CEFR English Levels
The levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ( CEFR ) or, in English, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ( CEFR ) are used almost everywhere to indicate the level of a student or that of a product to learn English . But what are they really?
In this article, we are going to see what you are supposed to be able to do at each of the European levels (whether with a B1 level in English, or a B2 level in English, and so on). In each case, I give you ways to move on to the next level.
We will also talk about the limits of the CEFR. While these levels are useful and rightly used around the world, they are not complete. We’ll see what they’re missing.
There are six European levels or, rather, three times two levels:
- A (A1/A2): “elementary user” or Basic User in English
- B (B1/B2): “independent user” or Independent User in English
- C (C1/C2): “experienced user” or Proficient User in English
This corresponds to the idea of being a beginner, intermediate or advanced in English but goes into more detail by defining what one should be able to do in each case.
Learning English is hard work. The advantage of these levels is to allow us to break down this enormous project ( “to master English” ) into smaller and more digestible projects (“now, I am aiming for this level”) .
Note that there are sometimes “+” levels, which correspond to advanced levels within a category. “B1+” corresponding for example to the end of level B1.
Level A1: “How do I gibberish? »
English A1 level
Level A1 is called “Level Introductive ou Découverte ” or, in English, Breakthrough or beginner .
This is the level where you can only do three times nothing: understand ultra-common words, formulate very very simple sentences on subjects that directly concern you, understand only if someone speaks to you slowly with a limited vocabulary.
This is the somewhat thankless stage of learning. Maybe you went through a honeymoon period discovering the language but, quickly, you discover that making yourself understood and understood takes a lot of effort and you don’t have much to show in return.
Don’t be discouraged because it’s a must. We all start from scratch.
At level A1, the CEFR tells us that we must be able to:
- Can understand and use familiar, everyday expressions as well as very simple statements aimed at satisfying concrete needs.
- Can introduce themselves or someone and ask a person questions about them – for example, where they live, their relationships, what belongs to them, etc. – and can answer the same type of questions.
- Can communicate in a simple way if the interlocutor speaks slowly and distinctly and is cooperative.
My advice for level A1: at this stage, aim to speak fluently on an ultra-limited number of topics :
- Being limited in vocabulary doesn’t stop you from speaking well, it just stops you from talking about everything you’d like to talk about. Do the best and most you can with the little you have .
- This will give you a solid foundation in the language and the confidence to continue. How do you do it?
- Repeat the phrases that are useful to you personally.
- Repeat them often, aiming to be clearly understandable.
- Maybe you only know how to order in a restaurant and ask for the bill, or just say your job and what you love in life, and absolutely nothing else… but you know how to do it correctly, in a fluid way. It is already a first victory.
In conclusion: accept that you will be limited to level A1 but do the best you can with the little you have.
Level A2: Survival
English A2 level
Level A2 is called “Level Intermediate or Survival” or, in English, Way stage or elementary .
An anecdote: during my first two months of Hungarian in Budapest, I quickly reached an A2 level. Did I speak fluently? Could I talk about anything and everything? Nope ! On the other hand, I could talk about myself and take an interest in others all in Hungarian, without using English or my native language. I could do everything in this language without having reached an advanced level.
In other words: if you do things right, an A2 level already allows you to get by in English .
At level A2, the CEFR tells us that we must have developed the following skills:
- Can understand isolated sentences and frequently used expressions related to immediate areas of priority (eg simple personal and family information, shopping, close environment, work).
- Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring only a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine topics.
- Can use simple methods to describe his or her training and immediate environment and discuss topics that correspond to immediate needs.
My advice for level A2: practice like an actor! Repeat the same two-three stories all the time :
- What are you doing in the country (if you are already abroad)?
- What do you like to do in life? What do you like to do in life?
- From “performance to performance”, you will improve the quality of your sentences (pronunciation, grammar, clarity) and retain useful bases on which all the rest is based.
Whereas at level A1 you work on a few boilerplate phrases, here you work on boilerplate stories .
From experience, this is the stage where meeting English pen pals to talk to will make all the difference. Until you have the experience of exchanging in a usual way with English speakers , to talk about yourself and simple things that are important to you, you will not have this ability to find and articulate your words .
We don’t learn English for one day talking with English people, we assimilate English by communicating with English speakers , to have the experience of having words that float in our mouths . If you think you have an advanced vocabulary but are still stuck speaking, you probably skipped this step.
Overall, I advise you to see the A1-A2 level as a mayonnaise that takes . You don’t have a lot of ingredients available and it takes a lot of rehearsing, but by doing it right you can develop a good foundation. Then, it will be all the easier to “add oil” (more vocabulary, more grammar) to your English.
If you have the impression that the sauce has not taken (to be still blocked by elementary things), try again: see what you are supposed to know to do level A1/A2 and which you missed. There’s no shame in going back to basics and fundamentals and, truth be told, the best people in a field always come back to it – because they know that clarifying the basics on which everything else rests is beneficial.
Homo habilis welcomes you to English B1 level
Level B1 English
Level B1 is called “Level Seuil ” or, in English, Threshold or intermediate .
This is the level where you start doing awesome things in English and can start making people think you’ve mastered their language. Sentences get longer and your vocabulary begins to diversify. The range of grammar structures that you know is starting to get very wide.
At level B1, the CEFR tells us that we must have developed the following skills:
- Can understand the main points when clear, standard language is used and when dealing with familiar matters in work, school, leisure, etc.
- Can handle most situations encountered while traveling in an area where the target language is spoken.
- Can produce simple, coherent speech on familiar topics and in areas of interest.
- Can recount an event, experience or dream, describe a hope or goal, and briefly outline reasons or explanations for a project or idea.
My advice for level B1: I advise you not to go too fast .
- As everything enriches significantly at this level, as the sentences become longer, as the grammar becomes richer… You may find it difficult to follow. To avoid being overwhelmed with the English B1 level: advance slowly but surely . That’s to say :
- Get organized. No need to learn everything at once. Work on one point at a time (it doesn’t matter which one, you will have time to see everything but you have to start somewhere).
- By going at your own pace, you’ll learn better and make time your ally, instead of feeling overwhelmed with new grammar concepts and vocabulary.
- If you write little, B1 is the time to get started and if, conversely, you speak little, now is the time to get started too. Writing will allow you to clarify what you’re doing (by going slower), while speaking will help you gain confidence in your ability to communicate in English (even if it’s just in front of a mirror or a computer at first. ).
Homo erectus wishes you to raise
your English to a B2 level and above.
English B2 level
Level B2 is called “Level Avancé ou Indépendant ” or, in English, Vantage or upper intermediate .
So, how to reach level B2 in English ?
At this stage, your level starts to be really impressive. With a B2 level, you could/can work in English because the essential grammar is acquired and the most important vocabulary is mastered. Your stories are enriched and you are able to talk about abstract concepts. You can express yourself with nuance. However, you will observe that this impression of mastery depends enormously on the theme, which can make you doubt your abilities. The amount of vocabulary and grammar to go from B1 to B2 remains important, about as much as to go from A2 to B1.
At level B2 , the CEFR tells us that we must have developed the following skills:
- Can understand the essential content of concrete or abstract subjects in a complex text, including a technical discussion in his specialty.
- Can communicate with a degree of spontaneity and ease such as a conversation with a native speaker involving no tension for either.
- Can express himself in a clear and detailed manner on a wide range of subjects, express an opinion on a topical subject and explain the advantages and disadvantages of different possibilities.
My advice for the B2 level : be proud of the work done so far, but don’t rest on your laurels . Despite all the vocabulary you already know, you will see that it is never enough. See yourself as a vocabulary and grammar collector:
- Observe the grammar structures that you do not understand and dissect them, repeat them , to better understand them and appropriate them.
- Because most English teaching methods teach things haphazardly and out of order , at this point it may feel like you’re not progressing . Don’t take this for yourself, just be aware that you must either use an appropriate method or observe yourself what you lack to progress (i.e.: what vocabulary and grammar do you have? now need?). In short, to avoid stagnating at B2 level, personalize your learning .
Homo sapiens welcomes you to level C1
English level C1
Achieving the C1 level in English is the dream of many people and, by working smart, you will get there. This level is called “Level Autonome ” or, in English, Effective operational proficiency or advanced .
In the continuation of your B2 level work , you become able to express yourself in an increasingly abstract and subtle way . You continue to dig and strengthen your knowledge of the most advanced structures. The quantity of new vocabulary remains essentially the same as on the previous levels but, all added up, your vocabulary finally allows you to face almost any situation . The latest grammar structures are also appearing (eg the irrealis ( irrealis ); phrasal verbs where the particle is far from the verb; compound adjectives, etc.). Finally, you are able to form more and more long and natural sentences.
At level C1 , the CEFR tells us that we must have developed the following skills:
- Can understand a wide range of long and demanding texts, as well as grasp implicit meanings.
- Can express himself spontaneously and fluently without apparently having to search for words too much.
- Can use the language effectively and flexibly in social, professional or academic life.
- Can express himself on complex subjects in a clear and well-structured way and demonstrate his control of the tools of organization, articulation and cohesion of speech.
DISCLAIMER: I don’t agree with “Can express himself spontaneously and fluently without apparently having to search for his words too much” which is a very academic and old-fashioned view of things. Provided you have enough experience in opening your mouth, you can express yourself spontaneously from level A1/A2. It is simply that the number of themes is then ultra-restricted. Aim for fluidity and (the appearance of) spontaneity from the start – practice. You will thank me later 😉
My advice for the C1 level: at the C1 level, you wo n’t want to let anything go .
- Until now, because you couldn’t learn everything overnight, you were forced to practice selective ignorance . Now, however, your goal is to understand and know almost everything.
- This is all the more true for grammar where your mission becomes to understand absolutely everything.
- For vocabulary, it will depend on the theme, but you will want to retain all the vocabulary that seems essential to you and that you have missed so far. Continuing to ignore rare vocabulary that does not serve you directly to, instead, overcome your last difficulties.
The secret for the C2 level?
It’s all in the glasses.
English C2 level
Level C2 is called “Level Maîtrise ” or, in English, Mastery or proficiency .
At this stage, absolutely all the grammar is acquired (for English, you have no more new grammar structures to discover). You will want to drive the point home and review, to master them, the few elements that you have not yet completely acquired. Other than that, you’ll want to keep building your vocabulary with the goal of reaching 100% comprehension . This will mean learning new, not-so-common words, picking up specialized vocabulary, and picking up new idioms .
At level C2, the CEFR tells us that we must have developed the following skills:
- Can effortlessly understand almost anything he/she reads or hears.
- Can reproduce facts and arguments from various written and oral sources, summarizing them coherently.
- Can express himself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely and can distinguish fine shades of meaning in relation to complex subjects.
My advice for the C2 level: from now on, aim to understand absolutely everything!
- As soon as you have a doubt or a misunderstanding, check. Look for the grammar explanations you are missing in English and no longer in Hindi (at this stage you have the level to understand everything clearly).
- You have done the hardest part! Now leave Hindi to do only English and accelerate your progress. Whether in work or play, you need to set up an all-English environment . (Anything in Hindi will slow your progress. Try to do more English than Hindi and you will be rewarded).
- Vocabulary becomes your new priority. Continuous, daily practice will now allow you to cover ground between a C1 /C1+ level and that of a native.
“SOS CEFR , I listen”
The following advice is applicable at all European levels. Think of it as a CEFR troubleshooting bank .
- If you feel stuck at the (false-)beginner level , as if something is wrong with you, you will want to learn how to learn. Having strategies for learning a living language will give you perspective and control over how you learn. This allows you to control your learning process instead of undergoing it. (See my book The Gift of Tongues ).
- If you suffer from great difficulties in speaking , studying English phonetics will quickly appear as a miracle solution to undo bad habits and replace them with better ones.
- If you have difficulty expressing yourself when you can speak well , you will want to practice finding your words. If you don’t have the time to do it out loud every day (or if the conversations are going too fast), practice writing. It trains you to express yourself as if you were speaking. As a bonus, pronounce what you write aloud, checking the pronunciation of the vocabulary.
If you have any additional questions, especially about B1/B2 levels in English , ask them in the comments. I’ll update this section as needed with answers to the most common issues.
Limits of the CEFR
The big advantage of the CEFR is that it describes in clear terms what we are supposed to be able to do . Let’s also keep in mind that this is a constantly evolving project.
Now let’s see its limits.
What to do vs how to do it
The CEFR tells us what to aim for, it does not tell us how to achieve the goal . This is understandable because the framework is the same regardless of the language. It is then up to educators (teachers, authors of language methods, etc.) to implement and specify the CEFR for each language.
Let’s say I want to achieve one of these goals in English, taken from the CEFR :
I can deal with the majority of situations that can be encountered during a trip to an area where the language is spoken. (B1)
I can communicate with a degree of spontaneity and fluency that makes normal interaction with a native speaker possible. ( B2 )
I can express myself spontaneously and fluently without too much apparently having to search for my words. (C1)
I can participate effortlessly in any conversation or discussion and I am also very comfortable with idioms and colloquialisms. (C2)
We would like to have the formula that will allow us to reach each of them.
To mark our progress in English, we would like to find:
- The place of phonetics: what to study and when?
- Which vocabulary to learn at which level?
- Which grammar structures to learn at which level?
On this first point, as too often in school approaches, implementations of the CEFR largely neglect the subject and this blog will be the best resource on English phonetics for learners.
On the other two points, the following projects can be cited:
- For English vocabulary :
- English Vocabulary Profile [registration required] seeks to analyze what vocabulary is known at each of the European levels. Limit ? This research is unfortunately carried out around school and written English.
- Click & Speak™ is the only method to teach you English with a scientifically chosen vocabulary carefully divided into European levels.
- For English grammar :
- The Core Inventory for General English , published by the British Council and EAQUALS, tells us which grammar to acquire at each level. Click & Speak™ is based on this grammatical progression .
- In addition, the English Grammar Profile project has set itself the task of exploring English grammar by European level (as for the project on vocabulary, the English studied is also academic here but it is always less embarrassing in grammar than ‘in vocabulary).
Research on learning English, articulated around the European framework, is in progress and will one day answer the question of how .
No clean cut
Let’s keep in mind that there is obviously no clear cut between one European level and the next . Does anyone have a B1 or B2 level in English? The answer will often be that the person oscillates between the two, with some things acquired at B1 level but others still underdeveloped at B2 level. This is not a problem per se, just something to keep in mind. The CEFR then makes it possible to clarify what to work on .
In a more extreme way, one can imagine a professional with a B2/C1 level in written comprehension, able to understand almost everything in writing – because he works with a lot of texts in his field – but unable to understand English . spoken because he never hears it. This is unfortunately a fairly common scenario and does not really fit into the boxes of the CEFR . This person would then make the big difference between several European levels.
“Honey, this is going to cut it! »
In short, learning English is not a linear process! In the real world, you don’t move smoothly from one level to another. We go back and forth between several levels for various skills, according to our needs and our opportunities. For example, it is much easier to work on written comprehension than oral expression.
Learning English is an up and down process, often with plateaus. A bad reading of the CEFR could lead us to believe the opposite.
Language tests suffer from the same problem and will never be completely accurate. To give you an example, when I registered for Russian lessons, while my number of hours of practice, my level of grammar and my self-assessment placed me rather at level A2 / beginning B1, I found myself with students of level B2 (on the way to C1). In these cases, in my opinion, it is better to work at a level that is too high, with a challenge to take up, where you are sure to learn something, rather than at a level that is too low, where you bored and loses interest in class.
At the publishers
The CEFR can be used by learners alone, by teachers with their students, but also by content publishers to learn English.
I think it is now clear that the principle of the CEFR is to describe what we should be capable of at each level, to know what to work on. It is a logical progression based on the cumulative work of many language teachers.
In principle, this allows language method editors to create new methods more suited to student needs , rather than designing them haphazardly.
Problem ? Not all publishers play the game.
Some (the majority?) are content to stick a “B2” or other label on products that have been around for thirty years. It certainly looks pretty with a little European flag but that doesn’t mean it’s true. It is easier for an editor to add a label than to rebuild its range of methods.
Can publishers’ labels be trusted? No.
This is unfortunate because conforming to European standards would allow publishers to teach English in a more progressive and smarter way .
A Good English Method intelligently breaks down the English language for you into digestible steps and sub-steps. It makes you work on the vocabulary and grammar of level A1 before those of level A2, those of A2 before B1, and so on.
This obviously requires more effort for the creators of methods, but it is effort that is worth providing because it benefits the students, who then save hundreds of hours and will have the pleasant feeling of continuously progressing – rather than being blocked. wondering why nothing fits.
Incidentally, English tests suffer from the same problem. Rather than reviewing the structure of their tests, some organizations have just added a “European level” label on them without worrying about respecting the recommendations. (The logos on the tests and methods have nothing to certify).
Another problem is that not all publishers interpret CEFR recommendations in the same way. Not everyone agrees on what these levels mean and, more importantly, how to achieve them. This guarantees a certain richness but also a certain chaos in English methods , where the quality of pedagogy will vary from one product to another, even when they claim to provide the same thing.
Finally, a final challenge is that it is not enough to know what to study to succeed in English . If so, an English grammar book would be enough to master English!
To succeed in learning, the content must be sufficiently engaging for you to stick to it! (As well as being digestible and teaching real, natural English – which should be a given but often isn’t). This problem is obviously not unique to the levels of the CEFR , but it plays into their application .
Too many English methods are deadly boring. If you don’t want to open the book, it doesn’t matter if it’s at your level, it won’t do you much good… Learning a living language in a book isn’t always the best idea… 😉
What is after the C2 level ? How do you distinguish between someone who masters the language for a foreigner and a foreigner who masters it better than the average native? How to distinguish between someone who “understands almost everything” and someone who understands absolutely everything? This is a last point that it would be interesting for the CEFR to explore.