“I’m basically fluent in English.”
Have you ever said this and questioned yourself? What on earth does “basically fluent” mean, anyway? Does it mean you’re a C2 user, and have already reached the peak of the language-learning mountain?
As a matter of fact, English “fluency” actually begins a couple of levels lower than C2! We know this thanks to The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR is an international guideline to measure language ability, using a scale from A1 (beginners) to C2 (language masters).
There are many free online tests you can take to check your CEFR level. You can also take official language proficiency tests such as IELTS, which will give you certified proof of your English level for employers, colleges, and universities.
This guide will help you compare your skills to each English proficiency level, and estimate how long each level will take to achieve. You will also learn some useful tips to reach your next goal. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find:
The 6 language proficiency levels (CEFR)
|CEFR Level A1||Beginner|
|CEFR Level A2||Pre-intermediate|
|CEFR Level B1||Intermediate|
|CEFR Level B2||Upper-Intermediate|
|CEFR Level C1||Advanced|
|CEFR Level C2||Mastery|
A guide to English language levels
Want to upgrade your English level? Check out Preply’s private and group online English classes!
1. Beginner: CEFR Level A1
“I am Groot”
– Groot, Guardian of the Galaxy and A1 English user.
What you need to know about A1 level English
Otherwise known as a “super-beginner”, at A1 level English you have very limited knowledge of the language. However, you will still be able to manage everyday situations with commonly-used expressions and vocabulary (as long as the situation is familiar). This means you’ll be able to get around London, Vancouver, or Los Angeles — but not without clumsy interactions and opening Google Translate a ton of times! A1 English learners speak slowly and with pauses while they search for the right word, so it can take a little patience from native speakers to have a real conversation.
The vocabulary at this level is roughly 700 words. This may sound like a lot, but it’s a surprisingly limited amount to work with. It takes approximately 100 hours with the English language to pass the A1 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at A1 level
At A1 level, English learners can:
- Introduce themselves simply, using basic greetings and conversation starters (such as the weather).
- Understand very basic directions from natives.
- Get around cities by reading simple signs, posters and notices.
- Write very simple descriptions of their hobbies and interests.
Tips to reach A1 level
The best way to reach A1 proficiency is to start learning and stick with it! When it comes to building new skills, everybody needs to start from scratch. One of the biggest challenges is staying on task and keeping your momentum. You will be embarrassed at first, and you will make mistakes. But this is something you need to accept to upgrade your English proficiency level. At this point, you should try some easy-to-use apps such as Duolingo or Babbel, which are designed for true beginners and stop being as helpful once you reach A2 level. You can then use the vocabulary from these apps to build your own flashcards.
Finding good content when you’re at a beginner level is difficult, so here’s Olly Richards with some advice:
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”
– Yoda, Jedi Master and A2 English speaker.
What you need to know about A2 level English
At A2 proficiency—or “Elementary” level—you can take part in everyday small talk and express your opinion, but still in very simple ways, and only on familiar topics. At this stage, you will start to really explore the past and future tenses, diving into your history (“Before I came here, I lived in Italy”) and your ambitions (“In the next 5 years, I am going to start my own company”). You will still probably only have very short exchanges and need to rely on a native speaking partner to drive the conversation. However, the native speaker’s experience with you will be far easier than with an A1 user!
When you reach A2, you should have a working vocabulary of about 1500 words, plus a solid understanding of grammar. It takes approximately 180-200 hours of studying English to pass the A2 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at A2 level
At A2 proficiency level, English learners can:
- Talk with English speakers, and network with English-speaking colleagues on familiar topics.
- Understand slow, frequently used expressions in areas such as shopping, family, and employment.
- Write about matters of immediate need in simple terms, and basic descriptions of family and friends.
- Read short, simple texts containing high frequency vocabulary and shared international expressions.
Tips to reach A2 level
Although A2 is technically still “beginner level”, you will have to cover serious ground to reach it. By this point you should start having (uncomplicated) conversations! One great tip: study conversation topics which are likely to come up in day-to-day life — in other words, survival English. An effective way to learn is also to prepare a “cheat sheet” or journal with everything you may want to say for a basic conversation, such as background about yourself, your hobbies, which restaurants you recommend, etc. At this stage, you should also take a serious look at verb conjugation and past or future tenses.
3. Intermediate: CEFR Level B1
“‘Grey Worm’ gives me pride, it is a lucky name. The name this was born with was cursed”
– Grey Worm, Unsullied Warrior and (by the end of season 8) B1 English speaker.
What you need to know about B1 level English
The step between A2 and B1 is a big one, and it means you’ve achieved a degree of confidence in English. This is when you can go into clothing stores and restaurants and won’t have any trouble making requests from the staff. However, when discussing a topic you’re familiar with, your sentences will still feel slow and you will still have some difficulty. At this level, students are beyond the basics but they are still not able to work or study exclusively in English. However, you can cope with problems in everyday life, such as entering conversations you haven’t prepared for or dealing with problems that arise when traveling.
When you reach B1, you should have a working vocabulary of about 2500 words, and you can recall about half of them with some speed. It takes approximately 350-400 hours with the language to pass the B1 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at B1 level
At B1 proficiency level, English learners can:
- Describe experiences and desires.
- Listen to and understand English TV shows, but you still need English subtitles on.
- Follow the plot in fairly simple English stories and understand what’s going on in the news.
- Write simple texts on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.
Tips to reach B1 level
To become an intermediate English speaker, the most important tip is to take your learning more seriously and plan a regular, high-commitment study routine. 10 minutes a day is ok, but 30 minutes is far better! That way, you’ll start to see quicker and more satisfying results. To pass the threshold between beginner and intermediate, you should also look at your consistent mistakes and try to eliminate them one by one. Speaking with a native, like an online English tutor can help you point out common mistakes, and put together a plan for you to beat them. To upgrade your vocabulary, you should also start adding more phrases to your word bank. You can make conversation easier by learning “blocks” of English, such as entire sentences, collocations or phrasal verbs, instead of just words.
Need help staying motivated and sticking to a schedule?
Read our guide and create your perfect study plan.
“Offend Dobby? Dobby has heard of your greatness, sir… but never has he been asked to sit down by a wizard, like an equal.”
– Dobby, House Elf and B2 English speaker.
What you need to know about B2 level English
Welcome to basic English fluency! At B2 English level, you have built confidence and control when speaking, writing, listening and reading in English. This English level is good enough to function in English-speaking workplaces, schools, and colleges, and you can now produce complex sentences and sound natural in normal conversations. Sure, your English has its own flavor or accent, and you’re certainly not quite ready to deliver a speech on Kantian philosophy. However, you now have the language skills to live in an English-speaking country comfortably, and work in an English-speaking office.
When you reach B2, you should have a working vocabulary of about 4000 words. It takes approximately 500-600 hours with the language to pass the B2 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at B2 level
At B2 proficiency level, English learners can:
- Take an active part in discussions in familiar contexts, and provide relevant explanations and arguments.
- Understand standard speech spoken at a normal speed, provided the topic is reasonably familiar.
- Understand the main ideas when reading a complex text, as well as contemporary literary prose, articles, and reports.
- Write clear, detailed texts on subjects related to their interests or area of expertise.
Tips to reach B2 level
At a high intermediate English level, progress will start to feel like it’s slowing down. This is otherwise known as the language learning plateau. Simply put, to reach B2 proficiency level and feel a strong sense of improvement, you should start to take more risks. This means speaking about unfamiliar topics, writing articles in English, and forcing yourself to expand what you know about the language. At this stage, you need to take notice of how native users sound more natural, construct phrases, use idioms and discuss more complex topics. You also need them to point out where you’re going wrong or where “this phrase” could sound more natural. The important thing is to pay closer attention to where you are going wrong, more than ever before!
5. Advanced: CEFR Level C1
“Confident people have a way of carrying themselves that makes others more attracted to them.”
– Sofia Vergara, Actress and C1 level English speaker.
What you need to know about C1 level English
C1 is an advanced English level. C1 users can speak English with ease, and understand the language in (almost!) all of its complexity. By this point, you will be able to have longer conversations, even about unfamiliar topics. You’ll also comprehend longer English texts. At this stage, you can use English day-to-day for business and academic purposes. If B2 is what many consider “fluent,” then C1 is fluency with increased nuance and understanding. At C1, you can understand subtle jokes in the language, and express yourself with colorful native phrases.
When you reach C1, you should have a working vocabulary of about 8000 words – almost double that of B2! It takes approximately 700-800 hours with the language to pass the C1 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at C1 level
At C1 proficiency level, English learners can:
- Express ideas fluently, and make presentations in the language.
- Understand subtle jokes and implicit meanings within a conversation.
- Understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts.
- Write extensively on a diverse range of topics, and approach unfamiliar ones with ease.
Tips to reach C1 level
A great way to make the jump to C1 is to learn new skills, using the English language as a tool to learn this information! For example, you could take a course and upskill for your career or personal goals, while also doubling down on your English skills at the same time. That way, you’ll not only learn a new skill, you’ll also learn tons of vocabulary specific to that topic. You’ll be able to work with the phrases you use there and turn them into your active vocabulary. To become an active learner, write down 5 of the phrases you hear or read in the course in a notepad or flashcard app. Then, practice using each of those expressions or phrases in 5 different ways.
6. Mastery: CEFR Level C2
“‘Supposedly, or so I have heard, some expect my speech to pave the way for a fundamental reform of the European architecture which will satisfy all kinds of alleged or actual British wishes. I am afraid they are in for a disappointment.’”
– Angela Merkel, German Chancellor and C2 English speaker.
What you need to know about C2 level English
C2 proficiency is the highest English level there is, and therefore earns the title of “mastery.” It implies that the English user is on a similar level to a native speaker (but not quite “native”), with full confidence and control of the language. C2 level English users are comfortable writing or speaking about any type of subject, with nuanced expression and coherent delivery. You can also read and comprehend speech without any barrier. C2 means that you’ll find very few (if any) restrictions to conducting your daily life in English, and you are extremely comfortable using it in an academic or professional setting.
When you reach C2, you should have a working vocabulary of about 16000 words. It takes approximately 1,000—1,200 hours with the language to pass the C2 Cambridge examination.
What you can do at C2 level
At C2 proficiency level, English learners can:
- Express themselves with spontaneity and fluency, and deal with hostile questioning confidently.
- Write coherently and concisely, with the ability to summarise information to construct comprehensive arguments.
- Understand everything they hear within the language with ease.
- Read complex, technical texts at speed.
Tips to reach C2 level
The key to becoming a C2 English speaker is tocompletely integrate the language into your life. Using it daily and talking to native speakers will speed up the process and push you towards C2 faster. Get outside your comfort zone and into situations where you have to use the language spontaneously, like debates, events, or even dates. Eventually, you’ll no longer need to think about conversations in advance. One way of doing this can be to relocate entirely to an English-speaking country, one where you won’t be able to use your native language. This will force you to adapt, fast! However, if you’re looking for practice that’s a little less radical, why not schedule regular sessions with a native speaking tutor?
Achieving your English proficiency goals
The CEFR English proficiency levels are a great tool to measure your current language skills. However, keep in mind that many of the numbers covered in this article — hours and vocabulary size — are based on averages. You may see quicker or slower progress depending on how much you’re exposed to the language, and how much time you dedicate to studying.
Whatever your circumstances, it’s going to take time, a careful plan, and effective resources to upgrade your English skills. There are no shortcuts. If you need help along the way, a Preply tutor or corporate English training, can help you construct a personalized plan, and give you guidance and practice so that you can experience quicker progress. Before your first lesson, you can even take a 30-minute test to check your current English level. This will help your tutor personalize your classes and help you reach your goals.
Although it looks difficult, the journey of learning English is truly exciting. It will open up your world in so many ways… You’ll sharpen your mind, gain a career skill for life, and understand the richness of different cultures. Time to begin!
FAQs about English language levels
What are the 6 language proficiency levels?
One of the most commonly used English language standards in the world is the CEFR standard, which divides proficiency in 3 broader levels (A, B, and C), and 6 more specific levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2). Here is how they're broken down:
|Beginner||A1||You can use simple phrases for basic needs, and can have basic interactions provided the other person speaks clearly.|
|Pre-Intermediate||A2||You can use English for everyday tasks and activities. You can also understand common phrases related to topics like your personal information or your employment.|
|Intermediate||B1||You can have simple conversations about familiar topics. At B1 level, you can describe some of your experiences slowly, and deal with most situations while traveling.|
|Upper-Intermediate||B2||You can communicate confidently about many topics. Most conversations are held at B2 level, so you can speak with natives without difficulty and with spontaneity. You can also understand the main ideas of texts about topics you are familiar with.|
|Advanced||C1||You can express yourself fluently in almost any situation, without the need to search for expressions. You are able to perform complex tasks in English related to work and study. You can also produce clear, detailed texts on challenging subjects.|
|Mastery||C2||You use the English language with complete mastery. You have the ability to read, speak and write about any type of subject, emotion, or opinion. You are able to differentiate finer shades of meaning from the language even in more complex situations.|
What level is fluent English?
Basic fluency is typically considered to begin at the B2 level, with complete mastery of the language achieved at the C2 level.
How can I rate my English level?
The simplest way to rate your own English level is to take an English language proficiency test that covers basic general areas like reading, vocabulary, and grammar. You can find a free test online, or more extensive ones for a better idea of where your skills are.