What’s your number?

I have to admit to getting a little number-crazy when I talk about language learning.  I’m referring to the CEFR scale of course, and very often when I use one of my languages, I wonder if something I said/didn’t/wasn’t able to say makes me at a C1, B2, A1 etc. 

Although this scale can be very useful in understanding what your degree of fluency is, especially in helping you to understand what you can do in the language, there is a very strong downside to it:  it’s very easy to get caught up in the numbers.  As it is now, I have no idea what my level of German is, or where I would likely be placed.  I could estimate it, but I don’t know how useful that would really be.  I do know though, whatever it is, there would be many reasons for me to try to improve.  I need to be less hesitant, use a wider range of vocabulary, comprehend sooner, etc.  I’m not sure how this would be measured in a CEFR test, and I don’t know if I need a test to tell me how well I can use the language. 

The other problem I’ve found with the CEFR scale is this:  what appears to be a very low/very high level can drastically change depending on the situation.  I used to think that an A2 (upper beginner) speaker knew next to nothing, because that is how I felt when my German was at that point.  Wow, was I wrong!  I would be fairly confident in saying that I’m probably around that level in Polish, and when I think of how much work it’s taken to reach that point, my past thoughts of it being “nothing” go away immediately. 

I think my mindset has changed from being focused on a scale, to now being excited to see how I’m able to use the language I do have.  It’s very fun to be able to see myself recognizing more words and being able to respond more automatically than I was in the past–and that’s much more enjoyable than worrying solely about a CEFR number!



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2 responses to “What’s your number?

  1. Simo

    Thinking about the CEFR level number can become an obsession when learning languages, I totally agree. However, I must confess that those levels/numbers are pretty accurate at assessing one’s abilities in a given language. I wish I could change my mindset too and stop worrying about the CEFR numbers but since I see them as milestones in my language learning journey, I can’t help but keep thinking about them!

    • I do agree that the assessments do tend to paint a fairly realistic picture, which is why I wonder quite frequently where I fall within the framework. I suppose there needs to be a balance between using it as a milestone or a way to gauge progress and becoming frustrated because you can’t talk about a certain topic in one language as easily as you can in another. I’m still working on finding that balance!

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