Everything you need to know about the CEFR French levels

CEFR levels are a system of identifying language proficiency. Language learners are categorized as one of three groups: A (Basic User), B (Independent User), and C (Proficient User). Each of these groups is divided into two levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2.

Let’s learn more about the CEFR French levels, including what each CEFR level means, how to find out your CEFR level, and when and why CEFR levels can be important.

What is the CEFR?

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The CEFR, also sometimes known as the CEF or the CEFRL, is short for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. It’s a system used to determine how well a person speaks, understands, reads, and writes in a foreign language.

The CEFR was developed by the Council of Europe from the late ‘80’s through the early 2000’s.

Over the years, it’s become one of the most common ways to categorize language learning levels.

What are the CEFR levels?

The CEFR levels are divided into three groups: Basic User, Independent User, and Proficient User. Each group is made up of two levels.

Here are the CEFR levels, based on the chart on the Council of Europe’s website.

A1 (basic user)

  • Can understand common everyday expressions and phrases
  • Can introduce oneself and others
  • Can talk about personal information like where one is from, people one knows, and possessions one has
  • Can have a very simple conversation if the other person speaks slowly and can help them

A2 (basic user)

  • Can understand sentences and common phrases pertaining to everyday life situations, for instance, family and personal information, local places, one’s job, and shopping.
  • Can communicate about simple and repeated tasks
  • Can talk about one’s background, current environment, and immediate needs.

B1 (independent user)

  • Can understand main points of information about things one regularly does or experiences at school or work, as well as free time activities, etc.
  • Can communicate about most situations that would arise when traveling in a place where the language is spoken.
  • Can generate simple written work on subjects that are familiar or of personal interest.
  • Can talk about things like experiences and events, as well as more abstract concepts like hopes and ambitions, and can breifly explain these opinions and plans.

B2 (independent user)

  • Can understand the major ideas of complex text written about both concrete and abstract subjects. This includes technical texts on one’s field of work.
  • Can interact with native speakers with a certain degree of fluency and spontaneity, without anyone in the conversation feeling as though it’s taken a lot of work to understand or be understood.
  • Can generate understandable, detailed writing on a wide range of topics and can explain one’s opinions on current issues and events, describing advantages and disadvantages of possible choices.

C1 (proficient user)

  • Can understand longer, more demanding texts about many topics, and identify implied meanings.
  • Can express oneself fluently and in a spontaneous manner without frequent obvious searching for words or expressions.
  • Can use the language flexibly and in an effective way in social, academic, and professional settings and situations.
  • Can generate clear, detailed, well-organized writing on complex subjects, including the use of patterns, connectors, and cohesive elements.

C2 (proficient user)

  • Can easily understand nearly anything heard or read.
  • Can coherently summarize information one has gotten from reading or hearing a source.
  • Can express one’s self with a high level of fluency, precision, and spontaneity, differentiating subtle shades of meaning in both simple and complex situations.

Are there other ways to define the CEFR levels?

We see the arms and hands of a woman with white-painted nails. She is about to write something on a square white or yellow notecard. There are several other blank notecards arranged below her hand, seemingly stuck on a black-painted wall.

Most of the time, people will just use a letter and number to describe their CEFR level. But occasionally you may see these with a descriptor added to them.

For instance, this webpage from Erasmus University adds a descriptive name to each CEFR level, which is quite helpful for someone who may not be familiar enough with the system to instantly be able to figure out what the simple number and letter combination imply:

  • A1 – Beginner
  • A2 – Pre-intermediate
  • B1 – Intermediate
  • B2 – Upper-intermediate
  • C1 – Advanced
  • C2 – Proficient

Despite this added clarity, though, the usual way to share your CEFR level is just to give the letter and number.

What are the CEFR French levels?

Unlike many other countries, France has adopted the CEFR levels as part of the national education program. In France, especially in the education field, the CEFR is usually referred to by its French name: le Cadre européen commun de référence pour les langues. This is usually abbreviated as CECR or CECRL.

In addition to these facts, you may hear someone refer not just to CEFR levels, but to CEFR French levels.

So, is there a different CEFR for France? Are CEFR levels different for each language?

The answer is no. CEFR levels are general guidelines that can most languages. In fact, they can even be applied to coding!

So if someone asks you your CEFR French level, don’t panic. Just tell them your regular CEFR level.

That being said, the words for the different CEFR groups are of course different in French, since they’re in French. If you want to say the CEFR levels in French, they are:

  • Utilisateur Élémentaire (Basic User)
  • Utilisateur Indépendant (Independent User)
  • Utilisateur Expérimenté (Proficient User)

But the organization stays the same. Each of these groups has two levels:

Utilisateur Élémentaire (Basic User)

  • A1
  • A2

Utilisateur Indépendant (Independent User)

  • B1
  • B2

Utilisateur Expérimenté (Proficient User)

  • C1
  • C2

Remember, these are just the French words for the CEFR levels. There aren’t specific CEFR levels just for French – they’re the same for all languages. And of course, you can just say your level in English if an English-speaker asks you.

Should I know my CEFR level?

A pair of glasses rests on an open blank notebook. A pen or mechanical pencil is beside them. One side of the notebook rests on a computer.

Over the course of your French learning journey, you may have come across the CEFR or heard someone talking about CEFR levels.

In many cases, they may have taken an evaluation or gone through a school system or language program that tested based on the CEFR framework. But other people may have taken a self-evaluation – or they may simply estimate their CEFR level based on the list of abilities for each group.

All this shows that knowing your CEFR level isn’t important in everyday life.

But on the other hand, some academic institutions and jobs require a CEFR certificate that shows your officially determined CEFR level.

How can I find out my CEFR level?

You can find out your CEFR level the easy way by looking at the description of each level and finding the one that matches your abilities in French. But if you want something more official, you can find out your CEFR level by taking a CEFR course or a CEFR levels exam or assessment.

As a general rule, the best, most qualified and quality-assured source for a CEFR French exam is the Alliance Française (contact your local branch for more details).

But there are many other options. For instance, the European Centre for Modern Languages of the Council of Europe offers a self-assessment exam for the French CEFR levels.

But keep in mind that you can find many other organizations and websites that offer CEFR levels assessment or certification by doing an online search for “CEFR French assessment” or “CEFR French exam”.

If you need a certificate showing your CEFR level, be sure that the exam you choose offers that. You can do this by searching for “CEFR French assessment” and by verifying that the site or place you choose will deliver a certificate when you complete the test.

Always make sure that the site or organization you choose for your CEFR assessment is legit. Do an online search for its name plus “reviews” or “Trustpilot” before you use it.

Is there an official CEFR exam?

There is no official CEFR exam. So when you choose a self-assessment or certification, be sure that the program or institution specifically says that its assessment conforms to the CEFR levels.

How can I study for the CEFR assessment?

A man in a red hoodie wears headphones and holds a pen. He is looking at a computer screen, seemingly doing an online course or taking an online exam.

Learning and practicing French will help you with your CEFR levels, since the system is based on your knowledge and ease with the language.

So just about anything you do to continue improving your French will help you study for the CEFR exam.

For instance, our French Together app can help you learn and practice through level B1.

There are some courses that were specifically created to prepare for the CEFR levels assessment, as well. You can find these by doing an online search like “French CEFR course” or “French CEFR classes”. One notable resource for French CEFR practice at all levels is the Alliance Française, whose courses all conform to the CEFR.

Why is there no “Fluent” CEFR level?

As you may have noticed, the CEFR levels stop at “Proficient”. But we’re often taught that the ultimate goal of language learning is fluency, so why isn’t there a CEFR level for that?

There’s no official statement from the Council of Europe on this (or at least nothing I could find), but in a way, it makes sense.

Fluency is a complex concept. Does it only involve mastery of things like vocabulary and grammar and comprehension? Or is there something more, like the ability to instinctively understand wordplay or word genders? What about cultural concepts and “in jokes”? Or slang?  Can a non-native speaker, especially one from another culture, ever be truly fluent?

I usually say I’m fluent in French. I’ve lived in France for nearly two decades, have a French husband and a son in French public school, and spend a lot of my day communicating in the language. I think most laypersons would agree that I’m fluent…

…but, as I’ve written before, it’s pretty much guaranteed that non-native speakers will never be absolutely perfect at French (or any other foreign language, for that matter).

We will make mistakes or come upon things we don’t understand now and then. Sure, I can read messages from my son’s school, cooking instructions, and novels in French – but I still have trouble understanding all the wordplay in Zazie dans le métro. Sure, I watch French TV shows and movies, but I still have trouble understanding certain actors or regional accents. I listen to French music, but I can’t always catch all of the words.  A native French speaker could do all of these things, at least most of the time.

So, with that in mind, I personally kind of like the fact that the CEFR doesn’t include a “fluent” level.

If this has got you discouraged, please don’t feel that way! Being proficient in a language still means you can enjoy 99.9% of it, just like I do every day. And when it comes to the things you don’t understand, your proficiency will allow you to ask pertinent questions or seek out other ways to learn and understand them. In the end, you will have the full experience of French, just in a different way than a native speaker sometimes (but not all the time).

I hope this article helped you learn about CEFR levels. If you’re taking a French CEFR course or a CEFR assessment or certification for French, Bonne chance ! And even if you never find out your French CEFR level, I hope you continue to enjoy your French learning journey, and have many opportunities to speak, read, and write French. That’s the most important thing of all!

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Alysa Salzberg

Alysa Salzberg is an American writer, worrier, teacher, and cookie enthusiast who has lived in Paris, France, for more than a decade. She has taught English and French for more than ten years, most notably as an assistante de langue vivante for L'Education Nationale. She recently published her first novel, Hearts at Dawn, a "Beauty and the Beast" retelling that takes place during the 1870 Siege of Paris. You can read about her adventures here, or feel free to stop by her website.