Testing Natives and their CEFL scores

I’ve read that the average Native has a B2 level in the CEFR of languages. To me this seems absurd as I commonly hear advanced learners claiming C2 levels and have never once in my life met a foreigner who the knew the nuances in English as well as pretty much any average Native I know. It just seems really odd to me how someone can learn a language as an adult and claim to be at a higher level than most Natives, I’ve never seen it myself. I don’t know a lot about the subject and was just curious as to what other members here on LingQ think

I don’t believe that C2 = native.

Having said that, though, I can honestly say that Sanne, Robert, Paul and Yutaka write better English than many natives I know of, including some relatives.

Edit: Yeh you’re right, Colin. Understanding nuances is a different matter.
Sanne knows better “British English” than me, too^^. However, I do know some native English speakers who don’t necessarily understand every nuance…

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“I can honestly say that Sanne, Paul and even Yutaka write better English than many natives I know of, including some relatives!”

I think they write English better than most native speakers, but Sanne is the only one who knows the nuances in English like a native speaker. She has spent more time immersed in an English speaking environment than I have and knows British English better than me.

I looked through a German C2 exam with a teacher once. It looked really tough, but a lot of what was being tested was stuff that had little to do with language level. For example, the speaking part of the test required that the person be given a random topic to talk about, and then after 5 minutes of preparation, give a short presentation on it to a group of people. What has bullshiting about a topic you know nothing about got to do with your language level? You certaintly need a high level in the language to do it well, but a high level in the language does not mean you can do it well. Of course if you grab an average native speaker and tell them to stand up in front of a group of people and discuss the role of art in 1950s China without any preparation, then they are going to sound like an incomprehensible idiot.


…so in conclusion, I definitely agree with nateg’s analysis.

I thought about this for a minute and apologize up front for any stereotypes.
The CEFR seems to be devised to measure the foreign language ability of likely otherwise educated individuals. Not the level ‘average’ people have in their L1. Average people by definition have an IQ of around 100, whereas the likes of us, someone likely to learn a foreign language to any level and feel the need to be measured in the cefr is probably settled on the right hands slope of the IQ curve between 115 and 140+.
The framework considers the ability to produce coherent clear texts, reproduce ideas and talks about ‘his or her field of specialty’. I don’t know about you, but that seem to be feats that might pose challenges for up to average people even in their native language. Sometimes we, who we hang out on L learning forums and universities, forget that the speech of an ‘average’ person can be exemplified by the phrase: ‘Like, you know, totally or whatevrrrr’ and a writing style indiscriminate of they’re, their, there, then, than, etc.

Now native status is in a way a dimension that gives you a special ingrained feel for the language that would take long for a learner to achieve, but which he nontheless can achieve. Is a 70 year old IQ 130 foreign university professor who spent 50 years on Chinese not C2 while an 18 year old IQ 95 native Chinese girl is B2? Is a native of English, who says ‘he don’t aks me nothin, I’ma learn all dem languages’ not native even though he might not be able to write a C1 essay? On the other hand, I think, the best learners can not only overtake natives in education, but sometimes more rarely even in ‘native dimension feel’.

South American friends have told me that my Portuguese and Spanish are better than that of the average native, even though at the same time it’s obvious that I’m not a native. My style, grammar and diction are at C1 but I lose at native like coloquial fast talk and accent, while coloquially fast talking natives are probably ‘only’ B2 in an academic context.

So, I think the cefr levels get mistaken as a progression from ignorant foreigner to native, whereas it’s rather a progression from uneducated to educated in a language, disconsidering the native dimension.


I couldn’t help but think of the 2011 movie, “Limitless”, where some pills radically increased one’s intelligence if you could get hold of them…

Average IQ guy Eddie uses the drug and suddenly becomes brilliant:
"I learned to play the piano in three days. Math(s) became useful. Even half listening to any language, I became fluent. " (actual line from the film)

Low-IQ ‘bad guy’ uses the drug: “Did you know human intestines can be 6-8 metres long?!!”

Awww, shucks, Colin (blushing violently) … Thank you!

At the risk of being off-topic, one thing that sticks with me is that- a new language often seems to appear on two different levels - one as a “formal” type of content and another as an “everyday/street” type of content. Obviously, it is all a continuum, but very often you see people that get their language input from; news, history, books, university etc.-- and then another type that get it just from picking up the everyday use (often by just living in a country that uses the language). Again, this is obviously a gross generalisation, but if you don’t live in an immersion environment, and you try to pick up a language it is often easy to miss out on very simple turn of phrases, everyday type of phrasing, a certain sense of “earthiness” etc, whilst at the same time still possible to be quite good at reading the finance news, or discussing areas of interest in great detail etc. I’ve often thought that topical chat radio / talk back radio audio (particularly with transcripts) is a great learning tool, as it often links through these two levels. Some good language tests - “the half hour cab ride to/from the airport with a talkative driver test” , “the how long can I regularly hang out on an internet chat forum without anyone picking up I am non-native test”, “the multiple-conversation in a group at a crowded noisy bar test” “the front page, middle page, then back page, newspaper reading test” etc.

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Formal register and informal register absolutely. The cefr mostly tests formal, which of courese is not the be all end all.

I met a Ukrainian woman recently who was an astrophysicist. She publishes a lot of her work in English but almost never leaves Ukraine so rarely speaks English. She could tell me all about her research using long technical words, but when we sat down for lunch and I asked her if she needed a spoon, she had no idea what I was talking about.


Interesting. I interpreted the movie differently. To me, Eddie was already highly intelligent at the outset but suffering from writers block, laziness, attention problems, etc. While the pill did certainly enhance his intellect up to its full capacity (providing super adderall-ish focus + massive motivation) it’s not clear to me that just anyone would have achieved the same results. In other words, he was someone with the exact sort of issues that the pill was able to work on. The sudden explosions of skills in math and foreign languages were grossly exaggerated…but in real life you can find people with ADD-like symptoms who appear greatly enhanced when on focus drugs (sudden spike in working memory). The movie is worth watching for foreign language aficionados.What I found amusing was his speaking Mandarin at the end emerged in an affected Cantonese style – like one who had watched a bunch of Bruce Lee films (true enough) rather than someone who’d picked up some Mandarin fluency.

My Dutch bilingual penfriend has a far wider and more nuanced vocabulary than very many native English speakers. The Dutch are excellent linguists and when I eventually met him, i found his spoken English was as good as his written English. I don’t think that this is particularly uncommon. If you meet people who work at a high level internationally, you will find plenty with an astonishing command of English - unquestionably far more accomplished than many of the people who live in my own small town in England. The speech to the UN of the Dutch Foreign Minister at the time of the plane crash in Indonesia when so many Dutch lost their lives was one of the most powerful and moving pieces of English speaking that I had ever heard and I would have said accentless. And think of Christine Lagarde of the IMF. And what about interpreters?

Yes, I agree with the last para. The cefr levels are not measures of the language abilities of native speakers.

Ability to speak a language fluently is not the same as ability to pass a language test.

I would say that any test that routinely scores learners higher than demographically similar natives is seriously flawed.

However, among native speakers there are large differences in vocabulary, in writing and extemporaneous speaking ability, and in knowledge of specialized fields. I’m sure a German astrophysicist is much more capable of discussing astrophysics in English than I am, but I’ll bet I can handle daily life in an American city more easily than he can. Designing a test that accurately measures the difference is not so easy, though.

Agreed. It’s comparing apples to oranges. I think is pointless to evaluate a natives proficiency in their own language in comparison to a learner.

I’d go even further, and say that someone can’t be considered fluent unless they can converse in both the formal and informal registers.

How often do you hear international public figures speak extemporaneously in a casual setting? A prepared speech in a formal setting is a relatively easy test to pass.

Often! And not just international figues. I had dinner with my Dutch penfriend and his adult daughter when I was In Holland recently. Both have worked in English speaking countries. They are both very quickwitted and the (English) conversation was fast, full of jokes and sophisticated word play. The Dutch are amazing linguists and this is common. And the proof of the pudding is in the eating - here at LingQ. Go to the Dutch podcasts between Sylvia and Fasulya. Fasulya is a German who speaks native level Dutch. But I think Nateg is right about it being silly to try to make comparisons. Native speakers are native speakers and have different levels of proficiency in their own languages… The language tests are not designed to test them!

I don’t know where they did this research showing the natives with an average level of B2. I just took an online English test and it placed me at C2 and it was surprisingly easy. I’m a high school graduate who’s never attended college or university and definitely don’t consider myself an academic.

I completely agree with kewms who said “I would say that any test that routinely scores learners higher than demographically similar natives is seriously flawed.”