ELAINE GALLAGHER – 3
You might be wondering how languages are organized by levels, or why book publishers are no longer printing language books labeled “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, or “Advanced” levels. Now, language book levels, world-wide, are labeled ” A-1″, or “A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1, C-2”. WHY?
Basically, the old terminology, such as “Beginner”, never really had a clear definition. Each editorial company had different, various criteria for what “Beginner”, “Intermediate”, “Upper Intermediate”, or Advanced” meant. There were no clear standards before 1991.
During the 1980’s more than 20 European nations decided to establish guidelines for identifying language levels. Linguistic experts and educators worked periodically, during several years in Switzerland, identifying characteristics of language production (speaking & writing) and language reception (listening & reading).
In 1991 the European Union published the 265-page document completed by the linguistic experts, describing language skills. The book is full of charts and text describing specific characteristics exhibited in the four basic language skills of listening, speaking, reading, and writing. The results of the years of work of the experts is called, “The Common European Framework of Reference for Language Learning and Teaching”, abbreviated to “CEFR”.
The CEFR divides language acquisition into six levels. These levels refer to ANY language. The six levels are A-1, A-2, B-1, B-2, C-1, C-2. A-1 is basic and C-2 is similar to native speakers, but mild accents are acceptable. The levels are divided into the basic skills. For example, A-1 is explained in relation to speaking, listening, reading, and writing. All skills need to be observed by oral and written production.
The European Union, after the distribution of the CEFR, required all editorial companies within the EU to exhibit on the front or rear covers of their books, the identifying level of the book according to the CEFR levels, A-1, etc. This is extremely helpful to teachers and to learners, because they can investigate the CEFR scale to find the precise characteristics that should be exhibited in each of the language skills, listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
Today, in 2013, in addition to Europe, most countries in Latin America have also adopted the guidelines of the CEFR, as have most publishers, world-wide. The United States of America, unfortunately, is one of the very few countries that have not yet adopted the guidelines of the CEFR. They are still dealing with the vague terms identifying levels, such as “beginning”, “intermediate”, etc.
You can download the CEFR from Internet to understand more about the characteristics of language learners in the four skills at each of the six levels. In my next blog, I’ll explain briefly some of the characteristics for each of the six levels, so you can check yourself.