Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

Learning, Teaching, Assessment

Resulting of over twenty years of research, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR) has been designed to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency. It is used in Europe but also in other continents and is now available in 39 languages.
Download the Framework (PDF document)

The CEFR describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. It also defines three ‘plus’ levels (A2+, B1+, B2+). Based on empirical research and widespread consultation, this scheme makes it possible to compare tests and examinations across languages and national boundaries (see the section “The CEFR and language examinations: a toolkit”). It also provides a basis for recognising language qualifications and thus facilitating educational and occupational mobility.
The CEFR’s illustrative scales of “can do” descriptors are available in a bank of descriptors together with many other related descriptors.

The CEFR is much more than proficiency scales

The CEFR’s scales of foreign language proficiency are accompanied by a detailed analysis of communicative contexts, themes, tasks and purposes as well as scaled descriptions of the competences on which we draw when we communicate. This helps to explain why the CEFR is increasingly used in teacher education, the reform of foreign language curricula and the development of teaching materials (in this connection see the results of a survey carried out in 2006 among Council of Europe member states).

Using the CEFR in specific contexts

The CEFR does not offer ready-made solutions but must always be adapted to the requirements of particular contexts, for example, the teaching and learning of Romani and of French Sign Language. The need for careful interpretation and adaptation is especially acute when the CEFR’s descriptive apparatus and proficiency levels are used to explore the communicative needs of adult migrants and to guide the assessment of their proficiency in the language of their host community (see the relevant studies).

Responsibility of member states in the use of the CEFR

The 2007 Forum had significant consequences. Besides a Recommendation on the use of the CEFR (see text box), new initiatives aimed to develop the richness of the CEFR beyond the proficiency scales. A platform of resources and references for plurilingual and intercultural education has been established to this end and is gradually being developed by the project “Languages in education/Languages for education”.

In 2007 the Council of Europe organised an intergovernmental forum on “The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the development of language policies: challenges and responsibilities”. This gave member states an opportunity to debate a number of policy issues raised by the rapid adoption of the CEFR in Europe and the increasingly widespread use of its proficiency levels (see the forum report and proposed follow-up).

Recalling that in educational matters responsibility lies with the member states, the forum concluded that “rather than vis--vis the Council of Europe, it is towards one's own learners and one's European partners that one has a responsibility for making coherent, realistic use of the CEFR.” Accordingly a “Recommendation on the use of the CEFR” has been addressed to the governments of member states.