The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) divides levels of language proficiency into A1, A2 (beginner), B1, B2 (intermediate), and C1,C2 (advanced. An A1 is learning the basics, and a C2 is almost as fluent as a well educated native speaker.

A B1 is good enough to "get by" in most ordinary or everyday situations. A B2 is supposed to be able to function in either "unusual" or "complex" situations (or both).

Does the road diverge at this point? For instance an average 10 year old native speaker is a B1, who would become a B2 by age 12 when s/he learns less common constructions in the language. On the other hand, might a professional concentrate on learning "complex" (not just uncommon) terminology in a narrow field such as math, science or economics, without learning much of the language outside the field? Do these, or other routes represent different paths to equivalent levels of intermediate language proficiency?

  • Do simplified dialects of English, such as Air Traffic Control jargon, count? Someone who concentrated on that might be perfectly capable in the cockpit or tower but might be nearly unable to discuss pesticide use with a farmer or analyze poetic imagery in Shakespeare's plays. ATC jargon even has language certifications, IIRC. Mar 13 '17 at 13:14
  • @RobertColumbia: Yes, those would be examples of "professional" language.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 13 '17 at 14:14
  • 2
    This is an interesting question; just out of curiosity though, do you have a reference for the statement that "an average 10 year old native speaker is a B1"? I'd like to read more about that.
    – fi12
    Mar 23 '17 at 23:51
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    @fi12: I've been told that you need 2000 words to "clear" A1, and 4000 words for A2, levels reached by 4 and 8 year olds respectively. So I just extrapolated. It also follows common sense; a 10 year old can handle most subjects except maybe "adult" subjects. A 12 year old is starting to develop vocabularies for "special" competencies, like a B2. I may, of course, be a year or so off on either side; these are approximations.
    – Tom Au
    Mar 24 '17 at 0:09

Based on personal experience: Yes, obviously.

I can read scientific articles, poetry and philosophy in English. I can and do write scientific articles. On the other hand, discussing such esoteric subjects as food, cooking and clothing is challenging for me.

I have heard claims from mathematicians that they can read mathematics in French, German and Russian just fine, even though they do not know the language otherwise. I have read mathematics in German without knowing the language. I do believe I understood the paragraph I needed to, but I am not confident about it.

I have problems reading a newspaper in Danish, but I can read a review of a roleplaying game just fine, though I will miss some details.

I don't have similar experience with writing, listening or speaking. I also can't say if this kind of domain-specific knowledge will lead to greater overall understanding; though I guess that even native speakers have problems with specialist vocabulary.

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