The Common European Framework of Refernce for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR) was developed by the Council of Europe (CoE) “to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency.”
The CEFR was developed in line with action-oriented learning objectives, i.e. using the target language to achieve real-world, non-linguistic goals. As such it is in line with but not limited to learning and teaching methods, approaches, strategies, and techniques such as Task-Based Language Learning (TBLL), Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), bilingual and immersion programmes, notional-functional syllabuses, and other “strong forms” of communicative language teaching.
CEFR-informed instruction encompasses the following characteristics:
- it is action-oriented,
- it promotes language use,
- it encourages reflection,
- it emphasizes progression through levels,
- it encourages learner initiatives (learner-centred),
- it focuses on the positive (what learners can do rather than what they cannot do using the language), and
- it is goal oriented.
Reported advantages of CEFR-informed instruction
In a Canadian study across 9 Ontario school boards and 93 French as a second language (SFL) teachers, after using CEFR-informed teaching methods, specially designed activity kits, and “Can do” self-assessment forms, reported that CEFR-informed instruction:
- enhances learner autonomy,
- increases student motivation,
- builds self-confidence in learners,
- promotes real and authentic use of the language in the classroom,
- develops oral language ability,
- encourages self-assessment,
- focuses on the positive, and
- can be used for formative and diagnostic assessment.
(Faez, et al., 2011)
What it isn’t
The CEFR is not a language proficiency test or system of language proficiency accreditation. The Council of Europe do not award certificates or accreditation to language learners.
How does the CEFR fit in with international English examinations?
I’ve compiled a reference table matching the levels of Cambridge IELTS, Cambridge ESOL, Tinity College London GESE, ETS TOEFL, and ETS TOEIC exams to the CEFR.
CEFR “Can do” statements
The CEFR allows learners to self assess their levels of language proficiency in various areas of knowledge, skills, and abilities: Listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production, written production, strategies, and quality of language. I’ve compiled a set of printable “Can do” statement self-assessment sheets in HTML and PDF versions under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA licence. You are free to download, copy, edit, and redistribute them as you please, under the terms of the licence. The levels included are: A1 | A1+ | A2 | A2+ | B1 | B1+ | B2 | B2+ | C1 | C1+ | C2
Please note: The CEFR “Can do” statements tend to be somewhat technical and contain some degree of meta language in parts. Even when translated into language learners’ respective L1s, they can be difficult for learners to understand and they may need the guidance of a skilled, knowledgeable, experienced teacher to complete them reasonably accurately.
The European Language Portfolio (ELP)
The CEFR also recommends that teachers encourage learners to maintain a portfolio of examples of their language production capabilities. According to the CoE, ELPs serve to “support the development of learner autonomy, plurilingualism and intercultural awareness and competence” and “allow users to record their language learning achievements and their experience of learning and using languages.”
ELPs can contain, for example, written compositions of various kinds and registers, audio recordings of talks and conversations, and video recordings of presentations, interviews and performances.
Personally, I recommend that teachers encourage learners, wherever possible, to start and maintain their own online portfolios using a content management system (CMS), e.g. WordPress.org, to organise and update them as they learn and create new work (learning artifacts). Learners can then refer teachers, schools, colleges, universities, and potential employers to their portfolios as evidence of their language abilities. It’s important that learners have complete control over their chosen CMS, that access to the resources and files is appropriately controlled, and that particular parts of the CMS can be password protected so that they can easily manage what they want to show to whom.
Alternatively, organisations and institutions can offer portfolio hosting as a service to their learners, using WordPress.org set up a blogging network (simplest and most flexible) or dedicated eportfolio system such as Mahara.
- CoE – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR)
- CoE – European Language Portfolio
- Wikipedia.org – Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)