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What Is The Difference Between IRL and CEFR Language Levels?

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

Language learners are placed in classes at different levels of proficiency. While the Foreign Service Institute set the Inter-agency Language Round-table (ILR) scale from 0–5 for the US, the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) classifies language proficiency from A1 to C2 for countries of the EU. In this article, I aim to explain the difference.

The first difference between the two systems of classification is that ILR starts with level 0, which it defines as “no proficiency”, whereas the CEFR begins with A1 level that assumes no prior knowledge of the language. At 0 level, people know the odd word here or there, but are unable to phrase full sentences. They haven’t learned the language yet.

The second difference is that ILR’s level 1 is somewhere in-between A1 and A2 level according to the CEFR. At level 1, a person is able to understand and respond to basic phrases and hold short conversations in familiar situations.

IRL’s level 2 is at A2 or B1 level of the CEFR. A person at this level is able to hold casual conversations at work or in their personal life, but lacks the vocabulary and the grammar to discuss anything spotaneously.

A person at IRL’s level 3 or B2 proficiency level for the CEFR, is able to contribute to conversations at work and discuss a wide range of topics due to having fairly broad vocabulary. They might make grammatical mistakes and lack nuance in their phrasing, but they’re competent enough to deal with most situations in the language.

Level 4 for the IRL is equivalent to the CEFR’s C1 proficiency. A language student at that level, can have advanced conversations about a wide range of topics. While they might still make minor grammatical mistakes, they can be understood and hired for most professions.

Finally, the IRL’s level 5 is the same as C2 level for the CEFR. People at this level are equivalent to native speakers of the language, apart from their subtle accent and the occasional grammatical mistake. To learn how we teach the various levels in our German language courses, check out our website.

I hope this helps.

This article was first published on

This article was written by Jens Olesen- a London German tutor with over 25 years of experience. He also blogs regularly about the German language on his German language blog “Auf Deutsch, bitte!”, where he explains the cases in German, German word order rules, prepositions in German, and German pronouns.


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