CEFR levels: what are they? And do they matter?
In the language-learning community, we often hear other learners throw around certain terms when they’re talking about their level in a language. “I speak German at a B1 level” or “I’m an A2 in Russian.”
But what do B1 and A2 mean?
These descriptors are skill levels in the CEFR system and they’re used by language learners to measure their ability in a language.
What are the Different CEFR Levels?
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, often referred to as CEFR or CEFRL, is an international standard for working out your ability within a language. It was established by the Council of Europe and aims to validate language ability.
The six levels within the CEFR are A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. With these levels, you can easily work out your ability in around 40 different languages.
The levels are often used casually by language learners to explain their ability at speaking, reading, writing and understanding a language. But there are also exams and certificates available to those who want to make their level official.
Let’s first take a look at what the different levels are and what’s possible for you at each level.
The “A” Levels: Basic User
A1 | Beginner
At the A1 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand and use very basic expressions to satisfy concrete needs.
Introduce themselves and ask others questions about personal details.
Interact simply as long as the other person speaks slowly and clearly.
A2 | Elementary
At the A2 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand frequently used expressions in most intermediate areas such as shopping, family, employment, etc.
Complete tasks that are routine and involve a direct exchange of information.
Describe matters of immediate need in simple terms.
The “B” Levels: Independent User
B1 | Intermediate
At the B1 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand points regarding family, work, school or leisure-related topics.
Deal with most travel situations in areas where the language is spoken.
Create simple texts on topics of personal interest.
Describe experiences, events, dreams, and ambitions, as well as opinions or plans in brief.
B2 | Upper Intermediate
At the B2 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand the main ideas of a complex text such as a technical piece related to their field.
Spontaneously interact without too much strain for either the learner or the native speaker.
Produce a detailed text on a wide range of subjects.
The “C” Levels: Proficient User
C1 | Advanced
At the C1 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand a wide range of longer and more demanding texts or conversations.
Express ideas without too much searching.
Effectively use the language for social, academic or professional situations.
Create well-structured and detailed texts on complex topics.
C2 | Proficiency
At the C2 CEFR level, a language learner can:
Understand almost everything read or heard with ease.
Summarize information from a variety of sources into a coherent presentation.
Express themselves using precise meaning in complex scenarios.
When do the Different CEFR Levels Matter?
The CEFR is often used by employers and in academic settings.
You may need a CEFR certificate for:
University course requirements
A CEFR certificate is very handy for your CV or résumé, and they often don’t expire.
It’s worth noting that CEFR levels cover a variety of skills. A full CEFR exam typically measures skills in listening, reading abilities, speaking, writing, translating and interpreting. That’s why some learners segment their abilities, for example stating that their listening in a language is at a B2 level but their speaking is only at a B1 level. Others just average out their abilities and say that they’re at a B1 level overall.