Education and Languages, Language Policy

Reference Level Descriptions (RLD) for national and regional languages


Brief background

From ‘threshold levels’ to Reference Level Descriptions (RLD)

Current Developments

Guide for the production of RLD

    Brief background 

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”.

· Instruments for language description: the concept of threshold level

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.

· Compilation of Introductions and Prefaces to the series of level descriptions

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.

· Beyond the ‘threshold level’

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).

    From ‘threshold levels’ to Reference Level Descriptions (RLD) 

· The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): an instrument for plurilingual education

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 40 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 level 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.

· 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:

  • because the description of each level for each language emanates from the same document: the CEFR;
  • because, together with the CEFR, the Manual for relating language examinations to the levels of the CEFR) and the videos/CD-Roms giving samples of levels for the setting of certification tests), these descriptions are one of the anchor points proposed by the Council of Europe’s Language Policy Unit for the development of language programmes that are consistent with one another, from one language to another and also with the common tools which already exist;
  • because their convergence alone can give them credibility and make it worth people’s while to use them. It is unrealistic to imagine that the development of these reference descriptions, which select and distribute a certain verbal material by level of competence, can be based solely on “scientific” procedures: their audience will also depend on the consensus they are able to generate among the professionals concerned, especially as the Framework leaves decision makers the responsibility of specifying the morpho-syntactic material (See user box on page 115 in the English edition (CUP) of the CEFR).

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

· Relationship between Council of Europe reference instruments for language teaching/learning

    Current Developments 

The Language Policy Unit 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).


LIST OF REFERENCE LEVEL DESCRIPTIONS (finalised or currently being developed)

  • Croatian

Two levels have been developed by the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences (Zagreb):

    - Level B1: Hrvatski B1 (Croatian B1), 2013 - group of authors; editors: Ana Grgić, Milvia Gulešić Machata and Iva Nazalević Čučević
    - Level B2: Hrvatski B2 (Croatian B2), 2015 - group of authors; editors Milvia Gulešić Machata and Ana Grgić

Publisher: FF press, Zagreb,

Both books consist of ten chapters :

1. Features and purpose of handbook, 2. Description of level B2 according to CEFRL: communicative competence, language activities, context of language use, text, 3. Pragmatic competence, 4. Language functions, 5. General notions, 6. Grammatical competence, 7. Specific notions, 8. Pronunciation competence, 9. Orthographic competence, 10. Sociocultural competence) and two appendixes (List of words with index, List of textbooks and handbooks for studying Croatian as a l2).

Ana Grgić, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb,
Milvia Gulešić Machata, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb,

  • Czech

Three levels have been developed by Palacky University (Olomouc) and Charles University (Prague)
Contact :
Level A1 : Marie HADKOVA, Palacky University, Olomouc,
Level A2 : Milada Čadská, CSc., Université Charles de Prague,
Level B2 : Jan Holub, Université Charles de Prague,

  • English

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:


  • French

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”).

Jean-Claude BEACCO, Université de la Sorbonne nouvelle, Paris III - e-mail
Rémy PORQUIER, Université de Nanterre, Paris X - e-mail :

  • German

The new strategy for the development of RLD was developed first of all for the German language. On the 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 was the first reference level description to cover all 6 levels of the CEFR.
For more information:
ÖSD : Austrian Language Diploma
Goethe Institute

  • Georgian

Contact: Marika ODZELI, Ministry of Education and Science, Tbilisi
Reference Level Descriptions for Georgian: Levels A1-A2-B1-B2

  • Greek

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: and
A1 for Greek

  • Italian

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) : a) Presentation; b) description
Giuliana GREGO BOLLI, Director of CVCL Università per Stranieri di Perugia - e-mail:

  • Norwegian

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.


Referencial Camões PLE was published in September 2017 by Camões, Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua, I.P. (Divisão de Programação, Formação e Certificação) – Portugal. It is available as an e-book, complemented by online inventories, at
Contact: Rui Vaz,

  • Spanish

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.
For information on acquisition of the Plan curricular del Instituto Cervantes. Niveles de referencia para el español, please contact:

Authorities who wish to develop a Reference Level Description for a national or a regional language are invited to contact the Language Policy Unit (Strasbourg) (

Please also consult the List of publications for the chronological list of Reference level descriptions and Threshold levels

Updated: 9 January 2017