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    Language Descriptors

Language skills for successful subject learning
CEFR linked descriptors for mathematics and history/civics

These resources highlight challenges for young learners in subject classes where the language of instruction is not their first language. The focus is on minimum language standards in history/civics and mathematics for learners aged 12/13 and 15/16. The language descriptors are linked to CEFR levels A2, B1 and B2 and available in six languages.


The traditional view is that language is only important in language lessons. Today however, language is no longer seen as a goal in itself, but also as a tool through which students interact with friends and peers in schools, and through which they learn content matters in subjects like science, geography, history and mathematics. 

Research findings

The research conducted in developing the publication indicates that: 

  • students at the age of 12/13 are required to have a minimum level of language competence mirroring B1 in all skills in order to succeed in history/mathematics.
  • 15/16-year-old students need a B2 competence in the same skills/subjects.

Short links

Example of self-assessment form 

Self-assessment helps learners take ownership of their learning. Language descriptors can be used to encourage students to set goals and make them aware of what they need to be able to do in the history/civics or mathematics classroom. 

The teacher and the students can discuss which skills it makes sense to focus on, and the teacher can provide them with relevant language descriptors related to the CEFR levels.

Video presenting the publication on the occasion of the ECML conference in December 2016. The presentation took place in the context of a workshop involving two related ECML project results/publications (Pluriliteracies and PlurCur).

Materials for download


Download the publication: English - French

Language descriptors for history/civics and mathematics









CEFR Levels required in history/civics and mathematics for 12/13 and 15/16 year old learners





CEFR reference levels Global scale

CEFR reference levels

Language Descriptors 2 project website 2016-2019

The project Developing language awareness in subject classes is carried out as a follow-up to this publication in the ECML’s programme 2016-2019.

Click here to go to the project website 

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For ongoing activities, please see the ECML training and consultancy page:

This publication will clearly help reinforce our understanding of language education across all subjects.
Paula Mattila - ECML Governing Board member for Finland


Download the flyer in English, French or German

These pages result from a project run within the ECML's Learning through languages programme entitled "Language descriptors for migrant and minority learners' success in compulsory education" (Language Descriptors).
Find out more about the project here.