Why we probably all misunderstand ratings like "B2," and "C1," and what we should use instead

There are a lot of mentions on the forum about the various CEFR levels, and what it may take to reach them, but I feel like there is so much confusion about their meaning and so much misinterpretation of their definitions that I’ve been trying hard not to use designations like “B2,” or “C1” when I talk about language learning.

The underlying problem is this: The descriptions of the CEFR levels are meant to be part of a system of teaching, assessment, and validation of language ability by accredited schools and testing institutions. I don’t think those definitions were ever meant for individual language learners to self asses their progress, or interpret the progress of others.

People on the web are of course quick to give their opinions such as “I think a B2 means you’re fluent,” or “C2 = native level,” etc. (I myself have been guilty of similar posts.) The problem is, unless we’re involved in the academic system those designations were meant for, or we ourselves have taken a test at a B2, we don’t actually know what the interpretations of the guidelines are. The only definition of a B2 level we can be sure of is this:

“A person is at a B2 level, if and when they have taken a language test from an accredited testing institution, and they have passed at a B2 level.”

I know, this sounds super facetious, but what I mean by that is, the only time we should use these designations is if and when we’re talking specifically about testing for these levels. In every other context, we should just use Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced.

In another post, I’ve outlined using the reaching of practical language use milestones to classify my studies, which is more useful for an individual learner than the CEFR designations.

We all have the same ultimate goals with a new language. We want to one day:
1.) Speak fluently
2.) Read books unassisted
3.) Understand TV, movies, and other media

So, in my studies I’ve identified the following levels with the specific goals and milestones associated with them:

BEGINNER: “I’m studying”
Speech: “I can speak a bit.”
Reading: I can do comparative reading with target and native text side by side.
Media: Watching TV and movies with subtitles.

This lasts up to around completing “Assimil With Ease” and I think corresponds well with completing the “Beginner 2” level here on LinQ.

INTERMEDIATE: “I’m now starting to ‘use’ the language.”
Speech: “I’m conversant.” Not fluent, but able to have some decent conversations."
Reading: Able to read books with LingQ or Kindle assistance but not needing comparative edition anymore.
Audiobooks: Start re-listening to books I’ve read recently.
Media: Subtitles still on but getting easier to reconstruct sentences thanks to subtitles.

Up to completing “Assimil Using” or equivalent – corresponds well with completing the “Intermediate 2” level here on LinQ.

ADVANCED: “I’m now ‘living with’ the language.”
Speech: Near fluent to fluent speech.
Reading: faster reading, with fewer word lookups, start unassisted reading of paper books.
Audiobooks: Listen to to new books unassisted.
Media: Start watching TV shows without subtitles. (not movies yet, they’re harder) Also, start watching dubbed shows and movies without subtitles.

Up to completing “Advanced 2” here on LingQ.

Fluent speech.
Able to watch theatrical movies without subtitles.

As long as I’m making this progress and meeting those goals, I really don’t care at what point in the process one might consider me a “B2” or C1" level, and I don’t think anyone else should care either.

BUT, let’s assume a student here wants to specifically take an accredited B2 test. How could LingQ and the community help them understand where they might stand in their progress.

Here is my big brilliant suggestion:

In order to get proper data points available, LingQ, and the community, could reach out to, and solicit data from active LingQ members who have taken various accredited language tests and gather any information as to what their known LingQ Word counts were at the time they have passed those tests at certain levels. Ideally this would be without estimations and guess work, it should be real numbers at the relevant times.

Of course the numbers would vary, but if you managed to get 10-20 students who kept track of their known words at the time of passing a B2 exam, and averaged out their results – accounting for language categories, etc, etc, – I think we could start to get a real picture of what a “B2 level vocabulary” actually looks like.

So, those of you reading this, have you taken an accredited language exam that placed you at a specific CEFR level? If so, would you have any data as to what your known words may have been at the time? Let us know so that those that need to can start gaining a better understanding as to the real meaning of these designations.


The only thing I would add to this is the distinction between a Lower Intermediate level, and an Upper intermediate level. I feel like the Intermediate level has a very large range.


Mark, that is probably true. Technically all these levels could be broken into a lower and upper segment, pretty much along the lines where LingQ marks their 1 and 2 segments for the levels. Though I think all this is on a spectrum and the the major goals and benchmarks would remain the same as we progress through them.


Wonderful post, t_harangi. I’ve been thinking exactly the same for a long time. I have heard rather absurd ideas about the CEFR levels stemming for confusion about what they actually mean