmental symposium in 1991 titled "Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe: Objectives, Evaluation, Certification" held by the Swiss Federal Authorities in the Swiss municipality of Rüschlikon found the need for a common European framework for languages to improve the recognition of language qualifications and help teachers co-operate. A project followed to develop language-level classifications for certification to be recognized across 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 2008–2009.
The CEFR divides general competences in 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.
The CEFR has three principal dimensions: language activities, the domains in which the language activities occur, and the competencies on which a person draws when they engage in them.
The CEFR distinguishes among four kinds of language activities: reception (listening and reading), production (spoken and written), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (translating and interpreting).
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. These largely correspond to register.
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 six Common Reference Levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2).
Common reference levels
The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions that can each be further divided into two levels; for each level, it describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing. The following table indicates these levels. A more thorough description of each level, with criteria for listening, reading, speaking, and writing, is available on the Internet.
Breakthrough or beginner
Waystage or elementary
Threshold or intermediate
Vantage or upper intermediate
Effective operational proficiency or advanced
Mastery or proficiency
These descriptors can apply to any of the languages spoken in Europe, and there are translations in many languages.
Relationship with duration of learning process
Educational bodies for various languages have offered estimates for the amount of study needed to reach levels in the relevant language.
|Body||Language||Cumulative hours of study to reach level||Ref|
|Cambridge English Language Assessment||English||180–200||350–400||500–600||700–800||1,000–1,200|||
|Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge||Irish||80–100||160–200||350–400||500–600||1,000+||1,500+|||
Certification and teaching ecosystem enabled by the CEFR
Multiple organizations have been created to serve as an umbrella for language schools and certification 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 training. 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 organizations 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 language teaching programs in French higher education institutions.
In Germany, Telc, 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.
Comparisons between CEFR and other scales
It has been suggested that this section be split out into another article titled Comparisons of language assessment scales with CEFR scale. (Discuss) (September 2021)
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 of including them within Superior)[tone]
The following table summarizes various proposed equivalences between CEFR and ACTFL:
|CEFR||Correspondance with ACTFL|
|Martínez, 2008||Tschirner, 2005||Buitrago, 2006|
|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|
|A1||0/1||NL, NM, NH|
|B2||3/3+||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:
- 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)
Canada increasingly uses the CEFR in a few domains. CEFR-compatible exams such as the DELF/DALF (French) and the DELE (Spanish) are administered. Universities increasingly structure their courses around the CEFR levels. Larry Vandergrift of the University of Ottawa has proposed Canadian adoption of 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.
|CEFR||ILR||ACTFL||NB OPS||CLB||PSC PSC|
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 schools 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.
|Multiple||European Consortium for the Certificate of Attainment in Modern Languages. ECL exams can be taken in English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Bulgarian, Serbian, Slovak, Russian, Spanish, Croatian, Czech, and Hebrew.||-||A2||B1||B2||C1||-|
|UNIcert||UNIcert I||UNIcert II||UNIcert III||UNIcert IV|
|ALTE level||Breakthrough level||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5|
|Basque||IVAP-HAEE||HE 1 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 2 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 3 - IVAP-HAEE||HE 4 - IVAP-HAEE|
|HABE||Lehenengo maila – HABE||Bigarren maila – HABE||Hirugarren maila – HABE||Laugarren maila – HABE|
|EGA||Euskararen Gaitasun Agiria|
|Catalan||Catalan Language Certificates||Bàsic-A2||Elemental-B1||Intermedi-B2||Suficiència-C1||Superior-C2|
|Mandarin Chinese||Chinese Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK)
(Levels according to French and German associations)
|HSK Level 1
HSK Level 2
|HSK Level 3
HSK Level 4
|HSK Level 4
HSK Level 5
|HSK Level 5
HSK Level 6
|HSK Level 6|
|Test of Chinese As A Foreign Language (TOCFL) (Taiwan)||TOCFL Level 1||TOCFL Level 2||TOCFL Level 3||TOCFL Level 4||TOCFL Level 5||TOCFL Level 6|
|Welsh||WJEC Defnyddio'r Gymraeg||Mynediad (Entry)||Sylfaen (Foundation)||Canolradd (Intermediate)||Uwch (Advanced)||-||-|
|Czech||Czech Language Certificate Exam (CCE)||CCE-A1||CCE-A2||CCE-B1||CCE-B2||CCE-C1||-|
|Danish||Prøve i Dansk (Danish Language Exam)||Danskprøve A1||Prøve i Dansk 1||Prøve i Dansk 2||Prøve i Dansk 3||Studieprøven|
|Dutch||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)|
|Inburgeringsexamen (Integration examination for immigrants from outside the EU)||Pre-examination at embassy of home country||Examination in the Netherlands|
|Staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal NT2 (State Examination Dutch as second language NT2)||NT2 programma I||NT2 programma II|
|TrackTest||A1 (Beginner)||A2 (Elementary)||B1 (Pre-Intermediate)||B2 (Intermediate)||C1 (Upper-Intermediate)||C2 (Advanced)|
|TOELS: Wheebox Test of English Language Skills||11 (Beginner)||20 (Pre-Intermediate)||25 (Intermediate)||30 (Graduate)||33 (Advanced)|
|IELTS||2.0||3.0||3.5-5.5 (3.5 is the margin)||5.5-7 (5.5 is the margin)||7-8 (7 is the margin)||8.0-9.0 (8.0 is the margin)|
|TOEIC Listening & Reading Test||60-105 listening
|TOEIC Speaking & Writing Test||50-80 speaking
|Speexx Language Assessment Center||10-19||20-29||30-49||50-79||80-89||90-100|
|Duolingo English Test ||10-20||25-55||60-85||90-115||120-140||145-160|
|Password English Tests||2.0 - 2.5||3.0 - 3.5||4.0 - 5.0||5.5 - 6.5||7.0 or above|
|TOEFL (IBT)||10-15 (speaking)
|TOEFL Junior Standard||225-245 (listening)
210-245 (language form)
250-275 (language form)
280-300 (language form)
|EF Standard English Test||1-30||31-40||41-50||51-60||61-70||71-100|
|City and Guilds||Preliminary||Access||Achiever||Communicator||Expert||Mastery|
|RQF (UK Only)||Entry Level||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Levels 4-6||Level 7-8|
|Cambridge exam||A2 Key (45 to 69)||B1 Preliminary (45 to 69) / A2 Key Pass, Pass with Merit||B2 First (140 to 159) / B1 Preliminary Pass, Pass with Merit / A2 Key Pass with Distinction||C1 Advanced (160 to 179) / B2 First grade B or C / B1 Preliminary Pass with Distinction||C2 Proficiency (180 to 199) / C1 Advanced grade B or C / B2 First grade A (180 to 190)||200-230|
|Michigan exam||MET Go! Basic User (CEFR A1) ||Michigan English Test (MET) (0 to 39) / MET Go! Elementary User (CEFR A2) ||Michigan English Test (MET) (40 to 52) / MET Go! Intermediate User (CEFR B1) ||ECCE / Michigan English Test (MET) (53 to 63)||Michigan English Test (MET) (64 to 80)||ECPE|
|LanguageCert International ESOL - Listening, Reading, Writing
LanguageCert International ESOL - Speaking
(Entry Level 1)
(Entry Level 2)
(Entry Level 3)
|PTE General (formerly LTE)||Level A1||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5|
|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
|ISE IV |
|British General Qualifications||GCSE Foundation Tier||GCSE Higher Tier||GCE AS Level and lower grade A-Level||GCE A-Level|
|Learning Resource Network||CEF A1||CEF A2||CEF B1||CEF B2||CEF C1||CEF C2|
|Eiken (Japanese test of English)||5,4,3||Pre-2||2||Pre-1||1|
|Esperanto||Esperanto KER History  (Esperanto)||A1||A2||B1||B2||C1||C2|
|French||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|
|Speexx Language Assessment Center||10-19||20-29||30-49||50-79||80-89||90-100|
|Galician||Certificado de lingua galega (CELGA)||CELGA 1||CELGA 2||CELGA 3||CELGA 4||CELGA 5|
Start Deutsch 1
Start Deutsch 2
Zertifikat Deutsch (ZD)
Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf (ZDfB)
|Goethe-Zertifikat C2 - Großes Deutsches Sprachdiplom (GDS) |
Kleines Deutsches Sprachdiplom
|Speexx Language Assessment Center||10-19||20-29||30-49||50-79||80-89||90-100|
|Österreichisches Sprachdiplom Deutsch||A1 ÖSD Zertifikat A1 (ÖSD ZA1)||A2 ÖSD Zertifikat A2 (ÖSD ZA2)||B1 ÖSD Zertifikat Deutsch Österreich (ÖSD B1 ZDÖ); B1 ÖSD Zertifikat B1 (ZB1)||B2 ÖSD Zertifikat B2 (ÖSD ZB2)||C1 ÖSD Zertifikat C1 (ÖSD ZC1)||C2 ÖSD Zertifikat C2 (ÖSD ZC2); C2 ÖSD Zertifikat C2 / Wirtschaftssprache Deutsch (ÖSD ZC2 / WD)|
|Deutsch als Fremdsprache in der Wirtschaft (WiDaF)||-||0-246||247-495||496-735||736-897||898-990|
|TestDaF||TDN 3—TDN 4||TDN 4—TDN 5|
|Greek||Πιστοποίηση Ελληνομάθειας (Certificate of Attainment in Modern Greek)||Α1
(Πολύ Καλή Γνώση)
|Hebrew||Ulpan (as codified by the Rothberg International School) ||A1.1 Aleph Beginner
A1.2 Aleph Advanced
|A2 Bet||B1 Gimel||B2 Dalet||C1.1 Hé
|C2 Native Speaker|
|Icelandic||Íslenskupróf vegna umsóknar um íslenskan ríkisborgararétt||Pass|
|Speexx Language Assessment Center||10-19||20-29||30-49||50-79||80-89||90-100|
|CILS||A1||A2||Uno||Due||Tre||Quattro / DIT C2|
|PLIDA (Dante Alighieri Society diplomas)||PLIDA A1||PLIDA A2||PLIDA B1||PLIDA B2||PLIDA C1||PLIDA C2|
|Japanese||Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)||No clear relation.[note 1]|
|Japan Foundation Test for Basic Japanese (JFT-Basic)||Pass|
|Certificate of Japanese as a Foreign Language (J-cert)||N/A||A2.1 A2.2||B1||B2||C1||C2|
|Korean||Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK)||Level 1||Level 2||Level 3||Level 4||Level 5||Level 6|
|Norwegian||Norskprøver||Norskprøve 1||Norskprøve 2||Norskprøve 3||Bergenstest - Bestått||Bergenstest - Godt bestått|
|Polish||Egzaminy Certyfikatowe z Języka Polskiego jako Obcego||B1 (podstawowy)||B2 (średni ogólny)||C2 (zaawansowany)|
|CELPE-Bras||Intermediate||Intermediate||Superior Intermediate||Superior Intermediate||Advanced||Superior Advanced|
|Russian||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|
|Spanish||DELE||A1||A2||B1 (formerly "Inicial")||B2 (formerly "Intermedio")||C1||C2 (formerly "Superior")|
|Speexx Language Assessment Center||10-19||20-29||30-49||50-79||80-89||90-100|
|LanguageCert USAL esPro BULATS||10-19||20-39||40-59||60-74||75-89||90-100|
|Turkish||TYS||A1||A2||B1||B2 (55-70%)||C1 (71-88%)||C2 (89-100%)|
|Luxembourgish||Institut National des Langues||A2||B1||B2||C1|
|Ukrainian||UMI/ULF - Ukrainian as foreign language||UMI 1||UMI 2||UMI 3||UMI 4||UMI 5||UMI 6|
Difficulty in aligning the CEFR with teaching programmes
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.
Non-Western areas and languages
The CEFR initially develop to ease human mobility and economic growth within the highly multilingual European Union has since influenced and been borrowed by various other areas.
In Japan, the adoption of CEFR have been encouraged by academics, institutional actors (MEXT), politicians and business associations, but also by learners themselves. Adoption in Malaysia has also been documented. In Vietnam, adoption of the CEFR have been connected to (1) recent changes in English language policy, efforts to reform higher education, oriented toward economic opportunities and tendency for administrators to look outwards for domestic solutions.
Noriyuki (2009) observes the "mechanical" reuse of the European framework and concepts by Japanese teachers of mostly Western languages, missing the recontextualization part: the need to adapt the conceptual vocabulary to the local to the local language, and to adapt the framework to the local public, its language and practices.
Around 2005, the Osaka University of Foreign Studies developed a CEFR-inspired project for its 25 foreign languages, with a transparent and common evaluation approach. While major languages had for long well defined tools for Japanese public, able to guide teachers teaching and assessments in a methodic war, this project pushed the adoption of similar practices to smaller languages, as requested by students.
In late 2006–2010, the Keio University lead an ambitious CEFR-inspired "Action Oriented Plurilingual Language Learning Project" to favor multi-campus and inter-languages cooperation in creating teaching materials and assessments systems from child to university levels. Since 2015, the "Research on Plurilinguistic and Pluricultural Skill Development in Integrated Foreign Language Education" has followed up.
The framework have been translated in 2008 into Chinese. In 2011, French sinologist Joël Bellassen suggests the CEFR together with its metalanguage could and should be adapted to distant languages such as Chinese, with the necessity to adapt and extend with relevant concepts proper to the new language and its learners. Various efforts on adaptation to Chinese language have been lead.
In Japan, East-Asian languages teaching are largely ignored due to the Japanese society being mainly oriented toward Western languages teaching, missing a valuable opportunity for Japanese to directly reach neighboring countries and for smaller languages to solidify their languages' teaching.
The CEFR methodology has been extended to describe and evaluate the proficiency of users of programming languages, when the programming activity is considered as a language activity.
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