How Language Proficient is Your Child?
Reading time: 8 minutes
Know the Six Levels of Language Proficiency
- Do you want to set more specific second language goals with your child?
- Do you know what level of fluency your child is at now?
- Do you know how many study hours it takes to learn a language?
These six levels are generally accepted as best describing the different levels of language fluency for Western languages. Use these to help define where your child’s next learning milestone will be. Remember, the most effective learning is that which is goal driven.
This is the Common European Framework, which divides learners into three broad divisions which then can be divided into six levels:
A = Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary
B = Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or pre-intermediate
B2 Vantage or intermediate
C = Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or upper intermediate
C2 Mastery or advanced
The CEFR describes what a learner is supposed to be able to do in reading, listening, speaking and writing at each level.
- Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
- Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.
- Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
- Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).
- Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.
- Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
- Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
- Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.
- Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest.
- Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
- Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
- Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.
- Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
- Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning.
- Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.
- Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.
- Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
- Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.
- Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.
- Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
How long does it take to learn a language?
These estimates are from Cambridge English Language Assessment on what it should take to learn a second western language such as Spanish, Italian, or French:
|Hours to Reach
|Breakthrough or Beginner
|Waystage or Elementary
|Threshold or Low Intermediate
|Vantage or Upper Intermediate
|Effective Operational or Advanced
|Mastery or Proficiency
These estimated times can help you identify how much study your child will need to reach the next level. Use it to set longer term goals for language proficiency.
Note that as a rule of thumb, language study of 3 to 4 hours a week will, in most cases, get a child to the next level in approximately one year.
Please know there are differing estimates on how much study time is needed to reach each level. Many experts argue that more efficient learning strategies can lessen these times. Also, time by itself is not the only determinate of fluency. The amount of actual learning is determined by two factors – the quantity of the practice times the quality of it. We think these practice times assume use of deliberate practice and other evidence-based learning strategies.
For more difficult languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Korean, increase these estimated times by 50 percent or a little more.