I learn languages as a hobby, so I'm not sure how "levels (A1-C2)" as seen in this question work.
So how do they work?
The CEFRL scale is a way of describing a language user's proficiency with that language.
There are three level groups:
B (independent/intermediate), and
C (proficient). Each level group has two levels, for a total of 6 different categories of proficiency.
Note: these are rough generalizations of the levels, not exact specifications.
A level language users are those who are pretty new to the language.
A1 users are beginners; very basic communication is the extent of their abilities, and they may need help from the person they're speaking to. Usually achieved around 100 hours of study.
A2 users can communicate okay in a limited number of contexts. Usually achieved around 200 hours of study.
B level users are familiar with the language and have a decent handle on it.
B1 users will be able to follow and participate in extended discussion concerning a variety of topics and in a variety of contexts. This level is usually achieved within 400 hours of study.
B2 users can understand and communicate great detail; they can use the language effectively. Usually achieved around 600-650 hours of study.
C level users are proficient in the language.
C1 users use the language fluently, allowing for spontaneous and effortless communication. The language is second nature at this point. This level is usually achieved around 800+ hours of study.
C2 users are specific, fluid, fluent users of the language. They have effectively achieved mastery. 1000-1200+ hours.
As stated in the linked question, it is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment,abbreviated in English as CEFR or CEF or CEFRL (compared to the German abbreviations GeR or GeRS, the French abbreviation CECR, the Italian QCER, or the Spanish MCER), is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries.
It describes your level in the given language, starting from A1 - Breakthrough or beginner to C2 - Mastery or proficiency
in the same article under Common Reference Levels, you can find a description of each level. For example, A1:
- Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
- Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has.
- Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
For each language, there are tests to certify your language skills. For example, Goethe Institut for German.
CEFR (unofficially sometimes CEFRL) stands for "Common European Framework of Reference for Languages" and is a "framework of reference" developed on behalf of the Council of Europe (CoE). The CoE's CEFR website says that
[the framework] was designed to provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for the elaboration of language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency.
The first version was published in 2001, the European Year of Languages. The second paragraph of the introduction says:
The Common European Framework is intended to overcome the barriers to communication among professionals working in the field of modern languages arising from the different educational systems in Europe. It provides the means for educational administrators, course designers, teachers, teacher trainers, examining bodies, etc., to reflect on their current practice, with a view to situating and co-ordinating their efforts and to ensuring that they meet the real needs of the learners for whom they are responsible.
Of course, the CEFR is best known for the levels of proficiency it describes. Chapter 3.2 describes the following broad levels (quoted from page 23 of the 2001 edition):
- Breakthrough, corresponding to what Wilkins in his 1978 proposal labelled ‘Formulaic Proficiency’, and Trim in the same publication 1 ‘Introductory’.
- Waystage, reflecting the Council of Europe content specification.
- Threshold, reflecting the Council of Europe content specification.
- Vantage, reflecting the third Council of Europe content specification, a level described as ‘Limited Operational Proficiency’ by Wilkins, and ‘adequate response to situa- tions normally encountered’ by Trim.
- Effective Operational Proficiency which was called ‘Effective Proficiency’ by Trim, ‘Adequate Operational Proficiency’ by Wilkins, and represents an advanced level of competence suitable for more complex work and study tasks.
- Mastery (Trim: ‘comprehensive mastery’; Wilkins: ‘Comprehensive Operational Proficiency’), corresponds to the top examination objective in the scheme adopted by ALTE (Association of Language Testers in Europe). It could be extended to include the more developed intercultural competence above that level which is achieved by many lan- guage professionals.
Since some of these terms are difficult to translate, the CEFR proposed the following letter and number combinations:
For each of these levels, the CEFR provides descriptors at a global scale and more detailed ones. For example, for A1, the global descriptor reads as follows:
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Note that these global descriptions (nor the more detailed ones) focus on abilities and don't state how much vocabulary or which grammatical structures a learner needs to know.
Somewhat more detailed descriptors can be found in the CEFR's self-assessment grid (table 2 in the 2001 version linked above). Instead of a single global descriptor per level, this grid or table provides - for each level - descriptors for a number of skills:
In addition to the above skills, the CEFR also defines a number of qualitative aspects of spoken language for each level. These aspects are the following:
The most detailed descriptors for each of the levels can be found in chapter 4.4. Note that these descriptors were updated in 2018, mainly to replace references to "native speakers" with "speakers of the target language".
The CEFR has had a big impact on language learning in the European Union (and to some extent beyond the EU) because language courses and learning materials now usually state which CEFR level they want you to reach with them. Language tests, such as the German language tests by the Goethe Institute, the Spanish language tests - DELE - by the Cervantes Institute and the DELF and DALF tests for French, were adapted to test for specific CEFR levels. On CVs, language skills can now be described in terms of CEFR levels, instead of the vague terms "beginner", "intermediate" and "advanced".