What Are the CEFR Levels?

If you're studying English, you may notice something called "CEFR Levels" on the back of your course books.

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If you're a teacher, you will see increasing references to these levels. I'm going to explain what they mean.

CEFR is an abbreviation for Common European Framework of Reference.
The CEFR levels are used to determine language ability over a range of languages, not just English, and they are based on a series of "can do" statements.

The levels are based on the ability to communicate and understand, rather than grammar knowledge, although grammar and vocabulary are key parts of the expected knowledge at each level.

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What are the different levels?

The levels start with A1. This shows a basic knowledge in the language.

A2 shows more ability, and at this level you can usually take the first exams in the language you are studying.

B1 and B2 are, broadly speaking, intermediate levels.

Students then progress to C1 and C2, with C1 being advanced level, and C2 being proficiency level.

CEFR Levels

What about exams?

The Cambridge ESOL exams, as well as the IELTS exam, are linked to the CEFR levels. So are exams in other languages. This makes it easier for educational institutions and employers across Europe and the rest of the world to assess what your language level is.

The Cambridge ESOL exams correspond broadly to the CEFR levels as follows:

General exams

•    KET (Key English Test) => A1/A2
•    PET (Preliminary English Test) => B1
•    FCE (First Certificate in English) => B2
•    CAE (Certificate in Advanced English) => C1
•    CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) => C2

Business English exams

•    BEC (Business English Certificate) Preliminary => A2/B1
•    BEC Vantage => B2
•    BEC Higher => C1

•    ILEC (International Legal English Certificate) => B2/C1
•    ICFE (International Certificate in Financial English) => B2/C1

An IELTS grade 4.5 is approximately B1 level, and a 6.5 is B2/C1. A grade 9 on an IELTS exam is a CEFR level C2 equivalent.

Who uses the CEFR levels?

Apart from standardizing exams, these levels are used by teachers and language schools to show the level of the classes.

Many schools in Europe and outside Europe are now using these levels rather than the more traditional Elementary, Pre-Intermediate, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced, etc.

You will also see the CEFR levels on the back of many course books, workbooks and grammar books.

These will help students make sure they are using materials of the appropriate level, and will help teachers find suitable resources.

Although the CEFR levels were first used in Europe, they are becoming more widespread in their usage and have now spread to Asia and the Middle East and are also spreading to North America and South America.

The existence of standardized levels across all languages can make assessment (external and self-assessment), testing, and course book production easier and more effective.

As a teacher, the levels will help you to select appropriate materials and assess levels.

As a student the levels will demonstrate your abilities more clearly, and will also help you choose which books to use.

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