· The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): an instrument for plurilingual education
Some of the instruments produced within the Council of Europe have played a decisive role in the teaching of so-called “foreign” languages by promoting methodological innovations and new approaches to designing teaching programmes. They have facilitated a fresh approach to communicating these teaching methods in a manner potentially more conducive to operational appropriation of unknown languages and therefore to “freedom of movement of persons and ideas”. Accordingly, from around the mid-1970s onwards, specialists worked out an operational model for abilities which specific groups of learners (tourists, businesspersons, migrants, etc) require for using a language for independent communication in a country in which this language is the everyday medium for communication. By thus identifying these groups’ language needs they were able to pinpoint the knowledge and know-how required for attaining this communication “threshold”.
The first specification of this “threshold level” was formulated for the English language (Threshold level, 1975), quickly followed by French (Un Niveau Seuil, 1976). These two instruments have been used de facto as models for the same type of reference instruments that were produced subsequently for other languages, but they were adapted to suit the peculiar features of each language. These threshold levels have also gradually changed, and they still play a major role in language teaching, often serving as the basis for new national teaching programmes. They help make the textbooks more motivating and facilitate development of more realistic and transparent evaluation systems.
A compilation of Introductions and Prefaces to the series of level descriptions developed over a period of 30 years (1975 to 2005) provides an insight into how this tool has been developed and has been adapted for individual languages. These specifications were developed by national teams, and in the majority of cases, with guidance from Dr J.L.M. Trim, Director of Council of Europe Modern Languages projects from 1975 to 1997.
In order to meet the teaching and certification requirements, the level concept as defined was extended to cover specification of levels lying immediately below and above the threshold level. In the light of the developments in this field, particularly as regards the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), some of which emerged at around the same time as the latter, other levels were formulated for a number of languages, paying particular attention, for instance, to socio-cultural components or learner autonomy, by pinpointing a possible definition for the concept of “learning to learn”. A lower level (Waystage) was created for English, as was a level situated above the threshold, also starting with English (Vantage Level). Other language versions then followed. The three ascending level descriptions (Waystage, Threshold and Vantage) provided a basis for designing programmes and producing multimedia courses and were developed in parallel with the CEFR. These proficiency levels constitute one of the origins of the six-level scale of the CEFR.
Learning target specifications (for the threshold and/or other levels) have been produced or updated for Basque, Catalan, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, French, Galician, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovene, Spanish, and Welsh (see List of Publications).
Launched in 2001, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages marked a major turning point in describing specifications of language-learning targets; they were no longer designated as ‘threshold” or “Vantage level” etc, but by the appropriate level of the CEFR scale (A1 to C2).
The CEFR has been disseminated far and wide and has been translated into approximately 30 languages. It has now become a common reference instrument for organising language teaching and certification in many member States (see section on CEFR)
The CEFR is based on all these achievements and has developed a description of the process of mastering an unknown language by type of competence and sub-competence, using descriptors for each competence or sub-competence, on which we shall not go into further detail here. These descriptors were created without reference to any specific language, which guarantees their relevance and across-the-board applicability. The descriptors specify progressive mastery of each skill, which is graded on a six-level scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). However, for operators, textbook authors and teachers, the specification set out in the CEFR may appear excessively broad. Work began on drafting CEFR specifications language by language. This new generation of reference descriptions (in groups of six) is based on the CEFR level descriptors: it is a case of identifying the forms of a given language (words, grammar, etc), mastery of which corresponds to the communicational, socio-linguistic, formal and other competences defined by the CEFR. These transpositions of the CEFR into a given language are known as Reference Level Descriptions (RLDs) for national and regional languages.
The Council of Europe has opted for helping to produce these instruments to complement the CEFR as part of its mainstream work. The descriptions must comprise the following common features:
Similarly to and following on from the threshold level, these CEFR level description by language are intended to provide extra legitimacy for languages which need to demonstrate that they can be taught and that their teaching can be defined in clear technical terms. The descriptions are applicable to all European languages, whatever their socio-linguistic status, in that they facilitate a definition of the competences to be attained in transparent, comparable terms, recalling that language knowledge is accessible to all in that any competence, at any level, is identifiable and certifiable by means of these very reference instruments. See Section below on Current developments
The Language Policy Division has developed a Guide for the production of RLDs aimed at assisting teams in developing an RLD for a national or regional language. It contains a series of examples that will be supplemented as further RLDs are finalised. A questionnaire is provided to enable teams to report on their work during the development of their reference level and to submit it in due course to the Council of Europe.
A seminar was held in Strasbourg in December 2005 for teams reporting on RDLs that have been finalised, are currently being developed, or are planned. Seventeen languages were represented. The seminar examined various approaches to designing RLDs as well as components (refer to see the Agenda of the seminar).
Three levels have been developed by Palacky University (Olomouc) and Charles University (Prague)
Level A1 : Marie HADKOVA, Palacky University, Olomouc, Marie.Hadkova@seznam.cz
Level A2 : Milada Čadská, CSc., Université Charles de Prague, firstname.lastname@example.org
Level B2 : Jan Holub, Université Charles de Prague, email@example.com
The new strategy for the development of RLD was developed first of all for the German language. On initiative of the Goethe Institute, Profile deutsch (Langenscheidt 2005) was drawn up by a tri-national author team. It identifies the German linguistic elements corresponding to the competence descriptors of the 6 CEFR levels (A1, A2, B1, B2 and C1, C2). This instrument is available on CD-ROM and comprises a reference manual, a resource bank and a data bank, providing an overview of the subject dealt with at each level and the relevant facts needed for examinations. Profile deutsch is the first reference level description to cover all 6 levels of the CEFR.
For more information:
ÖSD : Austrian Language Diploma
The English Profile programme is a collaborative research programme using corpus data and other tools to produce detailed RLDs for English.
Vocabulary RLDs for levels A1 to B2: The English Profile Wordlists, available in 2011, will provide a complete searchable listing of the words and phrases in English that are considered to be within these levels. They will offer reliable information at word and sense level, based on extensive analysis of word frequency and learner use, using the Cambridge International Corpus, the British National Corpus, the Cambridge Learner Corpus, together with other sources, including the Cambridge ESOL vocabulary lists and classroom materials.
Other researchers are focusing on the development of RLDs in the areas of grammar and language functions, using empirical data from corpora and curricula to describe learning goals.
English Profile is also developing the Cambridge English Profile Corpus, which will include essays, coursework and spoken data, collected from participating teachers' real or virtual classrooms.
Former specifications available online:
A French and international team was mandated to establish reference descriptions for French. Le Niveau B2 was published in 2004 and Le Niveau A1 in 2006 (éditions Didier ). A reference description for the first acquisitions in French (below A1) was published in 2005 by éditions Didier ((Niveau A1.1 pour le français - Référentiel et certification (DILF) pour les premiers acquis en français).
Each of these works comprises an audio CD presenting the oral implementations of the functions.
Planned: a specification of levels A2 and B1 as well as a website in order to place the first four levels on line (A1 to B2). This project is being conducted in co-operation with the Centre international d’études pédagogiques (CIEP– International Educational Research Centre) and the Organisation internationale de la francophonie (AIF –“Intergovernmental agency of the French-speaking world”).
After the development of three levels in the ‘threshold level’ series, the research team of the Centre for the Greek Language (Thessaloniki) developed the Reference Level Description A1, based on the CEFR. It was the first specification developed at this level, with the exception of the complete series developed for German (Profile deutsch)
Contact : Stathis EFSTATHIADIS, Centre for the Greek Language, Thessaloniki,
websites: www.komvos.edu.gr and www.greeklanguage.gr
A1 for Greek
The Italian team involved in the Reference Level Descritpions (A1, A2, B1, B2), coordinated by the CVCL (Centro per la Valutazione e la Certificazione Linguistica) of Università per Stranieri di Perugia (Centre for Italian Language Testing and Certification), produced the Profilo della lingua italiana. Livelli di riferimento del QCER A1, A2, B1, B2, (Spinelli, Parizzi 2010) published by La Nuova Italia. The CVCL team was also involved in the pilot Project on the Manual for relating language examination to the CEFR. The methodological approach adopted by the team to describe the Italian levels is based on a coherent integration of these two main instruments. The descriptive inventories of the RLD include items validated through authentic data provided by the CVCL examinations which are correlated to the CEFR six levels scale.
The project was supported by the Ministry of Education of Italy: “Descrizione dei livelli di riferimento del Quadro comune europeo per la lingua italiana (livelli: da A1 a B2)”
Giuliana GREGO BOLLI, Director of CVCL Università per Stranieri di Perugia - e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Norwegian Profile (NORSK PROFIL) has been a collaborative research project between language assessment specialists at Norsk språktest (University of Bergen/Folkeuniversitetet) and SLA-researchers at the University of Bergen carried out between April 2011 and November 2012. An anthology presenting the aim, method and findings of the project was published in January 2013.
The aims of the project has been firstly, to develop language specific RLDs for Norwegian, and secondly, to validate the linguistic scales of the CEFR against authentic learner data from the electronic learner corpus of Norwegian (ASK) which contains learner texts reliably linked to the CEFR. The project, and the publication, focuses on aspects of morphology, syntax, vocabulary, modality, coherence and errors in learner language at different CEFR-levels.
Project leader: Dr.Cecilie Carlsen, Norsk språktest, University of Bergen/Folkeuniversitetet.
Carlsen, C. (Ed.) 2013. NORSK PROFIL. Det felles europeiske rammeverket spesifisert
for norsk. Et første steg. Oslo, Novus.
Carlsen, C. 2012. Proficiency level - a fuzzy variable in computer learner Corpora. Applied
Linguistics 2012 ;Volum 33.(2) s. 161-183
Tenfjord, K., Meurer, P. and Hofland, K. 2004: The ASK-corpus - a language learner corpus
of Norwegian as a second language. Proceedings from 5th International Conference of Language Resources and Evaluation (LREC), Genova 2006 (http://hnk.ffzg.hr/bibl/lrec2006/pdf/573_pdf.pdf)
Contact: José PASCOAL, Universidade de Lisboa
The complete RLD for Spanish (A1-A2, B1-B2, C1-C2) have been developed by the Instituto Cervantes. The Plan curricular del Instituto Cervantes. Niveles de referencia para el español follows the general principles and common features specified in the Guide for the Production of RLD, and comprises general objectives and twelve inventories that cover specifications for all six CEFR levels (A1 to C2). The descriptions include inventories of linguistic material (grammar, phonetic and intonation skills, graphic forms), acts of discourse and text forms (functions, pragmatic strategies, types of discourse), general and specific notions, cultural, sociocultural and intercultural knowledge, and learning and self-learning strategies. This work was published in December 2006 (Biblioteca Nueva and Instituto Cervantes, ISBN: 84-9742-615-0) in three volumes (vol. 1: A1-A2, 544 pages; vol. 2: B1-B2, 696 pages; vol. 3: C1-C2, 764 pages), each one offering a complete system of cross-references between inventories and between contents inside each inventory.
Álvaro GARCÍA SANTA-CECILIA, email@example.com
Juan Luis MONTOUSSÉ VEGA, firstname.lastname@example.org
For information on acquisition of the Plan curricular del Instituto Cervantes. Niveles de referencia para el español, please contact: email@example.com
Authorities who wish to develop a Reference Level Description for a national or a regional language are invited to contact the Language Policy Division (Strasbourg) (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please also consult the List of publications for the chronological list of Reference level descriptions and Threshold levels