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What are the CEFR and A1 to C2 levels?

When they want to know your level in a language, people ask for your CEFR level. What is this?

1. Before the CEFR

First CEFR means Common European Framework of Reference.

It was created by the Council of Europe in order to describe the different levels foreign language learners could reach. The aim was to harmonize the way we teach, learn and evaluate languages in all European countries. Now, this system is used even outside Europe.

It has been used since 2001. Before that, every school had its own way to describe the levels of their students. For example:

– beginner, intermediate, advanced

– level 1, level 2, level 3 etc.

As you can imagine, it was not very precise, as level 2 in one school could be very different from level 2 in another.

It was also very hard to compare your level in one language to your level in another.

What a big mess!

We were dealing with it but it had to change to adapt to the world’s globalization.

2. Description of the CEFR level

The CECR engineers had the massive job of organizing the steps of language acquisition, resulting in this classification:

A1 is the ‘’discovery’’ level, we call it Break-through in English. That means you start learning the basics. At the end of this level, you can interact in a simple way on basic daily subjects like:

Introducing yourself, expressing your tastes, organizing meeting up with friends, giving your opinion, buying something in a shop, giving an advice, describing something or someone, using present and futur proche

After A1, this is also the moment to decide whether you want to keep with learning this language ?

A2 is the ‘’survival’’ level, we call it Waystage in English. In A1 you are note really able to have a real conversation, in A2 you can. The subjects are still very basic but you can survive in the country.

You can do everything we described in A1 but much more precisely and accurately. You can also express your opinion and write short texts.

What’s interesting in A2 is that you go through most of the important grammar themes and learn a good amount of vocabulary. Usually, people progress a lot in A2.

B1 is the intermediate level, called Threshold in the CEFR. This is not an easy level psychologically speaking. Why? Because you’ve made great progress in A2 and now you’ll have the impression to stagnate a bit. This is totally normal. The learning process is not a straight line. I have designed a graph so you can visualize the steps of the language acquisition for an average learner, it’s far from being proportional:

During B1 you learn a lot of vocabulary and practice the grammar you’ve learned in A2. You can start debating orally and express yourself with much more precision.

B2 is the upper intermediate level or vantage. We can also consider it as an advanced level in French. Indeed, B2 is a great level since you start feeling very confident in expressing yourself in all kind of subjects, even abstract ones, debate and explanations. You can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options. In my opinion, you can make B2 the goal to reach to speak well.

C1 and C2 are specific levels for people who aim to speak like natives. In C1, you learn the vocabulary you are still missing and correct your last pronunciation problems. You should know all the grammar already, so this is not the purpose of this level.

C2 is for people who want to teach the language or to become an interpreter or a translator. If someone reaches this level, that means he/she speaks better than a lot of native speakers!

3. Amount of time to reach each level

French organisations have evaluated the number of hours necessary to reach each level. Of course, it depends a lot on the person and on the frequency of the lessons.

I have made two graphics to summarize the information. The first one gives the average time advised for each level. The second shows the total of necessary hours to reach a specific level.

For management reasons, schools don’t usually follow this chart and choose the same amount of hours for each level (approximatively 120 hours for each). As a consequence, in schools, you could have the feeling that A1 is too slow and levels after B1 are too quickly taught.

Although this feeling depends a lot on you and on your ability to learn languages.

In conclusion, I would say it’s important to follow your own rhythm while, at the same time, being aware of the specialists’ recommendations. That will help you keep on track.


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