Understanding the different CEFR language levels

When you undertake the process of evaluating your language skills or the proficiency in a certain language of an employee, student, etc., it is not always easy to fully understand the evaluation system and especially the classification of the different levels. Bright Language explains everything to you!

While for a long time the universal method of determining a person’s level of language skills relied on the generic “read, speak, write” criteria, this method has now evolved into a more comprehensive system.

It is now necessary to determine to what extent an individual is able to understand a text, what is his ability to express himself in a language, the difficulties he might encounter (searching for his words) and finally what is his ability to write in this language while respecting grammatical and spelling rules.

Very quickly the need to harmonize and standardize language assessment methods across the world became essential.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The Council of Europe therefore designed and implemented in 2001 the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, abbreviated “CEFR”. This document defines the different levels of proficiency in a foreign language.

The CEFR classifies know-how in different skill areas that are likely to promote educational and professional mobility. The aim of this new classification method is therefore to rethink the objectives and methods of teaching languages.

It should be emphasized that this is by no means a textbook or a language repository but a tool aimed at identifying and defining the theoretical facets of language learning. Therefore, it was conceived as a tool which provides a common basis for the design of programs, diplomas and certificates.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages has therefore made it possible to identify three main levels of linguistic skills which are subdivided into two sub-levels each, ranging from the elementary user, the intermediate user to the experienced user who are respectively level A , level B and level C.

So we have:

– Level A “the basic user”: it is subdivided into three assessment sub-levels, one unofficial and two official.

  • Level A0: this level is currently unofficial as it is not recognized by the CEFR. It refers to a rather rare case of individuals not having knowledge of the existence of a language. So they never learned it and never used it, even for simple everyday expressions like “hello or goodbye”. 
  • Level A1: also called introductory or discovery level. At this level, the user is able to use simple colloquialisms, such as “hello, goodbye, thank you”, he/she can also describe him/herself (name, where he/she lives etc.). Here the conversation is not yet fluid. It requires articulating words and speaking slowly around simple topics. The same goes for reading.
  • A2 level: also called intermediate or follow-up level. Here, the user is already able to write simple texts like letters,  he/she is able to use more complex expressions related to his/her direct environment, such as the training  he/she is taking, what  he/she has ‘habit of doing, etc. He/she is also able to read texts, but these must be simple, for example leaflets, posters. He/she can communicate with an interlocutor by exchanging simple and precise information and is also able to understand a conversation even if he/she does not have the right words to prolong it.

– Level B “independent user” which has two levels:

  • Level B1: it is also called the threshold level. At this level, the user is able to have a long dialogue with an interlocutor even if he/she can sometimes find his/her words, he/she is able, using a common register, to tell a short story, an experience that he/she experienced and understand written texts. Understanding either radio or television broadcasts becomes easier, but only when it comes to topics that concern him/her such as current affairs …
  • Level B2: at this stage, the user has reached an intermediate level. That is to say, he/she is able to dialogue spontaneously and with ease in front of a speaker native to the target language. He/she speaks easily on a wide range of topics and can provide a more personal and relevant opinion. Complex texts do not pose a problem for him/her because he/she is able to read them and understand the general idea (articles, magazine, others ..). The same goes for films and lectures that are a bit more technical which he/she can follow more easily. His/her writing is not limited to simple letters and the user is even able to write detailed reports related to his/her field of activity.

Level C “the experienced user“: it is also divided into two levels.

  • Level C1: the user is autonomous at this linguistic level because he/she is able to easily read and understand complex literary texts and to note, for example, the register used, the semantic style used as well as an implicit content. As a result, he/she is able to express him/herself in a sustained register adapted for his/her professional needs in particular. He/she is able to enjoy movies and shows effortlessly. Participate in debates by showing mastery on a subject.
  • Level C2: this is the expert level. Here the user has a perfect command of the target language. Its ability to restore the facts and arguments by summarizing them in a coherent way, is done in a natural way. He/she effortlessly reads all types of texts and is able to distinguish the nuances of the senses. He/she naturally participates in any type of debate whether they are in his/her field or not and is able to derive a precise and concise argument from them.

Language tests in practice

You now know how the assessment structure defines a candidate’s language level and, above all, according to what criteria. In practical terms, the language tests can be carried out in three different ways:

  • at approved centers
  • online
  • on the premises of a company.

At Bright Language, all of our tests follow the CEFR’s linguistic framework, but to deeply assess a person’s level in a given language, we go even further.

We have therefore designed five online tests that can be adapted to the specific needs of each structure. For example, by taking into account the technical vocabulary used in the business sector of the company.

Our tests are adapted to a very wide range of situations: from recruitment assistance to mobility, including obtaining a diploma or even entering a university (such as for example to enroll in a university in Canada).

In general, at Bright Language, we strive to offer tests that fairly and objectively assess a person’s ability to use a language in many professional situations (daily exchanges, by email, face to face or by phone).

Discover the Bright Language tests


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You can also contact us directly for more information on our various offers. Do you want to assess the language skills of your employees, students… or your own level?
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