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English Language Proficiency Levels: What do A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 Mean?

English Language Proficiency Levels: What do A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 Mean?

How can you tell if your English lessons are truly beneficial and your proficiency is improving? There are several assessment systems to determine language proficiency. In Europe, the Common European Framework of Reference, or CEFR, is commonly used.

Let's explore what language proficiency levels this scale describes and how to use it effectively for learning.

What is the CEFR Scale, or What are the English Language Proficiency Levels?

The CEFR scale was developed in the 1990s as part of the "Language Learning for European Citizenship" project. It is designed to accurately assess proficiency in any European language, not just English. It is also suitable for those learning Russian as a foreign language.

Why was such a scale needed? For accuracy. It's easy to say, "I know English well," but that statement can mean different things to different people. One might mean they can order pizza in a restaurant without much trouble, while another might refer to being able to write a decent cardiology report.

The CEFR scale details each level of language proficiency, considering key language skills: reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The scale includes 6 levels:

  • A1 — Beginner
  • A2 — Elementary
  • B1 — Threshold (Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate)
  • B2 — Vantage (Upper Intermediate)
  • C1 — Effective Operational Proficiency (Advanced)
  • C2 — Mastery (Proficiency)

Each level corresponds to a specific set of language skills. Here is what an individual studying any European language can do at each CEFR level:

Level A1. Beginner

At this stage, the learner can handle tasks such as:

  • Greet and part ways, apologize, and express gratitude.
  • Make simple requests, such as asking for water or directions to the restroom.
  • Introduce themselves to new acquaintances.
  • Ask and answer basic personal questions (about residence, age, profession).
  • Understand simple phrases if spoken slowly and clearly, with help available.
  • Read very short English signs with illustrations.
  • Fill out forms with personal data (gender, age, nationality, address, etc.).

Vocabulary of up to 1500 words.

Level A2. Elementary

At this stage, the learner can handle tasks such as:

  • Use English in simple everyday situations: in stores, cafes, etc.
  • Talk about themselves, where they live, their social circle, and express basic needs.
  • Briefly discuss their interests and desires.
  • Ask for directions.
  • Understand statements on basic topics (about themselves, family, work, shopping, hobbies).
  • Watch English-language news reports and instructional videos, understanding at least the main ideas.
  • Read short messages, simple instructions, and schedules.
  • Sign postcards.
  • Write short messages or captions for social media photos.
  • Take notes on short texts.

Vocabulary of 1500–2500 words.

Level B1. Threshold

At this stage, the person can handle tasks such as:

  • Travel without a translator and communicate in typical tourist situations: at hotels, airports, museums.
  • Describe their experiences, past events, dreams, plans, and hopes.
  • Argue their point of view on simple issues.
  • Ask for clarification when information is unclear.
  • Understand statements on main topics related to work or leisure.
  • Watch children’s cartoons and films with clear plots in the original voiceover and subtitles.
  • Listen to podcasts without specialized vocabulary.
  • Have telephone conversations.
  • Read instructions, promotional brochures, short official documents.
  • Read texts on unfamiliar topics, guessing the meanings of unknown words from context.
  • Write simple essays, reviews of products and services, letters, and resumes.

Vocabulary of 2500–3300 words.

Level B2. Vantage

At this level, the person can handle tasks such as:

  • Engage in detailed conversations in English about their profession or hobby.
  • Freely and spontaneously converse on abstract topics, improvising.
  • Express their viewpoint on a problem, noting the pros and cons of various solutions.
  • Attend interviews, discussing their experience and asking the recruiter about job conditions.
  • Watch most English-language movies and series, interviews, reports, and talk shows with subtitles.
  • Attend lectures at school, courses, or university.
  • Understand conversations on main topics.
  • Grasp the main ideas of complex texts on unfamiliar or abstract topics.
  • Write essays on abstract topics or make blog entries.
  • Prepare detailed resumes.
  • Write business or personal letters.

Vocabulary of 3300–3750 words.

Level C1. Advanced

At this level, the person can handle tasks such as:

  • Communicate spontaneously on any topic.
  • Participate in discussions and argue their position.
  • Understand complex and lengthy statements on a variety of topics.
  • Watch films and TV programs without subtitles.
  • Recognize different accents.
  • Read media articles and texts containing specialized terms.
  • Read unadapted literary works.
  • Write clear, well-structured, detailed texts on complex topics.
  • Reflect stylistic requirements in writing.
  • Efficiently manage business and personal correspondence in English.

Vocabulary of 3750–4500 words.

Level C2. Mastery

At this level, the person can handle tasks such as:

  • Communicate spontaneously on complex topics (politics, law, science).
  • Speak nearly without an accent.
  • Deliver public presentations, answer audience questions.
  • Use specialized vocabulary, idioms, slang, and synonyms in speech.
  • Understand even rapid speech.
  • Catch hidden meanings, irony, and intonation.
  • Perceive speech with various accents by ear.
  • Read literary works from different eras for pleasure.
  • Understand texts rich in specialized and professional vocabulary.
  • Read textbooks, manuals, and technical instructions.
  • Write coherent and coherent texts in various styles: informal, official, etc.
  • Compose complex, structured letters, reports, or articles.
  • Conduct complex business correspondence.

Vocabulary of over 4500 words.

Other English Language Proficiency Levels

CEFR is not the only scale for determining language proficiency. Other levels, mainly based on the results of international tests like IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge exams, also correlate with the CEFR levels.

How to Improve Your English Language Proficiency

How long does it take to learn English from scratch? Language learning progresses at uneven speeds, and different levels require varying efforts:

  • From zero to A1 — 70–100 hours of lessons with a teacher and 70 hours of homework.
  • From A1 to A2 — 100 hours of lessons with a teacher and 100–120 hours of homework.
  • From A2 to B1 — about 100–170 hours with a teacher and 180 hours of independent study.
  • From B1 to B2 — 200 hours with a teacher and about 300 hours of independent work. It is beneficial to start learning with a native speaker at this stage.
  • From B2 to C1 — about 200 hours with a teacher and 400 hours of independent work. Ideally, teaching should be conducted entirely in English at this stage.
  • From C1 to C2 — typically, students progress through this stage through self-study: refining skills, practicing listening, reading, communicating, and writing.
  • Mastery at C2 can be a lifelong endeavor.

Where can you improve your English? It's most convenient to study at an online school:

  • First, unlike aggregator websites where tutors post ads, online schools verify the qualifications of their teachers, monitor their work, and can vouch for their professionalism.
  • Second, you can study at an online school from anywhere in the world; no need to travel, with thousands of professional tutors at your service, even if you live in a small town.
  • Third, online English courses often offer more favorable conditions than freelance tutors: discounts for paying for a package of lessons upfront, installment plans, free access to their resources.

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