What is the CEFR framework - and why is it important?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: a must-know for every language learner.

To those who haven’t taken any language exams before, the CEFR framework may seem totally unfamiliar to you. However, it’s really important to know what it is, and to know it well - it’s the main measurement of proficiency for European languages.

CEFR is an abbreviation of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, a guideline used to determine proficiency in foreign language learners across Europe and the world. This has since become a fixed guideline for all European languages to use, making it easier for employers or educational institutes to determine what level of proficiency in certain languages prospects are expected to have. Since everyone has different ideas of what “fluency” might be, the CEFR provides an easier overview of language proficiency.

The chart above shows how the CEFR framework is primarily grouped into 3 - A1 and A2, B1 and B2, and C1 and C2. They are then termed Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User respectively.

From personal experience and consultation of online resources, A1 might be barely enough for surviving in a foreign country should the learner choose to live there, while C2 is considered native speaker level in the language. There is a huge jump in proficiency from A2 to B1, and B2 to C1 respectively, so bringing your language level up from A2 to B1, for example, will be a lot harder than going from A1 to A2.

Many language exams are also based on this CEFR framework - one example is the DELF/DALF exams for French, which offers 6 different examinations that correspond to one CEFR level each.

It is however worth noting that this CEFR framework applies mainly to European languages, and languages originating from outside of Europe may have different language exam levels - some examples will be provided below.

The Japanese test of proficiency is the JLPT - the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, split into levels N5, N4, N3, N2 and N1, with N5 being the lowest and N1 being the highest. N1 roughly corresponds to a C1 or C2 level, and N5 to A1. N4, N3, and N2 then correspond to A2, B1 and B2 levels respectively.

There are also other language exams that have six levels, like the Korean TOPIK examinations, which has one level corresponding to every CEFR level.

Knowing the CEFR framework gives us a little more of a clearer glimpse into what someone’s language ability might be, and allows us to more easily gauge where we are ourselves. It is also necessary to be familiar with this to sign up for and take language proficiency examinations, an integral part of every language learning journey.

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