Introductory Guide to the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for English Language Teachers

What is the Common European Framework of Reference?

The Common European Framework of Reference gives you a detailed description of learner level by skill, in a language-neutral format. It is a useful reference document for school directors, syllabus designers, teachers, teacher trainers and proficient learners.

The CEFR has three broad bands – A, B and C. Very loosely, you can see these as similar to Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced – though the CEFR levels are more precise than these terms (and calls them
Basic, Independent, and Proficient). Each of those bands is divided into two, giving us six main levels.

Why do we need the CEFR?
Even among teachers of the same language in similar contexts there can be a lot of variety in what is meant by terms like ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’. This variability increases significantly across different languages, in different countries, with different age ranges of learners, etc. The CEFR makes it easier for all of us to talk about language levels reliably and with shared understanding.

Is it just about levels?

The CEFR has been very significant in language learning and teaching because its impact goes beyond merely describing learner levels. It has underpinned a particular approach to language learning as the one most commonly recommended or expected in language teaching today.

This approach is based on the notion of communicative proficiency – the increasing ability to communicate and operate effectively in the target language.

The descriptions of levels are skills-based and take the form of Can Do statements, as in the examples below. These descriptions of ability focus on communicative purpose and make for a very practical approach, which looks at what people can do – rather than on specific linguistic knowledge.

Examples of Can Do statements from the CEFR

– Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need. [A2, Global Scale]

– Can understand enough to follow extended speech on abstract and complex topics beyond his/her own field, though he/she may need to confirm occasional details, especially if the accent is unfamiliar.
[C1, Listening] [A2, Global Scale]

– Can understand a wide range of long and complex texts, appreciating subtle distinctions of style and implicit as well as explicit meaning. [A2, Global Scale]

– Can write personal letters and notes asking for or conveying simple information of immediate relevance, getting across the point he/she feels to be important. [B1, Written interaction]

– Can use stock phrases (e.g. “That’s a difficult question to answer”) to gain time and keep the turn whilst formulating what to say. [B2, Turntaking]

What is it used for?
The CEFR is used for many different practical purposes:

Progressing through the CEFR levels

The CEFR helps us understand the different levels of language proficiency. It also helps us understand how learners progress through the levels. The Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) – of which Cambridge English Language Assessment is a founding member – estimates that learners typically take the following guided learning hours to progress between levels.

Guided learning hours’ means time in lessons as well as tasks you set them to do.

You will notice that it takes longer to progress a level as learners move up the scale. Of course, learners will vary in how long they take depending on many factors.

This means that many learners will follow more than one course to progress from one level to the next.

We can also use the ‘+’ to indicate the top half of a level. For example, ‘B1+’ means the top half of the B1 range. You will find this convention followed on Cambridge course books.

We are also working on a project to define in more detail the linguistic knowledge typically mastered at each CEFR level – for English. This programme is called English Profile and there’s more information on this later in this booklet. This more precise information helps teachers get a better idea of how to break down the learning for each CEFR level into different classes within their school or college.

Click here for more info on the CEFR for English Language Teachers

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AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE: Thomas Jerome Baker
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About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
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