The Common European Framework of Reference (usually abbreviated to the CEFR or CEF) describes what language learners can do at different stages of their learning. The CEFR is language-neutral, which means that it can be applied to any foreign language learning situation. It was originally designed as a comprehensive reference tool to promote educational transparency and to allow movement between countries for work or study within the European Union. Since its publication in 2001, the CEFR has been translated into 37 languages and its use has spread outside Europe, from Asia to Latin America, as an aid to defining levels for learning, teaching and assessment.

The CEFR describes six broad levels of ability, with A1 being the lowest and C2 the highest. Learners are classified in three distinct groups: the Basic User (levels A1 and A2), the Independent User (B1 and B2) and the Proficient User (C1 and C2). As these titles suggest, learners develop not just in terms of the actual language they have available, but also in terms of their strategies for communicating. For example, in moving from basic to independent, learners will gain compensation strategies, enabling them to make the most of the language they already know; proficient learners will be operating at a higher level, where they can be both fluent and spontaneous, and able to draw on exactly the language they need for a specific situation.

The CEFR describes what learners can do across five language skills: Spoken Interaction, Spoken Production, Listening, Reading and Writing. For all five skills at each level, there are sets of detailed ‘Can Do’ statements. By dividing Speaking in two, the CEFR focuses both on the learner’s production and their ability to take part in conversations and discussion. So, for example, under Spoken Interaction there is information about Turntaking: a Basic A2 learner Can use simple techniques to start, maintain or end a short conversation, whereas a Proficient C1 learner Can select a suitable phrase to preface their remarks appropriately in order to get the floor, or to gain time and keep the floor whilst thinking.

There is also a useful ‘Global Scale’, which provides a concise overview of ability at each CEFR level. This Global Scale is reproduced on page 5 of the Cambridge University Press booklet Introductory Guide to the CEFR (pdf), which is downloadable for free.

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