What is CEFR?

Explaining the CEFR levels and how to find yours

A product of over 20 years of research, CEFR, or the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, is an internationally recognised system for describing language proficiency.

The framework solved the issue of how to define language skill levels.

Now, instead of each school and exam creating their own definition of "lower intermediate French," there is an international standard. That means, whether you're applying for a job or a school placement, stating your French skills using CEFR levels is globally understood.

But what do each of the levels mean, and how can you know where your French skills currently lie? Read on to find out!

The CEFR levels

The CEFR levels are broken into six levels of language proficiency; with three broad divisions and 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

How do you find out where you fall on this list?

The next section explains which abilities differentiate each of the levels, so you can identify which one describes your current French skill. Or take our free French level test to find out for sure!

Each CEFR level explained

CEFR uses an action-oriented approach to defining proficiency. Each level's definition revolves around how well you can understand and communicate in real-world situations.

Below is the full description of what's expected at each level in terms of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

A0 French Level

A0 is so basic that it's usually excluded from the list. At this French level, you're considered a brand-new beginner. But no worries; a lot of people start with very little previous knowledge of the French language. We all gotta start somewhere, right? At this level, you may even know a few basic terms and common words, but overall, you're still at a very novice stage of your language learning journey.

Now, if you've never taken any formal classes or training, it's completely understandable why you scored an A0 French level on your French fluency test. But with dozens of A0 French lessons for new learners, our online French course using A.I. technology is the quickest way to get you up to speed.

A1: Beginner

This stage is a step above no knowledge, but still somewhat of a novice. At an A1 French level, you can hold your own in a simple conversation where the other person is speaking slowly and clearly. You can also probably manage to ask for directions to a restaurant if you're ever visiting Paris. At this stage, you're able to:

  • Introduce yourself or a friend
  • Understand simple phrases and common expressions (Parlez-vous anglais, anyone?)
  • Respond to basic questions about family, where you're from, age, etc.
  • Engage in simple conversations. You'll probably still need a little help repeating words, reformulating sentences, etc.

For free exercises to refine and advance your A1 French (and hopefully move you up to A2!), check out our learning library.

A2: Elementary

Now we're getting there! The A2 French level indicates your ability to understand broader phrases and expressions about everyday circumstances, from your personal life to your professional life. At this stage, you're able to:

  • Discuss fundamental aspects of your personal life (name, age, place of residence), shopping, relationships, professions, career, and education
  • Use simple terms to describe your surroundings and express your needs
  • Talk about simple tasks and familiar subjects

To help you master this meatier stage of French learning, we have over 150 A2 French lessons! They cover everything from verb conjugation to correctly positioning adverbs.

B1: Intermediate

Here's where concepts and language start connecting. At a B1 French level, you've effectively moved past the greetings and touristy questions and are now getting into more of the contextual components needed to become fluent in French. You also have some basic writing skills that can help you in professional or educational settings. Therefore, this is the stage the government considers fluent enough for French citizenship.

At this stage, you're able to:

  • Have deeper, clearer conversations about familiar topics — including work, school, hobbies, etc.
  • Get a good grasp on events and varying situations when travelling to a French-speaking country or city
  • Write simple texts about familiar topics, hobbies, or basic interests
  • Provide descriptive explanations of an experience, dream, event, etc.
  • Engage in cohesive arguments to support a project or idea

If you think this is your current French level, then dive right in to our free B1 resources here! Or if you're still not sure whether you should be studying A2, B1, or B2, take our free French level test.

B2: Upper Intermediate

If you're at a B2 French level, you're considered upper intermediate. At this point, you've got a solid understanding of grammar, syntax, and other elements within the French language. And while you've still got a ways to go before you're considered advanced, you have enough comprehension to comfortably hold conversations with natives. You're also able to:

  • Understand complex text and main ideas, even if it's technical text—especially if it's about a familiar topic or within an area of interest
  • Express ideas and opinions clearly and with a high level of detail on a wide range of topics
  • Discuss current events and news, and make comprehensive arguments for or against these topics
  • Browse French websites and understand them, though you may still encounter words or idioms you're not familiar with

At this level, many people are comfortable using French in their daily lives. However, specific grammar rules and irregular verbs may still trip you up, even though you speak fluently. Refine your knowledge of these trickier subjects with our free B2 French materials.

C1: Advanced

You've made it—this is the French level where fluent speakers (both native and non-native) usually score. If you're at this advanced stage, you're very close to mastering the French language. Not only do you understand complex vocabulary and grammar, but you've also grasped native idioms and nuances.

  • Effectively understand an extensive range of vocabulary within a complex text and pick up on the nuances, i.e., "read between the lines"
  • Effortlessly hold conversations, speak fluently, and react to spontaneous situations
  • Express yourself effectively in any formal or informal context (social, professional, or academic)
  • Develop clear and structured arguments about complex topics
  • Confidently apply for jobs in a French-speaking country

If you don't have the opportunity to use your French daily, even C1 level French speakers can struggle to maintain their skills. So take advantage of our free C1 level resources to make sure you don't lose what you've learned!

C2: Upper Advanced

Not even all native speakers use their language at a C2 level!

At this stage, your skills are so advanced that there's little that exercises and lessons can do for you; hence, our exercises only go up to level C1.

Beyond this point, staying up-to-date with French journalism is the best way to find out what you don't yet know. Long, in-depth articles and podcasts will help you spot the vocabulary and expressions you're lacking. And keep using C1 lessons and exercises to maintain and refine your foundation.

Find out your French CEFR level

Now that you're familiar with the CEFR levels, you may have a rough idea of which one describes your French skills.

Still, though, language learning isn't a black-and-white process. It could be that your reading and writing are a level ahead of your speaking and listening, or vice versa.

In that case, how can you find out your true French level?

With our free French level test!

By posing several questions to test your language at every level, our highly-specialised AI system can identify not just your level but also what you should study next.

What are you waiting for? Find out your level with our no-obligation, free French level test now!


Related info: Official French Tests & Diplomas | French Test Prep


    Getting that for you now...