The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across 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. Its main aim is to provide a method of assessing and teaching which applies to all languages in Europe. 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 (see below) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency. Nonetheless, existing examination boards have retained their own naming conventions, e.g. "Intermediate", which are, arguably, easier for them, and their students, to remember.
In 1991 the Swiss Federal Authorities held an Intergovernmental Symposium in Rüschlikon, Switzerland, on "Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe: Objectives, Evaluation, Certification". This symposium found that a Common European Framework for languages was needed to improve the recognition of language qualifications and help teachers co-operate, eventually leading to improved communication and cooperation generally in 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.
The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions which can be divided into six levels:
The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level.
|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.|
|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.|
|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 & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.|
|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.|
|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.|
|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.|
These descriptors can apply to any of the languages spoken in Europe, and there are translations in many languages.
The ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe) "Can Do" project developed a simplified set of 400+ descriptors for language examinations which relate to the Common Reference Levels. These descriptors are in the form of "can-do statements", each saying more simply what a learner can do at every level. There are four sections: general, social/ tourist, work and study. The ALTE project also gave its own names to the CEF levels: "Breakthrough level" - "Level 5".
The ALTE was founded by the University of Cambridge in conjunction with the University of Salamanca so the first exams to be related to their "Can-Do" statements were the Cambridge EFL exams. However, today many more examining boards link their exams to the system. Below is a table of some examinations as an example.
|ALTE level||CEFR level||London Tests of English||Goethe-Institut and/or TELC exams||CIEP / Alliance française diplomas||Cambridge exam||IELTS (International English Language Testing System)||DELE (Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera)||UNIcert (different languages)|
|Level 5||C2||Level 5||Zentrale Oberstufenprüfung, Kleines Dt. Sprachdiplom||TCF C2 / DALF C2 / DHEF||CPE||IELTS 7.5||Superior||UNIcert IV|
|Level 4||C1||Level 4||Goethe-Zertifikat C1, Prüfung Wirtschaftsdeutsch, Zentrale Mittelstufenprüfung||TCF C1 / DALF C1 / DSLCF||CAE||IELTS 6.5||-||UNIcert III|
|Level 3||B2||Level 3||Goethe-Zertifikat B2, Zertifikat Deutsch für den Beruf||TCF B2 / DELF B2 / Diplôme de Langue||FCE||IELTS 5.5||Intermedio||UNIcert II|
|Level 2||B1||Level 2||Zertifikat Deutsch||TCF B1 / DELF B1 / CEFP 2||PET||IELTS 4.0||Inicial||UNIcert I|
|Level 1||A2||Level 1||Start Deutsch 2||TCF A2 / DELF A2 / CEFP 1||KET||IELTS 3.0|
|Breakthrough level||A1||Level A1||Start Deutsch 1||TCF A1 / DELF A1||-||-|