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Understanding the CEFR

The CEFR has become the industry standard for measuring language proficiency and a key resource for educational policy worldwide

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

What is the CEFR?

The CEFR measures language ability in a scale of six levels, which start from A1 for beginners to C2 for those who mastered a language. The video below explains the six CEFR levels with a summary of what one can do at each level and tells us why this is important.

The "Can-Do" Descriptions

The table below gives a brief detail of the language abilities one can do at a given CEFR proficiency level.

The CEFR Levels Correspond to Specific Can-Do statements

Four Language Skills

There are four language skills that we need for complete communication. There is a separate CEFR level and a Can Description for each skill. 


Each of the four language skills — listening, speaking, reading, and writing— are distinct and each uniquely contributes to a student’s overall communicative ability. It     is this broader trait of communicative competence — not     a single specific individual skill — that is critical in most academic and workplace settings. 


These language skills are best thought of in terms of communication input and communication output.


We first hear a language (input) as an infant and slowly begin to understand the meaning of its sounds. Then we begin to model the sounds when we speak. This is output.

4 Language Skills__reduced.jpg

It is a similar development for written language which is usually developed after the ability to speak. We first learn an alphabet and how to recognize words (input). Later we express these words on paper in writing for providing an output skill for communication.

Learning English as a Second Language


It is typically a different development cycle when someone learns a second language. Traditionally teaching will focus on one of two skills to the detriment of the other language abilities. So, it is not unusual for a language student to have different CEFR levels for different language skills.


Someone could be a B2 in reading, but only an A2 in speaking.  This often happens when student focus their English studies a courses book and have limited opportunities to hear or speak the language.


And while listening and reading tests can provide an indirect indication of speaking and writing ability, they provide no comprehensive assessment of one overall language communicative ability.

This can lead to students who can comprehend English at higher grade levels, but are handicapped in their ability to effectively communicate through speaking — a skill deficiency can be critical later at university or in a workplace setting

Free CEFR Tools

The CEFR has given us new ways to learn, teach and assess English.


On our English Profile page, you can access free tools—based on decades of research—to help teachers use the CEFR to become better educators!

The Cambridge Learner's Dictionary is a great free tool. It’s an online dictionary where you type in the word and it will give its meaning, part of speech, and an audio recording of the correct pronunciation in British and American English.

​However, it will also give you the specific CEFR level—from A1 to C2—for each use of the word.


Try it out!  Type in “rich” and see how this word is an elementary word (A2), but it’s also a B2 upper intermediate word as well.

Know Your English Level

Free Tests!

Here are four online placement tests. They're free and you can take them as often as you wish.​


These tests are a good way to get an approximate idea of your English proficiency level. These tests are:


  • The General English Test is for adult learners.  

  • The Business English Test has been created for working professionals.

  • The For Schools Test is for teenage aged kids.

  • The Young Learners Test is for young children 10 years of age or younger.

How long do I need to learn English?

How much Study is Needed?

Vantage is often asked about the number of study hours required to reach a certain CEFR level. It’s not possible to give a simple answer to this.


The study hours needed vary depending upon several factors, such as the number of hours a student studies, the inclinations and age of the individual. Equally important is the amount of exposure to English outside of normal classroom lesson times.

The figures in the table below can be seen as an approximate guideline. The chart assumes the student starts at the absolute beginning level (A1).

How much study is required for each Cambridge CEFR level?

Putting it all Together

Here’s an example of how the chart works.

Take an individual currently at the A2 level that wants to reach the B2 level of English proficiency. They would need some 320 to 400 hours of study (500-180=320 and 600-200=400).


If they studied 4 hours a week, it would take approximately 80 to 100 weeks (320/4 and 400/4) to reach this upper immediate level of English.

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