What do the levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 mean?

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) is one of the major outputs of an early nineties project by the Council of Europe. An important goal of this project was to provide a reference for comparing language skills, language programs and language exams. One main idea of the CEFR was to describe achievements of language learners on six so called reference levels.

The Reference Levels

The six levels of the Common European Framework are A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. A1 is the lowest level and C2 the highest. The characters A, B and C divide the six levels into three subgroups translated as Basic User (A), Independent User (B) and Proficient User (C). In the early days we used “Beginner” (A), “Intermediate” (B) and “Advanced” (C). ;-)

The six levels of the CEFR are nowadays widely accepted as a European standard for grading language proficiency. Language skills are specified in four different fields (“Listening”, “Reading”, “Speaking” and “Writing”) on each level.

The Global Scale

You can think of the “Framework of Reference” as a thick book, that describes language learners’ skills very thoroughly. But as you know in real life no one wants to read a thick book to figure out the level of his/her language skills.

That’s why the most important characteristics of each level had been summarized in the so called global scale.

In the global scale you can find out for example that at level A1 a language learner is able to “introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details (..)” and “can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.”

For C1, the level required for German university language exams like TestDaF or DSH, the level description sounds clearly more ambitious: “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 text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.”

The global scale with the short description of all levels you can download here for example:

Global scale – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)

Only Recommendations

You should keep in mind that the CEFR is only a recommendation. There is no institution that is responsible for example to map language courses or language exams to the CEFR. That means that language schools can define on their own what level their language courses or their language exams have.

If you check the description of level C1 in the global scale (see above), you can easily imagine that there are different interpretations of the meaning of “demanding, longer text” or “express him/herself fluently”.

Anyway the global scale can help you to provide a suggestion of your language level, if you try to look at your language skills in an objective way.