The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated as CEFR, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and in other countries. It was put together by the Council of Europe as the main part of the project 'Language Learning for European Citizenship' between 1989 and 1996.

The CEFR describes comprehensively what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. In addition to this it defines levels of proficiency which allow learners' progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis.

In November 2001 a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the CEFR to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual's language proficiency.

The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions which can be divided into six levels:

Level A - Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary

Level B - Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or pre-intermediate
B2 Vantage or intermediate

Level C - Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or upper intermediate
C2 Mastery or advanced 

Common European Framework Descriptors

The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level. This simple 'Global Scale' makes it easier to communicate the system to non-specialist users and will also provide teachers and curriculum planners with orientation points. 

Common European Framework levels

Common European Framework Descriptors

C2 Mastery

Can understand with easy virtually everything heard or read. Can Summarise information form different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.


Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed texts on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

B2 Vantage

Can understand the main ideas of complex texts both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with native speakers quite possibly without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed texts on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

B1 Threshold

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar maters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar ot of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions, and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

A2 Waystage

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

A1 Breakthrough

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/her self and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he6she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help. 

Action-oriented and Communicative

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages takes an “action-oriented” view of language use and learning.

...it views users and learners of a language primarily as members of society who have tasks (not exclusively language-related) to accomplish in a given set of circumstances, in a specific environment and within a particular field of action. While speech acts occur within language activities, these activities form part of a wider social context which alone is able to give them their full meaning.

Taking this notion as our starting point we have constructed a set of exams that has a syllabus based on real-world needs. It reflects contemporary thinking about language, language learning and teaching. The washback effect on teaching will be positive and significant, based on our wish to have exams that test communicative competence by testing success in communication, as demonstrated by performance in tasks that either reflect real world language needs or provide valid measurement of language competencies necessary for communication.

To keep the exam relevant to real world needs, the exam is designed around tasks that test the ability to communicate or understand communication, rather than around the traditional ‘language questions’. The positive feedback from more than 100 000 candidates so far has proved the fact that with the enjoyment and motivation of studying relevant English, the whole learning process becomes a more positive experience for teachers and learners alike.