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The Common European Framework

The Common European Framework provides a common basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses, curriculum guidelines, examinations, textbooks, etc. across Europe. It describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The Framework also defines levels of proficiency which allow learners’ progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis.

The methodology used in developing the Common Reference Levels, and their illustrative descriptors, has therefore been fairly rigorous. A systematic combination of intuitive, qualitative and quantitative methods was employed. First, the content of existing scales was analysed in relation to categories of description used in the Framework. Then, in an intuitive phase, this material was edited, new descriptors were formulated, and the set discussed by experts. Next a variety of qualitative methods were used to check that teachers could relate to the descriptive categories selected, and that descriptors actually described the categories they were intended to describe. Finally, the best descriptors in the set were scaled using quantitative methods. The accuracy of this scaling has since been checked in replication studies.


The Common Reference Levels


There does appear in practice to be a wide, though by no means universal, consensus on the number and nature of levels appropriate to the organisation of language learningand the public recognition of achievement. It seems that an outline framework of six broad levels gives an adequate coverage of the learning space relevant to European language learners for these purposes.


Breakthrough, corresponding to what Wilkins in his 1978 proposal labelled ‘Formulaic Proficiency’, and Trim in the same publication1 ‘Introductory’. 


Waystage, reflecting the Council of Europe content specification.


Threshold, reflecting the Council of Europe content specification.


Vantage, reflecting the third Council of Europe content specification, a level described as ‘Limited Operational Proficiency’ by Wilkins, and ‘adequate response to situations normally encountered’ by Trim.


Effective Operational Proficiency which was called ‘Effective Proficiency’ by Trim, ‘Adequate Operational Proficiency’ by Wilkins, and represents an advanced level of competence suitable for more complex work and study tasks. 


Mastery (Trim: ‘comprehensive mastery’; Wilkins: ‘Comprehensive Operational Proficiency’), corresponds to the top examination objective in the scheme adopted by ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe). It could be extended to include the more developed intercultural competence above that level which is achieved by many language professionals.


Basic User Independent user Proficient User
A1: Breakthrough B1: Threshold C1: Effective Operational Proficiency
A2: Waystage B2: Vantage C2: Mastery


Common Reference Levels: Global Scale


The user can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. He/she can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. He/she can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

(Level required in 3rd and 4th year Profesorado)


The user can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. He/she can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. He/she can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. He/she can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices

(Level required in 2nd year Profesorado)


The user can understand the main ideas of a complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. He/she can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. He/she 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 required in 1st year Profesorado) 


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

A2 The user 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). He/she can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. He/she can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need. 

The user can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. He/she 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. He/she can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

International English Examinations

CEF: Common European Framework Levels


ALTE Level ALTE Level Description Council of Europe Cambridge Examination
0 Beginner A1  
1 Elementary A2 KET
2 Lower Intermediate B1


BEC Preliminary

CELS Preliminary

3 Upper Intermediate B2

BEC Vantage

CELS Vantage


4 Advanced C1

BEC Higher

CELS Higher


5 Very Advanced C2 CPE


You can download the complete text of the framework document here