Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing


To make it easier for educational institutions and employers to evaluate the language qualifications of students and/or candidates for their admission and/or employment, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages:  Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR or CEF) was developed by the Council of Europe.  This guideline is used to gauge levels of language ability, no matter what foreign language is being learned.  There are  six reference levels of language fluency to aid in teaching and assessment.

REFERENCE LEVELSLevels of Language Proficiency

These levels of language proficiency are not particular to one foreign language but can be applied to any language being learned, thus considered to be a global scale, or one that can be used across the board.  Having a means to measure language fluency levels is helpful.  To further investigate what is meant by the different Reference Levels and where you might fall in these levels of language fluency, the following table drawn from CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level:

Level A1: Beginner or Breakthrough

  • Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
  • Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.
  • Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Level A2: Elementary or WaystageListening, Speaking, Reading, Writing

  • Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
  • Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
  • Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.

Level B1: Intermediate or Threshold

  • Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
  • Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
  • Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Level B2: Upper Intermediate or Vantage

  • Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
  • Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
  • Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

Level C1: Advanced or Effective Operational Proficiency

  • Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning.
  • Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
  • Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
  • Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Level C2: Proficiency or Mastery

  • Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
  • Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
  • Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.


One of the benefits to knowing your level, is that you will have an idea of how far along you are in gaining your proficiency, and how much farther you have to go.

  • At the Elementary, you’re busy developing basic skills to be Language Learningfamiliar with everyday expressions and simple phrases.
  • As a Pre-Intermediate, you will increase your aptitude at conversation in routine matters.
  • As you progress to Intermediate, you will gain more understanding with matters dealing with work place, school and leisure. As a traveler, you should have better ability to deal with situations that may arise. You will learn to describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
  • At the Upper-Intermediate level, more complex ideas will be learned, including concrete and abstract topics, more details surround areas of expertise, and your ability to interact with native speakers becomes more natural and less awkward. You will be able to produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain your viewpoint on many different topics.
  • Finally, the Advanced and Proficiency levels afford you an understanding of a wide range of demanding, longer texts. You should at this level be able to express yourself and spontaneously.  You will be able to use your language skills effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.

Keep in mind that the CEFR is only a recommendation, a framework for mutual reference.  Even within the definition, there can be different interpretations of what a “detailed text” or “complex situation” might be.  This reference tool is very helpful as a way of giving you an idea of the natural progression of an acquired language and where you are in that process.

Take a few minutes to reflect: At what language fluency level do you see yourself?  How are you progressing?  What is your goal?  And how will you get there? — Do you wonder which are the best Language Courses?

I encourage you to use the comment section below to share your questions, experiences, and ideas.  I do read and respond to all of them. ~ Dana


  1. Hello David Good article on levels of language proficiency. As an English teacher in China I thought you covered this in great detail, and I learned some that I can pass along to other teachers. Also I loved the Image at the beginning of the article and found from reading that you covered the major points well.

    Pleased to also see you giving great information to your readers. Great work 🙂

    1. Thank you, Peter. You are doing great work teaching English as a foreign language. It’s time for us in the USA to meet our neighbors in their own languages and not assume everyone will learn ours. Part of it is simply a matter of hospitality and respect.

  2. Hi Dana, oh my I didn’t know that there are that many levels of language proficiency. English is not my first language, but speak it rather regularly because I’m working in a multinational company. I thought that I only need to be able speak and write, and that should be enough. I never really thought of where is my level of proficiency at. I would like to believe that I speak and write decent English, but I also believe that my grammar is not exactly in correct orders I guess. If I may ask you Dana, where is my level of language proficiency of English based on my writing here? Would definitely appreciate your honest opinion please. Thanks Dana.

    1. Hello Dominic! Your English is very good, though I do see some minor syntactical irregularities. To determine your level, there are tests you can take such as described here: It sounds to me, however, that you have a level of practical fluency that works well for you in your multi-national work. That is great! I hope to attain that level in my non-primary language as well, ~ David

  3. I have been studying Spanish on and off for years. My husband is fluent and so are my children. I would love to also be fluent one day. The value of knowing another language is immeasurable. I think I am somewhere between a beginner and elementary level. Are there any programs or tips I can follow to help advance my language abilities?

    1. There are several programs that I expect you would find helpful, as well as one big tip. To become fluent, you need to practice listening to and speaking Spanish. Reading and writing won’t get you there; they are different skills. The good news is: you have build in practice partners! As far as programs, I suggest you check out my reviews of Glossika, Learning Spanish Like Crazy, Italki, Rocket Languages, and Babbel. Pick one that fits your styles of life and learning, get started, and stick with it. Best wishes!

  4. When I knew we would be living in Andalucia, Spain for a good part of the year, I really studied hard to learn the language. I must say I failed miserably and could not get to grips with the genders of words which is not found in English.
    I think us Brits have a bad reputation for being lazy with our foreign language skills but I really think it is hard to learn a language which is completely alien in structure to the one you speak natively, especially when we’ve been speaking it for 60 plus years!
    As English is spoken so readily throughout the world, perhaps it is a little easier to pick up because the media is much based on the English language.
    Even so, I did feel a complete numpty when having to deal with the bank, the post office, the ayuntamiento (town hall) and other officialdom.
    So as for your question at the bottom of your excellent post, which grade do I think I am, I can safely say probably just A2.
    One thing that really worried me was causing insult to the older Spanish generation when you had to be careful how you addressed them. Children and young people seem to be spoken to differently than their grandparents for instance. This made conversing quite stressful for fear of causing offence!
    Oddly, when I returned to the UK, I found my Spanish improved. I think it was because I wasn’t under any stress to speak it perfectly. I quite enjoy US TV programs that have Spanish spoken as I can tell hubby the jist of the conversation.
    The phrase I remember best? Dos cafe con leche por favor! Their coffee is the best on the planet!

    1. Thank you for your comment. It can be easy to rest on our English because it is commonly spoken. We, like you, living abroad want to be able to speak the language. Even when we are imperfect, there is great appreciation for our efforts. Sometimes I think we provide a bit of amusement to the locals here with our feeble attempts. So far we have done well in communicating our needs and wants. Now we are working on conversation, where the true beauty lies. 

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

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