The CEF Levels & Descriptor Scales
Brian North
Eurocentres Foundation
Developing the CEF Descriptor Scales
• Full account: North, B. (2000). The development of a
common framework scale of language proficiency. New
York, Peter Lang.
• More Technical: North, B. and Schneider, G. (1998).
Scaling descriptors for language proficiency scales.
Language Testing 15, 2, 217–262.
• Less Technical: North, B. (2002a). Developing
descriptor scales of language proficiency for the CEF
common reference levels. In Alderson, J.C.A. (ed.) Case
Studies in applying the Common European Framework,
Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 87-105.
Common Framework of Reference
• Relevant areas of concern
– Descriptive scheme
• based on descriptive theory
• Stages of attainment in those areas
– Common reference levels
• based on measurement theory
Descriptive Scheme
• “….. actions performed by a social agent who, as
an individual, has at his or her disposal and
develops a range of general competences and in
particular communicative language competence.
He or she draws on these competences in different
kinds of language activities in order to process
text (receptively or productively) in relation to
specific domains, activating those strategies
which seem most appropriate for carrying out the
tasks to be accomplished”.
Scales in Descriptive Scheme
• Communicative language
competence
– Linguistic, Pragmatic, Socio-linguistic
• Communicative language activities
– Reception, Interaction, Production, (Mediation)
• Use of Strategies
– Reception, Interaction, Production
CEF Scales: C.L. Competences
Linguistic Competence
Pragmatic Competence
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
General Linguistic Range
Vocabulary Range
Grammatical Accuracy
Vocabulary Control
Phonological Control
Orthographic Control
Sociolinguistic Competence
•
Sociolinguistic Appropriateness
Flexibility
Turntaking
Thematic Development
Cohesion and Coherence
Propositional Precision
Spoken Fluency
CEF Scales: C.L. Activities.
RECEPTION
Overall Listening Comprehension
•
•
•
•
•
Understanding conversation between native-speakers
Listening as a member of an audience
Listening to announcements and instructions
Listening to audio media and recordings
Watching TV and film
Overall Reading Comprehension
•
•
•
•
Reading correspondence
Reading for orientation
Reading for information and argument
Reading instructions
CEF Scales: C.L.Activities
INTERACTION
Overall Spoken Interaction
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Understanding a native-speaker interlocutor
Conversation
Informal discussion
Formal discussion and meetings
Goal-oriented co-operation
Transactions to obtain goods and services
Information exchange
Interviewing and being interviewed
Overall Written Interaction
•
•
Correspondence
Notes, messages and forms
CEF Scales: C.L. Activities
PRODUCTION
Overall Spoken Production
•
•
•
•
Sustained monologue: Describing experience
Sustained monologue: Putting a case (e.g. in debate)
Public announcements
Addressing Audiences
Overall Written Production
•
•
Creative Writing
Reports and Essays
CEF Scales: C.L. Activities
HANDLING TEXT
•
•
Note-taking
Processing Text
CEF Scales: C.L. Strategies
Reception Strategies
Production Strategies
•
•
•
•
Identifying cues/ inferring
Interaction Strategies
•
•
•
Turntaking
Cooperating
Asking for clarification
Planning
Compensating
Monitoring and Repair
Common Reference Levels
• A1
• A2
Breakthrough
Waystage
• B1
• B2
Threshold
Vantage
• C1
• C2
Effective Operational Proficiency
Mastery
Common Reference Levels
• Table 1 Global Scale
 Table 2 Self-assessment Grid
(Listening, Reading, Spoken Interaction,. Spoken
Production, Writing)
 Table 3 Assessor Grid
(Range, Accuracy, Fluency, Interaction, Coherence)
 50 Individual Scales for PROFILING
Common Reference Levels
C2
P ro fic ie n t
User
C1
B2
In d e p e n d ent
User
B1
A2
B a s ic
User
A1
C an understand with ease v irtually ev erything heard or read. C an sum m arise inform ation from different spoken
and written sources, reconstructing argum ents and accounts in a coherent presentation. C an ex press
him /herself spontaneously, v ery fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of m eaning ev en in m ore
com plex situations.
C an understand a wide range of dem anding, longer tex ts, and recognise im plicit m eaning. C an ex press
him /herself fluently and spontaneously without m uch obv ious searching for ex pressions. C an use language
flex ibly and effectiv ely for social, academ ic and professional purposes. C an produce clear, well-structured,
detailed tex t on com plex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesiv e
dev ices.
C an understand the m ain ideas of com plex tex t on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical
discussions in his/her field of specialisation. C an interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that m akes
regular interaction with nativ e speakers quite possible without strain for either party. C an produce clear, detailed
tex t on a wide range of subjects and ex plain a v iewpoint on a topical issue giv ing the adv antages and
disadv antages of v arious options.
C an understand the m ain points of clear standard input on fam iliar m atters regularly encountered in work,
school, leisure, etc. C an deal with m ost situations likely to arise whilst trav elling in an area where the language
is spoken. C an produce sim ple connected tex t on topics which are fam iliar or of personal interest. C an describe
ex periences and ev ents, dream s, hopes & am bitions and briefly giv e reasons and ex planations for opinions and
plans.
C an understand sentences and frequently used ex pressions related to areas of m ost im m ediate relev ance (e.g.
v ery basic personal and fam ily inform ation, shopping, local geography, em ploym ent). C an com m unicate in
sim ple and routine tasks requiring a sim ple and direct ex change of inform ation on fam iliar and routine m atters.
C an describe in sim ple term s aspects of his/her background, im m ediate env ironm ent and m atters in areas of
im m ediate need.
C an understand and use fam iliar ev eryday ex pressions and v ery basic phrases aim ed at the satisfaction of
needs of a concrete type. C an introduce him /herself and others and can ask and answer questions about
personal details such as where he/she liv es, people he/she knows and things he/she has. C an interact in a
sim ple way prov ided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Common Reference Levels
• Where do the CEF Levels come from?
• How were the descriptors developed and
scaled?
• How were the “cut-points” between levels set?
• How coherent is the scaling of content?
• How stable are the scale values?
Common Reference Levels
• 1913 Cambridge Proficiency
C2
• 1990-91 Cambridge Advanced; DALF
C1
• 1938 Cambridge First Certificate
B2
• 1975 The Threshold Level
B1
• 1978? Waystage
A2
•
A1
Common Reference Levels
Wilkins 1978
UCLES 1992
CoE 1992-6
•
•
•
Proficiency
•
Mastery
•
CAE
•
•
FCE Vantage
•
Effective Operational
Proficiency
Vantage
•
PET Threshold
•
Threshold
•
KET Waystage
•
•
Waystage
Breakthrough
•
•
•
•
•
Ambilingual Proficiency
Comprehensive Operational
Proficiency
Adequate Operational
Proficiency
Limited Operational Proficiency
Basic Operational Proficiency
(Threshold Level)
Survival Proficiency
Formulaic Proficiency
Developing the CEF Levels
Swiss Research Project 1993-7 to develop:
• scaled descriptor bank for the CEF levels
• overview of language learning achievement
in Swiss educational sectors
• prototype European Language Portfolio.
Proficiency Scales before CEF
 Wording tended to be relative. The descriptors
were seldom stand-alone criteria one could rate
“Yes” or “No”
 Situation of descriptors at a particular level was
arbitrary - following convention/cliché
 Wording often created semantic appearance of a
scale, without actually describing anything
 Lower levels tended to be worded negatively
CEF scaled criterion statements
• Can take an active part in informal discussion in familiar
contexts, commenting, putting points of view clearly,
evaluating alternative proposals and making and
responding to hypotheses.
• Can with some effort catch much or what is said around
him/her in discussion, but may find it difficult to
participate effectively in discussion with several native
speakers who do not modify their language in any way.”
• Can account for and sustain his/her opinions in discussion
by providing relevant explanations, arguments and
comments.
B2 Informal Discussion
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
A learner model:
"… a simplified description of selected aspects of the infinite
varieties of skills and knowledge that characterise real
students" (Mislevy 1995:343)
"A learner’s state of competence at a given point in time is a
complex constellation of facts and concepts, and the networks that interconnect them; of automatized procedures and
conscious heuristics, ….; of perspectives and strategies, and
the management capabilities by which the learner focuses his
efforts. There is no hope of providing a description of such a
state. Neither is there any need to." (Mislevy 1993: 28)
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
A measurement model:
“…the scale values of the statements should not be affected
by the opinions of the people who helped to construct it.
This may turn out to be a severe test in practice, but the
scaling method must stand such a test before it can be
accepted as being more than a description of the people
who construct the scale. At any rate, to the extent that the
present method of scale construction is affected by the
opinions of the readers who help sort out the original
statements into a scale, to that extent the validity of the
scale may be challenged. ” (Thurstone 1928: 547–8)
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
• Intuitive Phase:
– Creating a pool of classified, edited descriptors
• Qualitative Phase:
– Analysis of teachers discussing proficiency
– 32 teacher workshops sorting descriptors
• Quantitative Phase:
– Teacher assessment of learners on questionnaires
– Assessment (by all) of videos of some learners
• Interpretation Phase:
– Setting “cut-points” for common reference levels
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
• 1994: English
• 1995: French, German, English
• 1996: Portfolio
2,800 learners, 500 classes, 300 teachers
Lower & upper secondary, vocational, adult
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
D a ta C o lle c tio n :
Q uest. C
Q uest. B
Q uest. A
Swiss Research Project 1993-7
Setting the cut-points between levels
1. Marking out equal intervals on the scale
2. Identifying „jumps“ in content described, gaps
between clusters of descriptors
3. Comparing to original scale author intention
4. Comparing to Waystage, Threshold
5. Fine-tuning for equal intervals
6. Checking for consistency, coherence
Common Reference Levels
F in er L evels
(S w iss)
C ou n cil of E u rop e
C u t-off
on log it
scale
R an g e
on log it
scale
M astery
M
M astery
3 .9 0
E ffectiven ess
E
E ffectiven ess
2 .8 0
1 .1 0
V an tage +
V+
1 .7 4
1 .0 6
V an tage
V
0 .7 2
1 .0 2
T h resh o ld +
T+
-0 .2 6
0 .9 8
T h resh o ld
T
-1 .2 3
0 .9 7
W aystage + s
W+
-2 .2 1
0 .9 8
W aystage
W
W ay stag e
-3 .2 3
1 .0 2
B reakth ro u gh
B
B reakth rou g h
-4 .2 9
1 .0 6
T o u rist
Tour
---
-5 .3 9
1 .1 0
V an tag e
T h resh old
Content coherence
Level A1
is the point at which the learner can:
 interact in a simple way, ask and answer simple questions
about themselves, where they live, people they know, and
things they have, initiate and respond to simple statements in
areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics,
rather than relying purely on a rehearsed repertoire of phrases.
Content coherence
Level A2 reflects Waystage
• majority of descriptors stating social functions:
greet people, ask how they are and react to news; handle
very short social exchanges; ask and answer questions about
what they do at work and in free time; make and respond to
invitations; discuss what to do, where to go and make
arrangements to meet; make and accept offers.
• descriptors on getting out and about:
make simple transactions in shops, post offices or banks; get
simple information about travel; ask for and provide
everyday goods and services.
Content coherence
Level B1 reflects Threshold Level
• maintain interaction and get across what you want to:
give or seek personal views and opinions in an informal
discussion with friends; express the main point he/she wants
to make comprehensibly; keep going comprehensibly, even
though pausing for grammatical and lexical planning and
repair is very evident, especially in longer stretches of free
production.
• cope flexibly with problems in everyday life:
deal with most situations likely to arise when making travel
arrangements through an agent or when actually travelling;
enter unprepared into conversations on familiar topics; make
a complaint.
Content coherence
Level B2 reflects three new emphases:
 effective argument: account for and sustain opinions in
discussion by providing relevant explanations, arguments and
comments; explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the
advantages and disadvantages of various options.
 holding your own in social discourse: interact with a degree of
fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with
native speakers quite possible without imposing strain on
either party; adjust to the changes of direction, style and
emphasis normally found in conversation.
 a new degree of language awareness: correct mistakes if they
have led to misunderstandings; make a note of "favourite
mistakes" and consciously monitor speech for them.
Content coherence
Level C1 is characterised by access to a broad range of
language: fluent, spontaneous communication:
 express him/herself fluently and spontaneously, almost
effortlessly; Has a good command of a broad lexical repertoire
allowing gaps to be readily overcome with circumlocutions.
There is little obvious searching for expressions or avoidance
strategies; only a conceptually difficult subject can hinder a
natural, smooth flow of language.
 produce clear, smoothly-flowing, well-structured speech,
showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors
and cohesive devices
Content coherence
Level C2 represents the degree of precision and ease
with the language of highly successful learners:
• convey finer shades of meaning precisely by using, with
reasonable accuracy, a wide range of modification devices;
• has a good command of idiomatic expressions and
colloquialisms with awareness of connotative level of meaning;
Stability of scale values
Validation Studies:
– Swiss Replication Year 2:
0.99
– DIALANG (List; Read; Write): 0.90
– Basle: University entrance:
0.90
– ALTE / UCLES: (anchors):
0.97
Developing the CEF Descriptor Scales
• Full account: North, B. (2000). The development of a
common framework scale of language proficiency. New
York, Peter Lang.
• More Technical: North, B. and Schneider, G. (1998).
Scaling descriptors for language proficiency scales.
Language Testing 15, 2, 217–262.
• Less Technical: North, B. (2002a). Developing
descriptor scales of language proficiency for the CEF
common reference levels. In Alderson, J.C.A. (ed.) Case
Studies in applying the Common European Framework,
Strasbourg, Council of Europe, 87-105.
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Common Framework of Reference