How to Crack the Codes of CEFR?

How to crack CEFR Grades Webinar

By: Mayar Ahmed
CELTA holder and Phd. candidate in a Linguistics and Translation PhD program at Alexandria University

The very first ‘threshold level’ concept was incepted in the 70s For English first then for French. Over 30 years later in 2001, the CEFR came to light as a proficiency guide to European languages (COE, n.d). Since then, textbook authors and language professionals have been relying heavily on CEFR scales and descriptors as the backdrop for various purposes such as testing, curriculum design, etc…

What is CEFR? How was it incepted?

The first specification of this “threshold level” was devised for the English language (Threshold level, 1975). It is the international standard for language teaching and learning. It was first created with the English Language in mind, then it was adapted for French as well. Later, it would be adapted and used for multiple contexts and applied for all languages. Launched in 2001, the CEFR marked a major milestone in the world of Language Teaching as the descriptors specify progressive mastery of each skill, which is graded on a six-level scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). 

Three tables to introduce the CEFR scales and descriptors:

  1. Global scale:

Basically, it is a very general scale, dividing language proficiency into three broad levels: Basic User, Independent User and Proficient User.  It summarizes the set of proposed Common Reference Levels in a holistic can-do -statement- table.

  1. Self-assessment grid:

It is a draft for a self-assessment orientation tool intended to help learners to profile their main language skills. It might act as a self-assessment tool for the learners to measure their own summative progress or as an aid for the teachers in drafting rubrics for their own learners.

  1. Qualitative aspects of spoken language:

This table is used to assess spoken performances. It focuses on different qualitative aspects of language use, which are range, accuracy, fluency, coherence and interaction.

Why is the CEFR such an important milestone?

  1. It highlights the competences a learner needs (pragmatic, linguistic, sociolinguistic, strategic, intercultural) as a language user 
  2. It develops the familiar but inadequate four skills into a richer description of activities the learner undertakes (spoken and written: reception, interaction, production and mediation).
  3. It is scientifically calibrated and details descriptors of different aspects of their descriptive schemes, except for intercultural communication and mediation.

How to navigate the CEFR scales easily?

One press of a button on ‘CEFR descriptors (searchable) and you have got yourself an excel sheet of all the scales and descriptors translated to 4 languages; English, French, Is CEFR applied only to adult language users?

Spanish, and Italian. This sheet is a sure way of filtering and unfiltering results to look up whatever you want.

The link:

No, the CEFR was adapted to include descriptors and scales for young learners, grouped into two age groups; 7-10 years and 11-15 years old. Above 15 years of age is deemed an adult in the framework.

The link:

Is CEFR only a tool for language researchers?

Absolutely not! All teachers can make full use of the CEFR in their every day teaching tasks, such as testing and assessment; and curriculum and material design. It can even be used to select an appropriate textbook or a task within the book that is appropriate to their learners. The majority, if not all, textbooks now are graded according to the CEFR and the grading and learner objectives and portfolio can be found at the back of the textbooks or the teacher’s guide.

A case in point:

Pearson’s Speakout series:

The entire series is marked inside and out on the covers with the CEFR scale alongside the Global Scale of English scaling, devised by Pearson. Furthermore, it includes a GSE mapping of all its tasks in each lesson. This helps immensely with selecting tasks for learners and differentiated learning in half-way scales such as Pre-intermediate level, which is partially A2 and partially B1. 

Pearson also provides a complementary search engine tool for the core items to be taught at each level and the CEFR scale, called ‘GSE tool kit’.

The link:

The GSE Teacher Toolkit makes it quick and easy to find learning objectives, grammar, vocabulary and coursebook recommendations all mapped to the GSE and CEFR. In addition, it is equipped with a text analyzer to measure the scale of texts. 


The CEFR is a language-proficiency based tool that has revolutionized language learning and research into language learning since its first companion volume in 2001. It has multiple uses as teacher education, the reform of foreign language curricula, the development of teaching materials and for the comparability of qualifications. Even the regular classroom teacher can find some use for it in their everyday tasks.

Author’s Bio:

Mayar has been an English Language instructor since 2014. She has taught General English and ESP courses to adult learners. She has been a CELTA holder since 2017. As a Senior Academic Coordinator at PUA, she is mainly responsible for the curriculum and material design of the face to face and online content at the ELC. Furthermore, she has experience in testing and assessment, and teacher training. She is also an IELTS Speaking examiner with Cambridge and a PhD candidate in a Linguistics and Translation PhD program at Alexandria University.

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