The CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching and Assessment) is a language policy document produced by the Council of Europe, an intergovernmental institution primarily concerned with human rights, which has been active in the field of language education since the 1960s. The Council has developed a number of policy tools concerned with plurilingual and intercultural education, which are available here:
The CEFR, which is the best known of these tools, was developed in the 1990s, published in 2001, and recently updated with a 2018 Companion Volume with New Descriptors (including for sign language).
The CEFR seeks to foster innovation in language education by encouraging practitioners to reflect on their current practice and by providing ‘common reference points’ to facilitate networking and collaboration across languages, educational sectors and institutions.
The core of the CEFR consists of:
Most aspects of the descriptive scheme are defined for different levels in descriptors for each level, which are presented in some 80 different scales. The CEFR promotes a multidimensional view of communicative language proficiency, suggesting that all language education should be based on a needs analysis, in which the descriptor scales can be consulted to identify priorities for learning objectives and to promote different types of assessment with defined criteria.
The CEFR is on the one hand a practical tool, which through its descriptors facilitates joined-up thinking in the creation of a curriculum that is both transparent and coherent, in the sense that there are close links between course planning, teaching and assessment.
On the other hand, the CEFR introduces a number of innovative concepts that, taken together, imply a paradigm shift in language education.
These concepts include
the vision of language users/learners as social agents
engaged in a reflective, strategic and action-oriented approach,
mobilising their full language repertoires
to fulfill real-life tasks,
further developing in this process their intercultural awareness
and their plurilingual profiles.
The CEFR presents the language user/learner as a “social agent”, acting in the social world, co-constructing meaning in interaction and exerting agency in the learning process. This implies a real paradigm shift in both course planning and teaching, promoting learner engagement and autonomy. Seeing learners as social agents implies involving them in the learning process.