What is the CEF?

Mon, 07/16/2018 - 21:01

The CEF or Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

Initiated in the early 1990s the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) was created to define a common basis for language learning in Europe. It aims to improve the recognition of language qualifications, to help the design of learning materials, the teaching of languages and the assessment of learners.

Focusing on the language proficiency levels of learners the CEFR distinguishes between different language activities:

  1.   reception (listening & reading)
  2.   interaction (spoken & written)
  3.   production (spoken & written)
  4.   mediation (translating & interpreting)

Language users develop various degrees of competence so the CEF is subdivided into common reference levels (Basic users A1/A2, Independent users B1/B2 and Proficient users C1/C2). The descriptors for each level define what a learner “can do”, e.g. a Basic User “can communicate in simple and routine tasks in familiar and routine matters”, an Independent User “can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics” and a Proficient User “can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read”.

Why have the CEF?

In the past, many educational bodies had their own forms of language learning and evaluation thus making it difficult to find a standardized approach. Additionally, the CEF roughly defines how many hours training are required, depending on the language, to improve or reach the next level.  On average some 200 hours are required per level with about 1000-1200 hours needed in total to become a Proficient user. This is a distinct advantage for learners and institutions as minimum language levels for entry to study or for a job can be defined.  Equally, this makes it easier to teach and evaluate learners according to the descriptors and competencies defined in the CEF. And, for publishers or creators of learning material the descriptors help identify the materials suitable for the different learner levels.

Because the descriptors are based on examples there are a few disadvantages. The descriptors and “can do” statements can be interpreted or are measured in slightly different ways. There is a fuzzy edge between levels.  And, a learner may have a language profile across different levels in different areas, e.g. listening & reading competencies may be stronger than their spoken or written skills especially if they have had more exposure to the target language in this area. If a learner speaks a lot then their writing skill level may be lower, alternatively, they may have highly specialized technical knowledge in one area, but are rather inaccurate when communicating. This is also true of a person’s native language and depends on what exposure to the language the person has experienced.

The benefits of the CEF, however, outweigh the disadvantages. Publishers, universities, schools and trainers as well as learners now have a unified approach to language learning in Europe. Additionally, the entire European community benefits by having access to objective criteria describing language proficiency, as the CEF aims to facilitate communication and interaction amongst the member states for the betterment of all Europeans.

The full CEF reference descriptors can be found here:

Wikipedia offers a good overview of the CEF:

Background information on the CEF:

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