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I speak three languages to varying degrees of fluency. English is my native language. "Native fluency" is pretty easy to describe. I speak Spanish fluently, among friends and family, and in social situations. I've never used it professionally or at work. Portuguese I speak well enough to carry on a conversation with a willing and forgiving conversation partner... and to order at a restaurant and get home in a taxi.

The last time I was looking for a job, I put my language proficiency on my CV as such:

Language Skills

  • English: Native (ILR level 5)
  • Spanish: Full professional proficiency (ILR level 4)
  • Portuguese: Limited working proficiency (ILR level 2)

I've not taken any placement tests to validate these levels, and I don't even know if ILR levels are well recognized. I hear the CEFR levels (A1, A2, B1, etc) used much more. But they're specifically European, at least in name.

Is there an internationally recognized standard to describe my language proficiency in my target language(s)?

Note that this question is not about how to evaluate my proficiency.

  • 1
    CVs should generally be tailored to the position, so in the absence of a universally recognised standard you could look at the standards most likely to be recognised in the context of the application. – Chris Sinclair Apr 5 '16 at 22:18
  • 1
    In Europe, the CEFR levels are better known that ILR. (I hadn't heard of ILR before.) The alternative is taking standardised tests, but your question is not about evaluation proficiency ... – AModHasNoName Jul 27 '16 at 20:35
25

It looks like there is no current internationally recognized method to describe language fluency. If it is helpful though, you can view a list of language proficiency tests for each language.

Check the table below to convert your proficiency results to different regional test scores:

proficiency results to different regional test scores

7

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is the international standard used outside the U.S. It has six levels, ranging from A1 to C2. The U.S. Interagency Language Roundtable ILR is scaled from 0 to 5, with intermediate ranges of 0+, 1+, 2+, 3+ and 4+. Call them from 0.5 to 4.5.

The CEFR C2 level, specifically excludes ILR's 5.0 or "native," so there are nine intervals on the ILR scale corresponding to six intervals on the CEFR Scale. Thus, we can "map" them as follows:

A1, A2: 0.0-1.5.
B1, B2: 1.5-3.0.
C1, C2: 3.0-4.5.

The table is a "cross" between the ones presented by fi12, and Heritage Canada. (The confusion appears to arise from the fact that the end of A1, B1, and C1 project to 0.75, 2.25, and 3.75 respectively.) My table has the virtue of being "symmetric," with A2 encompassing 1.5 as well as 1.0, B1 encompassing 2.0, and B2 ending in 3.0.

The accepted threshold for linguistic competence is taken to be beginning C1, or 3.0. That is, you are fluent and "spontaneous" in everyday situations, (basically the end of the B2 level), and you can handle low to middle professional tasks, say waiter or cashier, up to a mid-level clerk or first line manager.

Note that C2 starts at about 3.75, on the ILR scale, so you can be a "weak" C2, without quite being a 4.0 on this scale. Based on your other posts, I would guess that is where your Spanish is. To get to 4.0, study some business and science books to get some high level "professional" vocabulary. If you can talk about atoms and molecules, as well as contracts and financial statements in Spanish, you'll probably have "full" professional fluency. At this level, you'll be able to speak the language of a scientist, engineer, businessman, or lawyer.

Your estimate of Portuguese is probably close to the mark. Based on your self-description, you are at least an A2. The A2 level stops at 1.5, but your knowledge of Spanish may have pulled you over into the B1 level, and hence toward 2.0. At the very least, you probably have strengths in pronunciation and grammar to compensate for any weaknesses you may have in vocabulary.

5

At the moment, there seems to be no internationally recognised way of describing language proficiency if "international" is interpreted as "worldwide". The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is your best bet in Europe, but even in Europe, not all employers may be familiar with it.

Note that the CEFR was created by the Council of Europe (CoE), which currently has 47 member states and is not the be confused with the European Union. CoE members include Turkey, Russia, Georgia and Armenia, for example. The most likely candidate organisation for the creation of a worldwide reference system would be the United Nation's UNESCO. While UNESCO has projects related to endangered languages and language diversity, it has not come up with an alternative to ILR or the CEFR.

As mentioned above, not all European employers may be familiar with the CEFR. For this reason, Jobline LMU at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München recommends using the "old descriptions" (for example for English):

  • native speaker (no corresponding CEFR level)
  • near native / fluent (CEFR: proficient user (C2))
  • excellent command / highly proficient in spoken and written English (CEFR: proficient user (C1))
  • very good command (CEFR: independent user (B2))
  • good command / good working knowledge (CEFR: independent user (B1))
  • basic communication skills / working knowledge (CEFR: basic user (A1 to A2))

They also provide the following example:

English: highly proficient in both spoken and written English (Common European Framework C1)

Of course, this assumes a European context. In the North America, you would replace the CEFR reference with ILR. It is not clear what you would use in other parts of the world (South America, Africa, Asia, Australia, etc.)

1

ILR and CEFR You can describe your language proficiency using the ILR system, the ACTFL system or the CEFR system. ILR and ACTFL were developed in the United States, while the CEFR by the Council of Europe.

However, over the last years, it seems that the CEFR has become the most used system: not only all the EU countries use it, but also a lot of non European institutions that provide exams and certifications for non European languages tend to give a table of equivalence between their certificates and the CEFR system (for example, Hanban for Chinese). Let me add that I do not agree with who says that European employers are not familiar with the CEFR. Except for the UK, in all the other countries you can write on your CV that your level is B2 and everyone can understand what can you do with that language.

To establish which is your level on the CEFR scale you can download the CEFR self-assessment grid and establish which is your level for each of the competencies (reading, listening, writing, speaking), anyway, to get a language certificate (DELF for French, Goethe certificate for German, Cervantes for Spanish etc.) would sound "more" reliable to a potential employer.

If you have already taken an exam based on the ILR scale or ACTFL scale, and don't want to take another exam, you can use the tables of equivalence you find on the Internet to have an idea of the corresponding CEFR level. Nevertheless, be aware that there isn't any official table of equivalance, and different institutions could assess the equivalence in a different way. Just an example: the table of equivalence posted on this site by another member was created by the American University Center of Provence, and says that ILR 3 is equivalent to C1, but, from a European point of view, that table is not accurate: if you compare the ILR and the CEFR self-assessment grids, CEFR C1 is clearly equivalent to ILR 4 (and CEFR B2 to ILR 3).

Ps. I've posted above what I think is the most reliable table of equivalence between CEFR and ILR. It's based on an analysis of the self-assessment grids. For example: at level B2 you're required to be able to read a newspaper or a contemporary literary work, although with some efforts, and the same kind of ability is required by ILR 3 too (the grid says "usually understand the material in a daily newspaper"). While at level C1 you're required to read "with ease" a great variety of sources (especially academic sources) and understand/use different styles (formal, colloquial etc.), and again the same ability is required by ILR 4 ("read fluently and accurately all styles and forms").

To summarize: the most "international recognized way" is the CEFR system, but you should convert your CEFR level in the level used in the country you want to move to if that country has its own system: for example, using the CEFR in the USA would be strange because there the most accredited systems are the ILR and ACTFL.

Source: French Academy

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