In language teaching, different European countries used many different syllabuses and examinations - how to compare an exam after 5 years in Switzerland with an end-of-school certificate from Spain?
So the Council of Europe decided to create a Framework: these were descriptions of ability in a language – any European language.
Rather than use number of hours, or qualifications, it describes what people can actually do in the language. These abilities would range from knowing just some words, to knowing and using the language almost perfectly.
The "Global scales" have three levels, and each level is divided into two:
A: Basic User
- A1 Breakthrough or beginner
- A2 Waystage 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
For each level, the CEFR describes what a learner can do in reading, listening, speaking and writing.
For example, at the end of level A1, the learner:
- Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.*
Compare this with C2:
- Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.*
Against this Framework, any formal exam, certificate or syllabus can be matched. In other words, any aspect of learning, teaching or testing a language can – given time and effort – be put somewhere on this table.
To make this easier for learners to understand, they also created a "Self-assessment grid", where learners can compare what they can do - in reading, writing, speaking and listening - with the CEFR levels. For example, when speaking to people, which describes you best?
- I can take part effortlessly in any conversation or discussion and have a good familiarity with idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms. (C2)*
- I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible (B2)*
- I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I'm trying to say. (A1)*
Individual learners will progress differently depending on many factors, such as exposure to the language and culture, knowledge of other languages, motivation, and so on.
As a rough guide, Cambridge exams estimate 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.
The Global Scales
See the Global Scales in English below.
The Self-assessment grids
See "External links" below: English | Polish | over 30 other languages.
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 more complex situations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.