by Aggie Chapman
Learning a foreign language, as any other goal that we set, should be measurable. At the beginning, everything is new and exciting and the sheer fact that we are learning is enough to satisfy us.Sooner or later, though, you will want to know how much you’ve learnt and whether the progress you make is adequate. Are you meeting your own expectations or moving towards a bigger objective, for example getting a language certificate?
This is where the CEFR helps. You may have heard about if you’ve been tested and heard that your level is, for example, B2. Or perhaps you’ve used a coursebook and you’ve seen a letter and a number on the cover. The mysterious A2, C1, and the rest can be a bit puzzling, especially as they’re used counter-intuitively. Well, let’s start from the basics.
What is the CEFR?The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is a scheme describing the levels of language proficiency according to the skills mastered by a learner. It’s used for 40 different languages, including non-European languages and even sign language. It is divided into 6 levels from A1 to C2:
In theory, C2 as the highest level of language proficiency is the level of a native speaker of the language. In practice, many people challenge that, arguing that there is a need for a higher level or levels as the truly proficient speakers exceed the descriptors of the C2 level. Whether new levels are going to be added or not – only time will tell.
For the time being, we have 6 levels, each one has a set of descriptors showing what we are expected to master or be able to do after completing the given level. The descriptors focus on the 4 language skills: reading, listening, writing and speaking, which are areas tested in different formal exams. However, learners aren’t always aware that apart from the 4 language skills and the linguistic competency (vocabulary and grammar), the CEFR also considers the so-called macro skills for each level.
It may come as a bit of a surprise that things such as interaction and mediation partly determine the language level. In a nutshell, interaction is the ability to communicate with others, actively listen and respond, negotiate a solution, but also conveying the message to the reader when writing. Mediation has some area of overlap as it focuses on collaboration, relaying information from the text in speech or writing, but also the ability to use the knowledge that you have, facilitate communication, for example, by adjusting the level of language to that of your interlocutor. It can be explained as building bridges in communication.
What is interesting, there is also a level called preA1, which means that a learner can understand and possibly produce very simple bits of language. At this level we will be able to understand simple commands like “stop!” or ask for help using some rehearsed words or phrases together with gestures and body language. It’s also possible to complete a social media profile with information such as name, age, country, nationality etc. This is probably why the idea of calling this level A0 has been abandoned, because usually when it comes to language, there are many shades of grey!
I will describe each of the levels in more detail in future posts to show you what of each them means to students.