What is CEFR and Common Reference Levels?

After a long holiday, I’ll kick off with some information about CEFR and levels. Actually, I first saw the definition years ago, but started teaching accordingly in September,2011. Since we started teaching according to CEFR, we have had a common description of the language and the levels which enables us to create a learning environment accepted by many countries.

Here is the definition:

“The Common European Framework provides a common basis for the elaboration of lan- guage syllabuses, curriculum guidelines, examinations, textbooks, etc. across Europe. It describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set. The Framework also defines levels of proficiency which allow learners’ progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis.

The Common European Framework is intended to overcome the barriers to communi- cation among professionals working in the field of modern languages arising from the different educational systems in Europe. It provides the means for educational adminis- trators, course designers, teachers, teacher trainers, examining bodies, etc., to reflect on their current practice, with a view to situating and co-ordinating their efforts and to ensuring that they meet the real needs of the learners for whom they are responsible.

By providing a common basis for the explicit description of objectives, content and methods, the Framework will enhance the transparency of courses, syllabuses and qual- ifications, thus promoting international co-operation in the field of modern languages. The provision of objective criteria for describing language proficiency will facilitate the mutual recognition of qualifications gained in different learning contexts, and accord- ingly will aid European mobility. ”

According to this definition, common reference levels were set. These levels are a bit different from the previous ones which we know as -beginner, elementary intermediate and advanced. Instead of the previous levels, now we use A, B and C levels. Here is the levels and their definitions:

“Table 1. Common Reference Levels: global scale

Proficient User C2 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.
C1 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.
Independent User B2 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.
B1 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 and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Basic User A2 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.
A1 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.”

Because of some drawbacks in Turkish Educational System, most of our students coming to university are A level students. What about your students?

Aysun 😉





  1. Hi Aysun,

    Here in Chile the CEFR is known, but not understood as well as it should be by educators in the ELT profession. Most people, unfortunately, including the media (and thus the public at large – who are informed by the media – who are informed by educators) still think of English levels in terms of Basic, PreIntermediate, Intermediate, Advanced.

    As a result, actual advances in learning shown by the A1-A2-B1-B2-C1-C2 CEFR Reference levels (a total of 6 levels) went undetected andunreported in a national English test applied to 240 thousand students in the 11th grade (3rd year high school).

    Obviously, a large amount of money was wasted, with the public and the profession and the students – utterly misinformed. I wrote a book about it: “The Chilean National English Test”, http://amzn.to/Nlwjjp
    available at Amazon, where I go into the details.

    The main cause of the disaster? Misunderstanding the CEFR Reference levels…


    1. Dear Thomas,
      You are definitely right about understanding CEFR, in order to apply and insert it in our programmes we need to understand its descriptors well.
      Besides, thanks for your comment and I’ll check the books uou recommended;)

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