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What Is The Difference Between A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2? Language Levels Explained

Updated: Apr 29

Embarking on a language-learning journey often involves navigating through a maze of course options ranked from A1 to C2. These levels, established by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), serve as a crucial roadmap for language learners worldwide. In this comprehensive guide, Jens Olesen, a seasoned German tutor with over 25 years of experience, unravels the mysteries behind A1 to C2 and sheds light on the distinctions between each language level with concrete examples on his German courses.

Demystifying Language Proficiency Levels: A Comprehensive Guide from A1 to C2

As we traverse the linguistic landscape from A1 to C2, understanding the intricacies of proficiency levels becomes paramount for effective learning. Whether you're a beginner or aiming for fluency in one or several foreign languages, this guide promises to demystify language proficiency levels and empower your language-learning journey.

The CEFR classifies language proficiency into three broad categories: A1/A2 ("Basic User"), B1/B2 ("Independent User"), and C1/C2 ("Proficient User"). Let's delve into the specifics of what you should be able to communicate at each level, from a complete beginner at A1 to fluency at C2.

A1 (Complete Beginner Level)

Upon completion of beginner level, students are able to communicate about familiar topics in a simple way, and understand short conversations about everyday life with people who speak slowly and clearly.

A2 (Elementary Level)

At elementary level, students can make themselves understood in and talk about routine situations. They are able to ask questions and answer them with concrete information on topics that are familiar to them.

B1 (Lower-Intermediate Level )

At lower-intermediate level, students can express themselves coherently regarding events, experiences and plans, and justify their decisions on a wider range of topics. They can understand the main points of a conversation when standardised language is used and the focus is on topics of personal interest as well as familiar themes, such as work, school, leisure, travelling etc.

B2 (Upper-Intermediate Level)

At upper-intermediate level, students are able to comprehend the main points of complex texts on a wide range of concrete and abstract topics. They can communicate themselves in a clear manner and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of various options and positions in a fairly sophisticated way.

C1 (Advanced Level)

Advanced students of the language can understand longer and more challenging texts in detail and also grasp implicit meanings. They are able to have spontaneous conversations without being lost for words, and they can use the language in their social as well as their professional life.

C2 (Fluency Level)

At the highest level of competence, students can effortlessly understand almost everything they hear or read, and they are able to express themselves spontaneously about any topic without making noticeable grammatical errors.

The language level classification from A1 to C2 is now being widely adopted beyond Europe, except for the U.S. and few other countries that use language levels from 0-5. I compare the two language proficiency classifications on my blog.

Why Is It Important To Understand the Difference Between Language Levels A1-C2?

Understanding the difference between language proficiency levels is important for several reasons:

  1. Assessment and Placement: Learners need to know their proficiency level to assess their current language skills accurately. This helps them determine their starting point and set realistic goals for improvement. Language schools and programs often use standardised tests aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to assess students' levels and place them in appropriate classes.

  2. Setting Goals: Knowing the distinction between beginner, intermediate and advanced levels allows learners to set specific, achievable goals for language acquisition. For example, someone at A1 level may aim to reach A2 proficiency within a certain timeframe, and understanding the requirements of each level helps them outline the steps needed to progress.

  3. Curriculum Development: Language teachers use the CEFR framework to design curriculum and lesson plans that target specific language competencies at each level. Understanding the differences between proficiency levels helps educators tailor their teaching methods, materials, and assessments to meet the needs of learners at different stages of proficiency.

  4. Self-Assessment: Learners can use the CEFR descriptors set out above to evaluate their own progress independently. By comparing their skills against the criteria outlined for each level, learners can identify areas of strength and areas that require further improvement, allowing for more targeted self-study and practice.

  5. Communication and Collaboration: In settings where individuals from diverse language backgrounds interact, such as language exchange programs or international workplaces, understanding language proficiency levels ensures effective communication and collaboration. Knowing that someone is at the A1 level, for example, helps others adjust their language use accordingly, using simpler vocabulary and clearer expressions to facilitate understanding.

  6. Employment and Education Opportunities: Some employers and educational institutions require proof of language proficiency at specific CEFR levels for admission, employment, or advancement. Understanding the distinctions between levels allows individuals to assess whether they meet the language requirements for their desired opportunities and take steps to improve their skills if necessary.

In summary, understanding the difference between language levels is crucial for effective language learning, goal setting, curriculum development, self-assessment, communication, and accessing employment and education opportunities that require language proficiency.

German Language Levels and Our German Courses

Since the levels of competence might seem a little abstract, let me illustrate them with examples of what our clients learn in our German courses at each of the six CEFR levels. I also provide a rough estimate of the number of words students are expected to know at each level to give you a further indication of what is involved at every level. However, since the overall number of words in the German language is almost impossible to measure, those estimates need to taken as just that- a mere indication of how many words students are expected to have learnt.

A1 (Complete Beginner)

In our beginner German courses, students first learn about the personal pronouns in German and how to conjugate German verbs in the present tense. They then learn how to introduce themselves and other beginner vocabulary, such as how to talk about their hobbies, how to express preferences in German, order a meal, and they learn useful words related to their home, holidays and work. Since German syntax differs from many other European languages like English, we also practice German word order in simple sentences and questions. We also introduce our students gradually to the German cases system via the possessive articles before we discuss German gender rules and difference between the Nominative and Accusative case in German with regard to both nouns and adjectives. In the context of discussing their home, we also teach them how to use the dual prepositions in German. At the end of A1 level, our students are able to hold and understand simple conversations in the language.

Approximate number of words: 500.

A2 (Elementary)

At elementary level, we build on the work we started in the previous level by ultimately practicing all four cases in German, accusative prepositions in German and dative prepositions, adjective declensions in German, and German word order in more complex main and subordinate clauses. These and other grammar topics allow our students to express their ideas on a wider range of topics, such as family, university and their work place, travel plans, media, and technology, music, sports, and cultural events. We also introduce them again gradually to more complex topics, such as the passive voice in German and the German subjunctive. At the end of our A2 German courses, our students can have conversations and voice their opinions about familiar topics,.

Approximate number of words: 1000.

B1 Lower-Intermediate

Students in our B1 German courses learn to talk about more abstract topics, such as characterising people, talking about friendships and colleagues, social conventions and manners at work, in restaurants and other situations, advantages and disadvantages of, say, living in the countryside or a city etc. They also get more practice with the passive voice and subjunctive and become more confident in using the various tenses in the German language, such as the German perfect tense, imperfect and future tense in German, to which they were first introduced at A1 and A2 level, respectively.

Approximate number of words: 2000.

B2 Upper-Intermediate

At upper-intermediate level, the topics we discuss with our students become increasingly complex and wide ranging. We talk about the pros and cons of social media, mobility and globalisation, climate change, how to apply for a job and prepare for an interview, mentalities and cultural differences etc. At this level, our students can discuss the aforementioned and other topics clearly and at a fairly high degree of sophistication. To help them communicate their ideas with greater grammatical accuracy, we also revise all of the mentioned grammar topics, including more complex subordinate clauses, such as infinitive clauses and relative clauses in German, which they first learned about at A2 and B1 level, and topics such as verbs with a prepositional object.

Approximate number of words: 4000.

C1 Advanced

As conversation topics get more and more sophisticated, at advanced level we continue our work of consolidating grammar topics that were first introduced before. This allows our students to discuss themes, such as networks and norms, inventions in the past, present and future, social engagement and charity work, conflicts at work, and current affairs with more nuance. We also cover reported speech in German, compound connectors, and German comma rules. Upon completing our C1 German courses, our students can use the language in their professional as well as their personal life with sophistication and few grammar mistakes.

Approximate number of words: 8000-10000.

C2 Fluency

At the highest level of competence, akin to German native speaker level, our students learn to give presentations and write essays in German on topics ranging from works of German literature to German movies. Since our students now speak and write with only occasional mistakes in grammar, the focus in our lessons is on advancing their vocabulary and understanding differences in nuance in their choice of words.

Approximate number of words: 16000-2000.

Understanding the different levels of German language proficiency is crucial when pursuing opportunities in German translation jobs.

Whether you're a language enthusiast, a student, or just curious about German grammar, vocabulary, and culture, our blog has something for everyone. Discover insightful posts on various topics, from mastering tricky grammar concepts and understanding language nuances to exploring cultural insights that add depth to your language journey. Visit our German Language Blog and unlock a wealth of resources designed to enhance your German learning experience. You'll find a wide range of posts, such as on the 10 grammar rules beginner students need to learn in German, essential German grammar rules for intermediate students, and the answer to the question how many words does the the German language have.

When learning any foreign language, grammar terms can be quite daunting. So I have compiled an A-Z guide to grammar terms with examples in both English and German.


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