Your essential guide to Language Assessment and how to self-evaluate your language skills

Language Assessment

Language assessment is a measure of the proficiency a language user has in any given language.

When you’re just starting out, you might be really happy to say a few basic expressions. Once you get more advanced, you might wish you could have a formal discussion on current events. It’s a moving goalpost for all of us. This makes defining levels of language proficiency tricky. But don’t worry! We are going to make it REALLY easy for you. Because after all, language learning with Verbalists should be an exciting journey. This guide is going to overview everything you need to know about the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference), what fluency is, and how you can figure out your level of language proficiency using the CEFR self-assessment.

Language Self-Assessment  – What course is right for me?

Self-assessment is a preliminary way for language learners to gauge their language skills against a standardized scale. Verbalists Language Network’s guide will help you understand how to assess your language level and determine the number of hours needed to reach proficiency in a foreign language.

There is a lot of jargon around language levels, which can be overwhelming for those who are new to the world of language learning, so let’s first explain the terms you need to know, and how they are used.

Language Levels Jargon

The most important acronym to know is the CEFR. The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is an internationally recognized set of standards, put together by the Council of Europe between 1989 and 1996. The CEFR provides a basis for all language learners and language qualifications to measure their levels on an equal footing, thereby facilitating educational and occupational mobility, not only across Europe but across the world.

The CEFR organizes language proficiency in six levels, A1 to C2, which can be regrouped into three broad levels: Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User, and that can be further subdivided according to the needs of the local context.

In this guide, we will present you with the CEFR levels, and then we will define those levels through the ‘can do’ statements that explain what a learner should be able to do at each level. Finally, we will show you how many hours of training are needed to reach a certain level, and how we assess progression throughout your language learning journey.

Ultimate guide to Language Assessment and how to self-evaluate your language skills
Click on the image to enlarge

To find your level of language proficiency according to the CEFR, simply pick a category/language level, then read through the statements in that category. If you have those abilities, move down to the next one.

You’ll quickly see that you can be at different levels of language proficiency in each category. You may have a B2 in listening but a B1 in reading, depending on how you study and what areas interest you. To figure out your overall level of language proficiency, you average them out. For instance, if you’re a B2 speaker and listener, a B1 reader, and an A1 writer, you would roughly classify as an overall B1.

Once you figure out your level, you can see what’s needed to move on to the next level. It’s a quick way to discover where your abilities are. 

Language Levels

BASIC USER

A1 (Beginner)

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 clearly and is prepared to help.

A2 (Elementary)

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.

B1 (Intermediate)

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
whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics, which are familiar, or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for
opinions and plans.

INDEPENDENT USER

B2 (Upper Intermediate)

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.

PROFICIENT USER

C1 (Advanced)

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear and well-structured text on complex subjects.

C2 (Proficient)

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 more complex situations.

The CEFR levels in the languages of the Council of Europe member states

BasqueFrenchMoldovan/Romanian
BulgarianGalicianNorwegian
CatalanGaelicPolish
CroatianGermanPortuguese
CzechGreekRussian
DanishHungarianSlovakian
DutchIcelandicSlovenian
EnglishItalianSpanish
EsperantoLatvianSwedish
EstonianLithuanianTurkish
FinnishMaltese

‘Can Do’ Statements

The following ‘can do’ statements can be used by the learner to self-assess their linguistic and competence level. These provide a guide of what the learner should be able to do depending on his/her CEFR level for each of the four skills of Listening, Reading, Speaking and Writing. It is also a checklist of the abilities expected at each level to be successful in the next course.

Beginner (A1) – I can…
UNDERSTANDING

Listening: I can recognize familiar words and very basic phrases about myself, my family and immediate surroundings when people speak slowly and clearly.

Reading: I can understand familiar names, words and very simple job sentences, for example, on notices and posters or in catalogues.

SPEAKING

Spoken Interaction: I can interact in a simple way provided the other person is prepared to repeat or rephrase things at a slower rate of speech and help me formulate what I’m trying to say. I can ask and answer simple questions on very familiar topics.

Spoken Production: I can use simple phrases and sentences to describe where I live and people I know.

Writing: I can write a short, simple postcard, for example sending holiday greetings. I can fill in forms with personal details, for example entering my name, nationality and address on a hotel registration form.

Elementary (A2) – I can…
Understanding

Listening: I can understand phrases and the highest frequency vocabulary related to areas of most immediate personal relevance (i.e., very basic personal and family information, shopping, local area, employment). I can catch the main point in short, clear, simple messages and announcements.

Reading: I can read short, simple texts. I can find specific, predictable information in simple everyday material such as advertisements, menus and timetables and I can understand short simple personal letters.

Speaking

Spoken Interaction: I can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a
simple and direct exchange of information on familiar topics and activities. I can
handle very short social exchanges, even though I can’t usually understand enough to keep the conversation going myself.

Spoken Production: I can use a series of phrases and sentences to describe in
simple terms my family and other people, living conditions, my educational background and my present or most recent job.

Writing

Writing: I can write short, simple notes and messages relating to matters in areas of immediate need. I can write a very simple personal letter, for example thanking someone for something.

Intermediate (B1) – I can…
Understanding

Listening: I can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar
matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. I can understand the main point of many radio or TV programs on current affairs or topics of personal or professional interest when the delivery is relatively slow and clear.

Reading: I can understand texts that consist mainly of high frequency everyday or job-related language. I can understand the description of events, feelings and wishes in personal letters.

Speaking

Spoken Interaction: I can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling
in an area where the language is spoken. I can enter unprepared into conversation on topics that are familiar, of personal interest or pertinent to everyday life (i.e., family, hobbies, work, travel and current events).

Spoken Production: I can connect phrases in a simple way in order to describe
experiences and events, my dreams, hopes and ambitions. I can briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans. I can narrate a story or relate the plot of a book or film and describe my reactions.

Writing

Writing: I can write simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. I can write personal letters describing experiences and impressions.

Upper Intermediate (B2) – I can…
Understanding

Listening: I can understand extended speech and lectures and follow even complex lines of argument provided the topic is reasonably familiar. I can understand most TV news and current affairs programs. I can understand the majority of films in standard dialect.

Reading: I can read articles and reports concerned with contemporary problems in which the writers adopt particular attitudes or viewpoints. I can understand contemporary literary prose.

Speaking

Spoken Interaction: I can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that
makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible. I can take an active part in discussion in familiar contexts, accounting for and sustaining my views.

Spoken Production: I can present clear, detailed descriptions on a wide range of
subjects related to my field of interest. I can explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

Writing

Writing: I can write clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects related to my
interests. I can write an essay or report, passing on information or giving reasons in support of or against a particular point of view. I can write letters highlighting the personal significance of events and experiences.

Advanced (C1) – I can…
Understanding

Listening: I can understand extended speech even when it is not clearly structured and when relationships are only implied and not signaled explicitly. I can understand television programs and films without too much effort.

Reading: I can understand long and complex factual and literary texts, appreciating distinctions of style. I can understand specialized articles and longer technical instructions, even when they do not relate to my field.

Speaking

Spoken Interaction: I can express myself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. I can use language flexibly and effectively for social and professional purposes. I can formulate ideas and opinions with precision and relate my contribution skillfully to those of other speakers.

Spoken Production: I can present clear, detailed descriptions of complex subjects integrating sub-themes, developing particular points and rounding off with an appropriate conclusion.

Writing

Writing: I can express myself in clear, well-structured text, expressing points of view at some length. I can write about complex subjects in a letter, an essay or a report, underlining what I consider to be the salient issues. I can select style appropriate to the reader in mind.

Proficient (C2) – I can…
Understanding

Listening: I have no difficulty in understanding any kind of spoken language, whether live or broadcast, even when delivered at fast native speed, provided I have some time to get familiar with the accent.

Reading: I can read with ease virtually all forms of the written language, including abstract, structurally or linguistically complex texts such as manuals, specialized articles and literary works.

Speaking

Spoken Interaction: I can take part effortlessly in any conversation or discussion and have a good familiarity with idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms. I can express myself fluently and convey finer shades of meaning precisely. If I do have a problem I can backtrack and restructure around the difficulty so smoothly that other people are hardly aware of it.

Spoken Production: I can present a clear, smoothly flowing description or argument in a style appropriate to the context and with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient to notice and remember significant points.

Writing

Writing: I can write clear, smoothly flowing text in an appropriate style. I can write complex letters, reports or articles which present a case with an effective logical structure which helps the recipient to notice and remember significant points. I can write summaries and reviews of professional or literary works.

How quickly can I learn a new language?

Learning a language is like climbing a mountain: the closer to the top you get, the harder it becomes. The higher the level, the more time you have to invest and the broader the range of skills you have to acquire.

For motivated adult learners, they typically need between 100 and 200 hours of guided learning to get from one CEFR level to the next.

However, there are a number of factors that can affect how long it will take to achieve each CEFR level, including:

  • your language learning background
  • if your mother tongue is very different from the language you are learning
  • the intensity of your study
  • your age
  • the amount of study/exposure outside of lesson times
  • type of course (Individual or group? Large or small group? Face-to-face or remote?)

Even though we can’t really pin down the minimum and maximum hours, we have compiled an overview of the figures based on published data and our own expertise.

CEFR levels comparison, Verbalists Education and Langauge Network
Click on the image to enlarge

And, while there are many methods that can help you gain valuable language skills, one of them has been proven to turbocharge your language learning (hint – it’s not staying at home 🙂 ). Enroll in course in a country that speaks your target language! You’ll be absolutely amazed at how much information you can communicate and how quickly you pick up a language when you don’t have any other option. This full-on immersion style training will have you learning a language faster.

“The best way to be completely socially-savvy in another language is to live it.”

If you want to learn a new language or increase your language proficiency, please contact us for a free consultation. The internationally accredited Verbalists Education & Language Network has a full range of language training courses for adults and young learners both online and abroad, with full-time, part-time, and weekend options.