If you are interested in learning more about the CEFR, you may find some of the following resources useful:
- English Profile Studies Volume 4: The CEFR in Practice by North
- English Profile Studies Volume 5: English Profile in Practice edited by Harrison and Barker, providing a practical overview of the English Profile Programme and its application in learning, teaching and assessment
- The English Profile Journal: Volumes 1, 2 and 3 – a free online collection of background papers on aspects of the English Profile research.
- Reference Level Descriptions for National and Regional Languages (pdf), Council of Europe
- The T-series, by Van Ek and Trim: Breakthrough (A1), Waystage (A2), Threshold (B1) and Vantage (B2). Breakthrough (doc) is available as a free download.
- Using the CEFR: Principles of Good Practice (pdf), Cambridge English Language Assessment.
- The Relevance of the CEFR to Teacher Training (pdf) by North.
The CEFR is language-neutral and operates across many different languages. To ensure that it can be fully adapted to local contexts and purposes, the Council of Europe has encouraged the production of Reference Level Descriptions (RLDs) for national and regional languages. RLDs provide detailed, language-specific guidance for users of the CEFR.
The English Profile Programme has taken charge of this development for English. However, while the Council of Europe guidelines and the existing work of the T-series (Breakthrough, Waystage, Threshold, Vantage) take a 'horizontal' approach, focusing on each level separately, English Profile follows a 'vertical' approach: it concentrates on the description of linguistic ability in specific areas of the English language (vocabulary, grammar, language functions, etc.) across all six CEFR levels, using empirical data from learner corpora and curricula to inform its research findings.
The listing of vocabulary by level and category in the English Vocabulary Profile and the Can Do statements in the English Grammar Profile are two outcomes of the English Profile Programme’s development of RLDs. Two other EPP initiatives have been published in book form within the English Profile Studies series and are relevant to the development of RLDs : Volume 1, Criterial Features in L2 English by Filipovic and Hawkins, discusses the distinguishing features of each CEFR level for English and Volume 2, Language Functions Revisited by Green reviews language construct definition across the ability range.
RLDs for other languages under development
Learning specifications - for the Threshold and/or other levels - have been produced or updated for over 20 languages, including Basque, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Spanish and Welsh.
Further details of other profiling projects can be found on the Council of Europe's website.
As the CEFR is language-neutral, one thing it cannot do is to itemize the actual vocabulary and grammar in the target language that is being learned. That is where English Profile comes in. Its mission is to provide a reliable and precise description of the English that learners know and use at each CEFR level. To this end, several research projects have been undertaken and more are in progress. Their common aim is to describe the gradual mastery of English across the six CEFR levels. Each project within the English Profile Programme is evidence based, informed by the Cambridge Learner Corpus, other English language corpora and many additional sources.
The English Vocabulary Profile (EVP) is a free online resource that lists the CEFR levels of words, phrases, phrasal verbs and idioms. This research project took five years to complete, and has included an extensive trialling and validation phase. The online results are hosted in a powerful, user-friendly tool that not only displays the relevant CEFR level but also offers a full dictionary-style entry with audio pronunciation, a definition, dictionary examples and a typical learner example.
It is also possible to use the EVP to carry out advanced searches by Topic, Part of speech, Grammar, Usage, Prefixes and Suffixes, or a combination of these filters. So, for instance, you could search for all nouns ending in –ness for the topic of ‘People: Personality’. This search would give 26 matches in all, of which 11 at B2, including carelessness, laziness, politeness, willingness. This kind of information is invaluable to teachers and learners alike, supporting appropriate vocabulary development across the CEFR levels.
The English Grammar Profile (EGP) has been developed over a similar number of years by an expert research team, who have analysed the Cambridge Learner Corpus in order to develop detailed ‘Can Do’ statements for different grammatical categories, covering form and use. As is the case with vocabulary, learners appear to broaden their knowledge and use of the many aspects of grammar across the CEFR levels.
The EGP is available online for free and can be searched by level, by super- and sub- category, or by key word.
Both teachers and learners will benefit from referring to the CEFR and they can do this either in English or by reading a translation in their own language. Learners can access the DIALANG self-assessment statements to monitor their progress and these will provide a set of goals for each skill at each level of their learning. Here are the B2 statements for Writing, for example:
I can evaluate different ideas and solutions to a problem.
I can synthesise information and arguments from a number of sources.
I can construct a chain of reasoned argument.
I can speculate about causes, consequences and hypothetical situations.
Perhaps the most important benefit of using the CEFR as a teacher is that it gives you a much clearer picture of what learners at a given level are capable of. Through your own teaching experience, you will already have a general idea of how Basic learners differ from Independent or Proficient ones – that is, beginners as opposed to intermediate or advanced students. However, it is less easy to pinpoint all the differences between, say, an A2 learner and a B1 learner, and to fully understand what is involved in getting your students from one CEFR level to the next.
You can use the CEFR to help you shape your teaching syllabus and to inform your selection of textbooks and other classroom materials. The CEFR also provides you with a ready-made set of objectives for your class. And these will help you to prepare for end-of-year assessment, whether this is internal or leading to an external qualification. Many international examination boards use the CEFR to define the scope of what they are testing at each level. Cambridge English Language Assessment does this and below is a table showing how its examinations are linked to the CEFR:
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.