English Australia is keen to offer support to colleges who wish to use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR or CEF) to inform their curriculum.
Independent TESOL consultant and assessment expert Mary Jane Hogan compiled the following guide to the CEFR, comprising resources that teachers, teacher trainers and curriculum developers may find useful.
The Common European Framework of References for Languages is a project of the Council of Europe that aims to give language professionals and language learners 'a practical tool for setting clear standards to be attained at successive stages of learning and for evaluating outcomes in an internationally comparable manner' (Council of Europe CEFR main website). It is a language framework that describes what language learners/users can do at different stages of language acquisition, in a range of situations, contexts and fields of language use.
The CEFR is not prescriptive, nor does it mandate what must be taught or learnt. It is not an assessment framework. The CEFR framework is vast and it is not intended to be used as is. 'Rather, [the] purpose is to help the user to consider the coverage of the learning programme or examination with which they are concerned: what are the priority areas and what level of proficiency is appropriate in each area?' (Brian North, in the Report of the Intergovernmental Language Policy Forum 2007).
'A language levels framework is a series of language descriptions arranged sequentially to indicate an expected order of language progression or development over time.' (O’Loughlin, 2007, NEAS ELT Management Conference). Teachers, curriculum developers and policy makers can all use a language framework to inform teaching and assessment.
Curriculum linked to the CEFR assists ELT providers in creating a coherent progression within a language learning environment, from pre-entry testing through learning outcomes to exit testing, as well as comparison between learners within and across learning environments. The CEFR is already the industry-standard language framework in ELT across Europe as well as in international ELT publishing, and its impact is being felt rapidly in English teaching and learning around the world.
The CEFR comprises many sets of descriptors covering many different aspects of language knowledge and use in a range of contexts. To make coherent use of the Framework you need to follow some principles.
• asks you to reflect on your teaching practice
• requires you to meet your learners’ needs
• is action-oriented in its approach
• regards language learning as a lifelong process
• expects the learner to take responsibility for their own learning.
These are the main principles to follow in referencing the CEFR when you are developing curriculum. You can then use the illustrative scales (descriptors) as a resource to develop learning outcomes for your particular learning context.
The scales have been revised and expanded in an EAQUALS/ALTE project that has expanded the 6-level scale to 11 levels with the addition of '+' levels (click on 'EAQUALS Bank as levels') to provide a finer distinction between the levels.
1. Reflect on your teaching practice:
• describe your learners
• describe their language goals
• describe the teaching methodology you use
2. Meet your learners’ needs:
• explore the illustrative scales and select the domains, competences, activities and strategies relevant to your learners’ needs
3. Follow an action-oriented approach and see language learning as a lifelong process:
• identify descriptors in the illustrative scales in competences, activities and strategies that are relevant to and at the levels appropriate for your learners at their stage of language learning
• reference these scales in creating your learner outcomes, using a 'Can Do' approach
4. Expect the learner to take responsibility for their own learning:
• make learners aware of learning outcomes to be achieved
• encourage learners to record their own progress and achievements
1. The CEFR requires you to reflect on your teaching practice
The CEFR asks you to reflect on what you teach and how you teach, to put this into words and to describe the outcomes in terms of what your learners can do. Reference descriptors in the illustrative scales that are relevant to your learning context.
2. The CEFR is flexible
The CEFR is intended to be applied flexibly, so you can adapt it to any learning programme. Not everything is relevant to your learning context, and the CEFR will not contain everything your learning context needs.
3. The CEFR is action-oriented
The CEFR focuses on what learners do to successfully complete tasks requiring language competences; it does not describe what they know about language.
4. The CEFR is ‘Can Do’ in approach
The CEFR illustrative scales describe what learners/users can do at different levels of language learning; they are not intended to be used as rating scales for assessment tasks at any one level or across levels. Nor are they intended to be used directly in a classroom; the illustrative scales can be referenced in learning outcomes that are also Can Do in approach and are aimed at meeting your learners’ particular needs.
5. The CEFR operates vertically and horizontally
To reference the CEFR in your curriculum, you need to look at what learners do according to the vertical and horizontal scales. That is, use the vertical scale of 6+ levels as well as the horizontal aspect of the competences, activities and strategies.
6. The CEFR focuses on 'act effectively'
The CEFR describes what learners have to do to act effectively in their context; needs analysis is central.
7. The CEFR provides support
Use the ideas and support available to reference the CEFR to your learning context (and remember that materials produced by someone else are copyright).
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment. Cambridge University Press, 2001. It's available in paperback, or you can click here to download from Council of Europe website
Guide for Users (Ed. John L Trim, 2002; guide to help users make full use of the CEFR in different education sectors)
These are some of the useful resources for curriculum development:
Cambridge ESOL: Using the CEFR. Principles of Good Practice (guide to best practice in curriculum and assessment using the CEFR, 2011)
EAQUALS Self-Help Guide to Curriculum and Syllabus Design (task-based guide to curriculum and syllabus design grounded in the CEFR)
ECEP (ECML): Pathways through assessing, learning and teaching in the CEFR (kit of worksheets to use in teacher professional development in relation to the CEFR)
British Council/EAQUALS Core Inventory for General English (inventory of core language relevant for learners at levels A1 to C1)
English Profile Project (an ongoing corpus-based project to produce Reference Level Descriptors describing learning goals in areas such as vocabulary, grammar and functions across levels A1 to C2; see especially the English Vocabulary Profile) See also Cambridge ESOL Research Notes 33, August 2008
Examples of speaking (A2-C2) with detailed comments prepared by Cambridge English Language Assessment - scroll down to 'Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)' under 'Research and Validation' to the left of the screen
European Language Portfolio (to allow and encourage users to record their language learning achievements and progress)
Level specifications A1 to B2 (a range of guides produced through the Council of Europe from 1990 to 2001, describing at four levels aspects of language use such as functions, notions, verbal exchange patterns, lexis, texts, writing, competences, and strategies):
- A1 Breakthrough level specifications (Word document, unpublished, Council of Europe 2001)
- A2 Waystage level specifications (Council of Europe 1991, Cambridge University Press 1998)
- B1 Threshold level specifications (Council of Europe 1991, Cambridge University Press 1998)
- B2 Vantage level specifications (Council of Europe, Cambridge University Press 2001)
If you'd like to do further reading or research into the CEFR, you might find these useful and/or interesting.
The following is short interview between Nick Saville, Head of Research & Validation at Cambridge ESOL, and John Trim, co-developer of the CEFR.
Jones, N. (2009). 'The classroom and the Common European Framework: towards a model for formative assessment'. Research Notes (Cambridge ESOL), 36: 2-8.
Jones, N. & Saville, N. (2009). 'European Language Policy: Assessment, Learning, and the CEFR'. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 29: 51-63.
Little, D. (2007) 'The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Perspectives on the Making of Supranational Language Policy'. Modern Language Journal 91: iv, 645-653.
North, B. (2007). 'The CEFR Common Reference Levels: validated reference points and local strategies.' in The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the development of language policies: challenges and responsibilities. Intergovernmental Language Policy Forum. Report by Francis Goullier.
North, B. (2008). 'The relevance of the CEFR to teacher training'. Babylonia, 2, 55-57.
Research Notes, Cambridge ESOL. 37, August 2009. Issue devoted to the CEFR and Cambridge ESOL.
Saville, N. (2010). 'The CEFR: Handle with care'. EL Gazette, October 1, 2010, 7.
Trim, J.L.M. (2010). 'The Modern Languages Programme of the Council of Europe as a background to the English Profile Programme'. English Profile Journal, 1:01, e2.
Weir, C.J. (2005). 'Limitations of the Common European Framework for developing comparable examinations and tests'. Language Testing, 22:3, 281-3