Europe is a continent of 47 countries (when including Russia and Turkey). Within Europe is a plethora of languages, with 24 languages being named as “Official Languages” of the European Union. Besides those, there are dozens more when you factor in dialects and variations across the continent.
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This reality has always presented educational and governmental institutions with a problem, which was how to determine proficiency across all these languages without some kind of common understanding. It is from such a need that the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR, also CEFRL).
📑 How is CEFR organized?
Broadly speaking – there are three main categories of “level” that are recognized within CEFR, namely:
A – Basic user
B – Independent user
C – Proficient user
These broader categories are further divided as follows:
A1: Breakthrough or beginner
A2: Waystage of elementary
B1: Threshold or intermediate
B2: Vantage or upper intermediate
C1: Effective operational proficiency or advanced
C2: Mastery or proficiency
To reach the A1 level in languages like German, English or French, it’s commonly estimated that your average cumulative hours of study would be between 60 and 100 – perhaps around 75 as a combined average. To gain the highest C2 level, on the other hand, would take up to 1,200 hours depending on the real level you were trying to attain.
Where each language or country may also have its own unique tests, such as the HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi 汉语水平考试) for Mandarin, or the IELTS/TOEFL tests for English, the CEFR is a more encompassing recognition that makes a comparison between learners much easier.
🤔 Why is it needed at all?
The next natural question is --- why do we need it? If we already have officially sanctioned tests like the TCF for French or the SIELE test for Spanish, why do we need further “official” levels and frames of reference?
The simple answer is that CEFR allows us to compare the levels of learners of different languages and nationalities more easily. We can take applicants from different countries holding various accredited language courses and compare their language abilities in an objective and easy-to-understand way. Here are some great advantages of CEFR:
1.) Passport to your future
Your level within the CEFR framework might be that critical factor that allows you to pursue a degree in an international university, or take up a work post overseas. Admissions officers, immigration officials and others are increasingly emphasizing the importance of language proficiency. So, that alpha-numeric code you enter into your application form may just be that critical factor that gets you where you most want to be.
Very often, crossing from B2 to C1, though only one rung up the linguistic ladder, can mean an entire world of difference!
2.) Understand your language level in a meaningful way
Where some are taking tests as part of college/work applications, others do it for fun. Something like an IELTS test is just a good way of seeing how you are getting along! Taking a test and then determining your CEFR level can help you to know your current “location” on your language journey. This brings us neatly to the next great benefit…
3.) Guide your future language study
Once you know your official and internationally recognized level, you are in the perfect position to take action. One of the greatest obstacles to effective language study is not realizing where your real weaknesses are. You might believe that you’re just lacking vocabulary, or that your pronunciation has problems. A test will reveal if that is true, or if in fact your real problem is in your listening or reading abilities.
Knowing the truth is the first half of your language-learning battle. After that, comes effective and well-placed action.
4.) Lift yourself from the plateau
Following from this knowledge of your real current level and problems, you can find ways to lift yourself from the intermediate plateau on which many find themselves. Instead of trying to raise yourself to the advanced stages with more vocabulary learning, you could discover that your speaking and listening skills need attention. Some extra lessons with a native speaker teacher should help with that.
Give this process time and you’ll soon be off that dreaded plateau, or through that stubborn wall --- take your pick!
💛 CEFR is your friend!
The CEFR level system is about helping you understand your language skills better, as well as getting where you want to be linguistically! Here at LanguageConvo we're excited to help you get started.
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