How to measure Spanish proficiency?

Since early childhood, we are conditioned to grade ourselves of our proficiency in a skill. It is no different in learning a new language.

When we are first learning Spanish, measuring proficiency may be the furthest thing from our minds. If you are a Duolingo user, after finishing say all level 1 Spanish lessons, the thought of where you are in proficiency may creep into your consciousness. Having a specific, measurable, and attainable goal and regular evaluation of progress will motivate us to keep going after the early excitement of learning a new language wears off.

CEFR, or Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, is the de facto global standard for measuring one’s fluency in a spoken foreign language. It is fitting that the gold standard has its origin in Europe where there are 24 official languages. 

CEFR has a total of 6 language proficiency levels: A1/A2 (‘basic users’), B1/B2 (‘independent users’), and C1/C2 (‘proficient users’). Below is a summary of the 6 levels. Detailed description and a self-assessment guide of each level are available on the CEFR website.

CEFR LevelDescription (extracted from CEFR website)
A1Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.
A2Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography,
employment).
B1Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar
matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.
B2Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization.
C1Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning.
C2Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.

If, like me, you are an active Duolingo user, you may be interested to know the target CEFR level for completing its Spanish course.

In early 2019, Duolingo aligned its Spanish course with CEFR. Note that Duolingo’s Spanish course has 5 levels (1 to 5). The following shows the corresponding CEFR and Duolingo levels of Spanish competence.

CEFR levelDuolingo level
Pre-A11
A12
A13
A24
A25

I’ve completed Duolingo level 2 and about halfway through level 3. A1 is something I look forward to attaining soon.

CEFR is a framework of learning, teaching, and assessment of foreign languages. Although CEFR has specific guidelines for the design of tests, the actual tests are created and administrated by third-party organizations. If you want to write a CEFR-based Spanish language assessment test, please consult the Instituto Cervantes website.

My next post will introduce a nifty tool for guesstimating the CEFR level required to understand a given Spanish text.

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