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What level is your English?

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

And why it matters!

Are you a Beginner (A1), Elementary (A2), Pre-Intermediate/Intermediate (B1), Upper Intermediate (B2), Advanced (C1), Proficient (C2)?

Don't worry! I'll explain.

The above are the levels within the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR has six levels from beginner (A1) to very advanced/proficient (C2).

The CEFR isn’t just used in Europe. It’s used all around the world. It is a practical tool that can be used to organise study content in classes, curriculum, learning resources and exams. It is also what is used by employers and academic institutions to assess your English language ability.

If you’ve taken a Cambridge Assessment English exam, then you’ll probably have a good idea and will probably understand more about these classifications and how they relate to your ability. But what if you haven’t taken a Cambridge Assessment English exam? Maybe you’ve taken another type of exam? Or none at all? How do you determine what level you are?

Assessing your own level of English isn’t always easy.

If I ask someone, “Do you speak English’, and they look at me blankly, they just don’t understand, then – of course – it’s safe to assume that they have zero knowledge of English.

They are an absolute beginner.

An absolute beginner is a student who has zero knowledge of English. They cannot be expected to be able to understand even the most common English phrases, such as “How are you”? They have had no contact with or exposure to English.

But, suppose they do understand my question, so at least can answer, “No” or “Sorry. I not speak English” or similar simple English.

Perhaps they are a false beginner EFL student?

A false beginner is a student who has already had some minimal exposure to English or taken part in English language lessons at some point in the life. They did not progress very far in these lessons and their English skills are severely limited. However, they are familiar with certain English phrases or aspects of the language as they have been exposed to the language to a certain extent.

Now, suppose they not only understand my question. “Do you speak English?”, but also reply with a bit more information, such as “Just a little,

Does that, perhaps, mean they have progressed from Beginner level to Elementary and no further? Well, maybe, but maybe they are just shy? it depends on how the conversation continues and how much else they are able to say and understand. But, let’s remember here, that any idea of their level of English is based only their speaking and listening/understanding abilities. What about their writing and reading?

But, in replying to my question, suppose they answer, “Yes, I do speak English, but not well’, or “Yes, I do, but speak slowly, please”.

Perhaps, what they say is true? Or maybe they can speak English, but with lots of mistakes – but can still be understood? Or maybe they’re merely being modest and are pretty fluent …

If higher than Elementary, what level are they?

Pre-intermediate/ Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, Advanced, Proficient?

What level are you? And does it matter?

Let’s deal with the second question first. Yes, it matters!

It matters because English is the lingua franca most used by people around the world. A lingua franca is any language used for communication between people who do not share a native language:

• Knowing your level enables you to further your career opportunities. It is recommended to use CEFR levels in job resumes (curriculum vitae, CV, Europass CV) and other English levels references. Even better if you have actually taken and passed an exam at that level.

• Achieving a high level is essential if you wish to pursue your academic studies at an English-speaking university.

• Even if you don’t wish to further your job opportunities or need English for academic purposes, knowing your level gives you a baseline from which to improve, so you can enjoy using and understanding English in many scenarios,

For more details, see the pages ‘English Matters! and ‘What to Expect’ on my website.

So what are the Common European Framework Reference Levels for languages. The film below from Cambridge English and The British Council provide a quick and clear overview of the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). It outlines what the CEFR is for, and why it is useful for candidates, teachers and employers alike.

Here are all the levels and descriptions of what learners can do at those levels:

English language levels description:

English Basic User (A1, A2)

A1 (Beginner)

A2 (Elementary English)

English Independent User (B1, B2)

B1 (Intermediate English)

B2 (Upper-Intermediate English)

 Proficient English User (C1, C2)

• C1 (Advanced English)

• C2 (Proficiency English)

A levels- English Basic User

English test 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 slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

English test A2 (Elementary English)

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.

Cambridge Key English Test (KET)

B levels- English Independent User

English test B1 (Intermediate English)

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.

Guideline test/exams:

Cambridge Preliminary English Test (PET)

IELTS level 4

English test 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 specialisation. 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.

Guideline test/exams

Cambridge First Certificate in English (FCE certificate)

C levels- Proficient English User

English test C1 (Advanced English)

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing a controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

Guideline test/exams

Cambridge Advanced (CAE)

IELTS level 7

English test C2 (Proficiency)

Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise 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.

Guideline test/exams

Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE)

IELTS exam 8-9.

So where do you fit it?

Unless you've taken an exam, it's not always easy to know, subjectively, using the descriptors, although they should give you a good idea. If you've studied at a particular test and taken a test then you will be more certain. Even if you failed, the fact that you were judged competent to take the test means that you should be close to that level. If you passed, of course, you know - and can begin studying to improve to the next level.

If you choose to have online English lessons with me, I will get a fair idea after speaking with you and even more so after we explore some reading comprehension, writing and listening exercises.

You can learn English with me by booking here.

I hope this has given you a better idea of how the different levels of English Language skills are assessed.

Good luck with your English Learning


Steve Ellis

English Online 1 to 1

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