CEFR : assessing foreign language proficiency

CEFR

A1, B2, C1, waystage, threshold, vantage… If you are aiming to study or land a job abroad, you will probably often be hearing these words, which are taken from the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR). Since its publication by the Council of Europe in 2001, the CEFR provides a common basis for describing foreign language proficiency and defines six different levels. Having reached a specific CEFR level usually is the key to work or study in a foreign country. Did you take a language proficiency test? Learn how to interpret your score in CEFR terms.

The CEFR: a reference tool

The CEFR is a reference system primarily designed to “aid European mobility”.

A European project

Put together by the member states of the Council of Europe, the CEFR is available in 38 languages. The purpose of the framework is to “achieve greater unity among its members”, mainly through plurilingualism and intercultural knowledge. The CECR’s ambition is to provide “transparent, coherent and comprehensive” European guidelines for learning and teaching languages as well as assessing foreign language proficiency.

Why is the CEFR useful?

As the CEFR may be used to interpret and compare people’s language skills across countries, tests and languages, it promotes international mobility, either for work or study. In Europe, university teachers, employers and governmental institutions use the CEFR for decision making. Having achieved CEFR B2 level usually is requested for higher education enrollment. Do you wish to get a student visa for the UK? Before you take out insurance for students abroad and pack your suitcase, you will need to prove you have a B1 or B2 English proficiency level. Are you hoping to spend a year abroad as a language assistant? Here again, a having B1 level is mandatory.

Six levels of proficiency

The Common European Framework of Reference for languages breaks down foreign language proficiency into six different levels and three broad levels. Each level is described through a series of “Can do” statements associated to each communicative activity: listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production, writing.

Basic user

The basic level may be divided into two separate levels of foreign language proficiency:

  • A1, breakthrough level;
  • A2, waystage level.

The basic user is a beginner. For example, he is able to write a short post card or understand frequently used vocabulary or sentences.

Independent user

A user is independent if he has achieved one of the following levels:

  • B1, threshold level;
  • B2, vantage level.

The independent user can manage in most day-to-day situations. For instance, he can take part in a conversation on topics that are familiar or read an article about a contemporary problem.

Proficient user

A proficient user has almost reached fluency. To be identified as proficient, he needs to achieve one of the following levels:

  • C1, effective operational proficiency level;
  • C2, mastery level.

Proficient users may, for example, write clear and well-structured texts or effortlessly take part in any conversation.

Linking language test scores to the CEFR levels

Now that you hold a language certificate, you would like to check you have the requested CEFR level to study or work abroad. Co-relations between different language proficiency test scores and CEFR levels may be established. In some cases, equivalences directly appear on the test report (on BULATS test reports for instance).

Equivalences between main language test scores and CEFR B2 level

To be able to assess that you have achieved CEFR B2 level (which is the most frequently requested level), you must reach a specific score. Reference scores might slightly vary depending on the country or institution. The following scores are approximate equivalents to B2 level:

  • TOEFL iBT : 87-109
  • TOEIC : 785-844
  • IELTS : 5-6
  • BULATS : 60-74
  • FCE : B-C
  • BEC Vantage : B-C
  • PTE General : 3
  • PTE Academic : 59-75
  • DELE B2 : 70 %

To find out more about the CEFR:

Check out the CEFR full text on the Council of Europe website.

Recap! Download a grid describing all CEFR levels on Europass website.

Date of publication Mar 29 2013

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