When looking into studying the German language, you may come across the abbreviations of A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2. But what do they mean?
These abbreviations indicate levels of the Common European Reference Framework (CEFR), a way to standardize language learning and teaching across Europe, no matter which language. According to the Framework, the principles behind this is to “improve the quality of communication among Europeans of different language and cultural backgrounds… this is because better communication leads to freer mobility and more direct contact, which in turn leads to better understanding and closer co-operation” See more here
The three different language levels: A, B and C
According to the guidelines put forth in the Framework, these language levels can be broken down to three categories: the A level represents a “basic user” of a language, able to answer simple and direct questions put to them such as what time it is, introduce themselves and talk about their family in a basic manner, and so on. This level generally assumes that the user of the language will regularly need help or prompting from native speakers. The B level represents an intermediate or independent user of a language – this kind of user might not need as much prompting from native speakers, and can give reasons and explanations in the language they are trying to use, but might still need correction on the finer points of grammar, idiomatic usage, slang, and regional variation. A C level user is marked with proficiency in both spoken and written forms of a language, recognize implicit meanings, and can express ideas spontaneously, even if on a topic they are not already interested in.
Different tests, students and requirements
Different organizations provide different estimates on how long reaching each level would take assuming regular instruction in a language. Attaining A1 level (from a point of no previous knowledge of a particular language) has been estimated to take between 60 – 80 hours of instruction by both Deutsche Welle and Alliance Française.
While language courses and institutions try to standardize their goals and proficiency markers to align with the CEFR, the CEFR itself provides no particular methodology for attaining these levels of proficiency. In this way it is similar to test-based evaluations of language learning such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK) – while there are certainly study guides and classes specializing in trying to get you to reach a certain level of recognized proficiency, it also depends on the student learning those languages, their own resources (how much money they can spend at language institutions or traveling abroad to study, a tutor, books, etc) and other factors.
The TestDaF (Test Deutsch auf Fremdsprache) corresponds loosely to the CERF levels of B2 and C1, as the test is meant to assess whether a student has the German language skills necessary for academic study in Germany, and is thus not suited for beginners. Meanwhile, the Goethe-Institut has adapted their certificates and levels to match the CERF levels.
For people studying German in the United States, please make sure that the CERF levels are being used or that your language institution has equivalency tables: at universities in which German courses are offered, your German teacher or head of the languages department may be better able to offer advice.