English Proficiency Levels: A Guide to Determining Your Level

 

Language proficiency is difficult to measure, as everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. You may be able to tell the difference between a person who only speaks a few words in English and a native English speaker, but what about everyone in between? How can you determine your English level? And how many English proficiency levels are there?

Understanding English Levels with CEFR

The Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR) is an international standard for language ability and comprehension. This standard includes 6 distinct English levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. Some institutions also recognize the pre-A1 level, though it is not as common. What do these designations actually mean about your English abilities?

All CEFR language levels were originally created by the Council of Europe in order to standardize language ability. These standards are used to determine language ability for speakers all over the world. Let’s take a closer look at each English level to see what they mean:

A1 – Beginner (Basic)

Average Time to Reach A1 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
1-3 months Simple questions and answers, information about oneself, very common and familiar topics 60 WPM or less Very basic knowledge with frequent errors Situation-specific

The A1 level refers to speakers who have a basic grasp of the English language. If you are at the A1 level, you can understand some common phrases and words in English. You can ask and answer simple questions (i.e. How old are you? Where do you live? What’s your favorite color?).

Your interactions will be relatively basic, and you may need other people to speak slowly with you in order to understand.

This level is common among those who have only been studying English for a short time (less than 6 months) or those who have not studied English for many years and do not practice regularly.

A2 – Beginner (Basic)

Average Time to Reach A2 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
6-12 months The same topics as Level A1 plus expanded social interactions like varied greetings, hobbies, future arrangements, etc.  80 WPM or less Basic knowledge with frequent errors Situation-specific

At the A2 level, you can speak in full sentences and phrases on simple topics. Your vocabulary covers a broader array of subjects than it did at the A1 level, but your interactions are still limited to direct exchanges of information.

You can likely have a full conversation about yourself and various parts of your life. While your listening comprehension has improved, you might still need others to speak slowly or repeat themselves from time to time.

This level is common among adults in their first year of study or those who have not studied English for many years.

B1 – Intermediate (Independent)

Average Time to Reach B1 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
1-2 years The same topics as Level A2 plus maintained speech in a wider range of contexts, including personal opinions and other informal discussions 100 WPM or less Frequent errors with new or complex words Adapted to a broad range of circumstances

Once you reach B1 level English, your English abilities are at the “intermediate” level. This means that you can speak and understand English for matters related to your daily routine. You can also be much more descriptive about your life and experiences. Finally, you can talk (using relatively simple terms) about more abstract or subjective topics, like aspirations, dreams, or opinions.

This level is common among adults who have been continuously studying English for more than one year or those who have the opportunity to practice English on a semi-regular basis.

B2 – Intermediate (Independent)

Average Time to Reach B2 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
2-4 years The same topics as Level B1 plus the ability to express more complex viewpoints, arguments, and hypothetical situations 120 WPM or less Occasional errors with new or complex words Extensive knowledge of conversational English plus some basic technical vocabulary related to work or personal hobbies

The B2 level is often referred to as the “upper intermediate level.” As a B2 English speaker, you can take part in conversations on a variety of concrete and abstract topics. You may not know a lot of technical vocabulary, but you can still convey complex thoughts, explanations, experiences, or concepts with moderate accuracy.

This English proficiency level is common among adults who have been studying English for several years and practice regularly.

C1 – Advanced (Proficient)

Average Time to Reach C1 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
4-6 years The same topics as Level B2 plus the ability to speak on completely new topics spontaneously 140 WPM or less Infrequent errors with new or complex words Extensive knowledge of conversational English and technical vocabulary

Once you have reached the C2 level, you are considered an advanced student of the English language.

You now have a firmer grasp of more complex grammar structures, implicit meaning in both text and speech, as well as the ability to speak English fluently in almost any environment. Though you will naturally make some errors from time to time, they are likely small and infrequent.

In order to reach the C1 level, you will likely need to study English formally for several years and practice speaking or reading English on a regular basis. This level of English proficiency is common among those who have lived in an English-speaking country for an extended period of time.

C2 – Advanced (Proficient)

Average Time to Reach C2 Topics Rate of Speech (Words Per Minute) Pronunciation and Grammar Vocabulary
6-8 years All or nearly all of the same topics as a native English speaker 160 WPM or less Very infrequent errors Extensive knowledge of conversational English and technical vocabulary

C2 is the highest assessment of all 6 CEFR levels.

At this level, you can understand the vast majority of English, spoken or written, that you encounter. Though you may make rare errors, your proficiency is near or equal to that of a native English speaker. You can understand the finer nuances of tone, pacing, and word choice, even in complex texts or situations.

C2 level speakers have likely been studying English for many years, practicing the language regularly or even on a daily basis with native speakers.

How to Determine your English Proficiency Level

Great! Now you know the 6 different English proficiency levels. But how can you determine your own English level? While the summaries above may give you a rough idea of where you are on a scale from A1 to C2, you’ll want to test your abilities in order to know for sure. You can easily check your English level with our free English speaking test.

Additionally, there are a number of free online resources and English proficiency tests to help you assess your English abilities:

We recommend using more than one source to test yourself, as no single test will give you a perfect assessment. Learning how many words you know is yet another fun way to find out your English level.

IETLS, TOEFL, and CEFR

You can also gauge your English level by evaluating your scores on the IETLS or TOEFL. Here’s a helpful chart to see what your scores mean for your English level:

IETLS Score TOEFL Score CEFR Level
9.0 110+ C2
8.5
8.0
7.5 91-110 C1
7.0
6.5
6.0 61-90 B2
5.5
5.0
4.5 31-60 B1
4.0
3.5
3.0 0-30 A2
2.5
2.0
1.5 A1 or Pre-A1
1.0
0.5
0.0

 

That being said, these tests are designed to give you a general idea of where you stand on the CEFR English scale. Once you know your English level, you will be in a better position to develop a study plan that is right for you!

Few products in the market give you real human assessment of your speaking skills. Even when you take an expensive in-person test, say IELTS for example, and get your grades/level back, you still don’t know how to improve from where you are now. Today, we are bringing you two bonuses.

Bonus 1

  1. SpeakUp’s lead teacher will talk about specific areas/concepts students from different levels need to focus on, in order to level up

Bonus 2

  1. We are bringing you a free, personalized, human-graded diagnostic test, so you can not only know what your level is but also how to take it from here
Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones

Matthew Jones is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Film and Philosophy from the University of Georgia. It was during his time in school that he published his first written work. After serving as a casting director in the Atlanta film industry for two years, Matthew acquired TEFL certification and began teaching English abroad. In 2017, Matthew started writing for dozens of different brands across various industries. During this time, Matthew also built an online following through his film blog. If you’d like to learn more about Matthew, you can connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, or his personal website!
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