Updated: May 17
To kick off our new episodes for 2021, we'll talk about the "official" language levels and how you can apply that to level up your Spanish! Today's episode is a bit long and has a lot of links (which I'll of course include as a list in the show notes!), so be prepared; there's a lot of information out there!
The "Official" Language Levels
In the language-learning community, you will probably hear people reference that they're a C3 or an A1 in their target language. What they are talking about is what level they are at in whichever language they are trying to learn. Sometimes people will even be super specific and go so far as to say what levels they're at in their reading, writing, speaking and listening skills.
So what does it mean, and who created these "official" language levels?
Known as the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages; also known as MCER in Spanish), it provides a somewhat global framework to measure language proficiency. It looks at how well someone understands their target language through reading and listening, how well they can speak it through interaction and by creating sentences on their own, and how well they can write it.
Taking all of these measurements into account, someone's mastery of a foreign language will fall into 3 main categories:
A = Basic
B = Independent
C = Proficient
Each level is further divided into 1 or 2, depending on one's language mastery. For example, A1 is an absolute beginner and A2 is a more advanced beginner. A1 is the lowest mastery level while C2 is the highest.
Now, because these are supposed to be global levels, they are a bit broad. They're rather more like a blanket statement applied to all languages. This is still really helpful, but when you're focusing on one specific language, they're a little too broad for assessing your skills. That's where Reference Level Descriptions (RLD) come in. Instead of being based on generalities, these determine the actual levels of a specific language based on grammar, vocab, etc. and are developed by national teams rather than the Council of Europe. This makes their correspondence to the CEFR levels more specific (and in my opinion, more accurate). The Instituto Cervantes (Cervantes Institute) developed the RLDs for Spanish.
[Cambridge University Press created the English Profile for the RLDs for both American and British English. You can view their Vocabulary and Grammar Profiles for free online. They're really cool! You can filter by A1, A2, B1, B2, etc! They also produced a really helpful English Profile Information Booklet, Version 1.0 and Version 1.1, that gives some cool information regarding the different CEFR levels.]
The Spanish Equivalents
So what are the Spanish equivalents for the CEFR?
The Instituto Cervantes has two Spanish equivalents: Diplomas de Español como Lengua Extranjera (DELE) and Servicio Internacional de Evaluación de la Lengua Española (SIELE). The DELE is a hand-written exam that anyone can take, for any type of Spanish (Mexican, Chilean, Castillan, etc.). The best part? Your certification doesn't expire! The SIELE is very similar to the DELE, except it is taken online, you can take different modules that focus on a few aspects (like reading and listening comprehension or reading and writing comprehension), and you have to renew your certification every five years. But both are recognized internationally.
For more information on the DELE or SIELE, as well as links to free resources to prepare for taking the exams, visit Fluent U's great article on multiple language equivalents to the CEFR and study resources.
Leveling Up Your Spanish!
Whether you are planning to take an exam for work, to study abroad, or just for your personal edification, you probably want to figure out which CEFR level you are currently at. No problem! For a handy (if a bit wordy) reference guide, check out this self-assessment table put together by the Council of Europe! (Click here for the Spanish version, or here for other translations! :D) You can also use the Council of Europe's table for self-assessing speech to determine how well you can speak in your target language.
Or, and this is my preferred option, you can test yourself with a free online placement test! There are several out there, like the one by the Cervantes Escuela Internacional, Lengalia, or Oxford House. (For a more in-depth analysis of the different tests out there, both free and non-free, look at Fluent U's site!) These online tests are a great way to figure out which level you most likely are at. They'll also help you figure out which official exam level you should apply to take. Just a heads up, while many of them are free, they often require that you submit your name and email.
Looking ahead, is there a specific CEFR level that you want to reach? Are you aiming for a B2, or do you want to go all the way to C2? Or are you content just dabbling in the language at A1? Regardless, Cambridge University Press has a cool guide to the CEFR, and they give an estimate for how many hours you would need to spend studying your language to achieve each level.
A1 = 90-100 hours
A2 = 180-200 hours
B1 = 350-400 hours
B2 = 500-600 hours
C1 = 700-800 hours
C2 = 1,000-1,200 hours
This is from a global perspective, so keep in mind that depending on your native language, learning a foreign language may take more or less time. The Foreign Language Institute divides languages into 4 categories based on how hard they will be for an English-speaker to learn and about how long it will take to reach what they call a "Professional Working Proficiency":
Category 1 (like Spanish or Norwegian) - 24-30 weeks, or 600-750 classroom hours
Category 2 (like Swahili or German) - 36 weeks or 900 classroom hours
Category 3 (like Czech or Farsi) - 44 weeks or 1,100 classroom hours
Category 4 (like Mandarin Chinese or Arabic) - about 88 weeks or 2,200 classroom hours
Remember, these are all just estimates - there are different theories and philosophies on how