What is CEFR?
Historically, French tests—indeed, all European language tests—were rather haphazard and non-standard. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of different proficiency-level descriptions and examinations and it was hard to know what a grade in any one of them meant unless you were familiar with that particular system. Every school had its own definition of what it meant to be, say, “lower intermediate French”.
CEFR, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, was created after more than twenty years of research as a standard way of describing language proficiency so people across Europe would have a common way of indicating someone's language level. CEFR makes it possible to compare language skills, tests and exams across languages and national boundaries. It has become the standard throughout Europe, and is beginning to be used globally. Schools and businesses understand it because it's applicable to any European language, and it's not specific to any particular course, curriculum or exam.
Moreover, CEFR adopts an actions-oriented approach which means that the standard is fundamentally defined around your ability to understand and communicate in real-world situations in a way that school certificates in French are not. Each level is defined as a description of roughly what you ought to be able to do in terms of understanding and communicating. The official French tests DELF and DALF are based on CEFR.
CEFR describes six levels of language proficiency, divided into three broad divisions and then two sub-divisions:
A - Basic User
- A1 Breakthrough or Beginner
- A2 Waystage or Elementary
B - Independent User
- B1 Threshold or Intermediate
- B2 Vantage or Upper-Intermediate
C - Proficient User
- C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or Advanced
- C2 Mastery or Proficiency
The full description of what's expected at each level in terms of reading, writing, listening and speaking skills can be found here, but if you're wondering how your school French matches up, brace yourself: the truth is, school French up to age 16 isn't likely to get you much past CEFR level A2 if that's all the exposure to the French language you've had. An hour or two of French every week for 41 weeks over two years isn't a great deal when you think about it - here's some more info.
But don't be disheartened. Taking a French test (indeed regular French tests) is an excellent way to find out and keep track of your position along the language learning journey. It also helps you become competent and fluent more quickly.
If you want to find out roughly what your CEFR French level is, take our French test. It's powered by Kwiziq, a state-of-the-art language testing technology which can offer you personalised guidance on your language learning journey.
CEFR is an extremely comprehensive framework covering far more than just testing and assessment. The Council of Europe provides a huge amount of support materials for schools, teachers and assessment bodies.