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Benchmarking your curriculum to the CEFR

Teacher and students in classMeghan Beler is a full-time teacher trainer for Oxford University Press in Istanbul, Turkey. In this article, she gives an overview of the Common European Framework of Reference and explains why it is useful as a benchmarking tool.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) is a document created by the Council of Europe – Language Policy Division and has become the standard for measuring language competency in Europe and in many countries across the world. It has increasingly been used as a tool for benchmarking national curricula and language certificates1. The CEFR measures language ability at six levels: A1 (Beginners), A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 (Language Mastery). It is designed to describe how language users communicate and how they understand written and spoken texts. Each level describes what a learner ‘can do’ in relation to a specific communicative competency and scales for each competency are broken down into individual level-specific descriptors, for example:

Overall Reading Comprehension, Level B2:

Can read with a large degree of independence, adapting style and speed of reading to different texts and purposes, and using appropriate reference sources selectively. Has a broad active reading vocabulary, but may experience some difficulty with low frequency idioms2.

How can the CEFR be used?

The CEFR is NOT a set of rules or a teaching methodology to be strictly adhered to. The scales and descriptors are designed to serve as a basis for curricula to be built upon and may need to be adapted and expanded upon depending on your unique teaching and learning context. The European Language Portfolio3, a useful tool for learners to record their language learning experiences and achievements, provides additional support for institutions benchmarking their curricula to the CEFR.

Why do we use the CEFR?

The CEFR was created for the purposes of having a universal scale with which to measure learners’ communicative competences. Throughout the world, educators may have different views about what an upper-intermediate student, for example, should be able to do. The CEFR helps educators to break down these boundaries and ambiguities between institutions and learning contexts. By benchmarking your own institutional curriculum to the CEFR, you are able to provide a clear set of standards for describing language ability that are mutually recognizable across time and contexts. It also serves as a way to plan transparent and realistic learning objectives and map learners’ progression.

1 The Council of Europe – Language Policy Division (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre_en.asp)
2Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assessment (CEFR), p. 69.
3The European Language Portfolio (http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/education/elp/)

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