If you ever tried to find the right language course for you, you probably came across courses ranked from A1 to C2. These levels were defined by the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). Yet what is the difference between the various language levels? Jens Olesen, a German tutor with over 25 years of teaching experience, explains and provides examples based on his German courses.
The three broad levels are A1/A2 ("Basic User"), B1/B2 ("Independent User"), and C1/C2 ("Proficient User"). Let's take a look at what you should be able to communicate at the various levels set out by CERF.
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 this 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 level classifications on my blog.
Since the levels of competence might seem a little abstract, let me explain what our clients learn in our German courses at each of the six language levels to explain them further and give some examples.
A1 (Complete Beginner)
In our beginner German courses, students first learn about the personal pronouns in German and how to the conjugate regular and irregular 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Would you like to read other posts about language learning? Then check out our German language blog "Auf Deutsch bitte!" where you will find posts on the German language and language learning more generally, such as on the difference between subject and object, main and subordinate clauses, where we review language learning apps duolingo, memrise and co. and online dictionaries linguee, dict.cc and others.