CEFR descriptors for young learners


After a few months of teaching EFL, the children in my various classes were able to name the pictures I held up on my flashcards, point to the correct object, and happily sing along every time we learned a new song.  I remember that it was at about this point that I started wondering about what to do next.  I’ve written a blog or two about this, with information about lines of development.  These WIDA Can-Do statements are useful, because they are written out per year level. but they have the disadvantage that they are not entirely aligned with the CEFR.  What I see these days is that assessments will align with either de WIDA or the CEFR, and the CEFR is what is often used in Europe.

The CEFR has the advantage of being internationally known, but until now, it had the distinct disadvantage that it had been written for adults, and not for children.  That meant that there were no descriptors of language interaction for the very young learner.  There was no way to describe a child’s language progress before it had reached the A1 level, or Pre-A1.

The Council of Europe has been working hard on this issue, and put together some detailed banks of descriptors and sample language behavior for this group of learners.  These documents can, however, be a bit daunting, so I made a brief excerpt of language behaviors that we might see in the classroom.  This excerpt is very brief, but I’ve noted the pages where I got it from, so one can find more expansive information about each descriptor.

For instance, under “overall listening comprehension, (p. 24)”, one reads “Can follow slow and carefully articulated speech, with long pauses to assimilate meaning.”  The more detailed information in the original text includes concrete examples, such as: “I can understand a simple description of a room.” “I can follow a short story if I listen to it and look at it several times,” or “I can understand when someone speaks about the weather in simple, short sentences, e.g. ‘Today it is snowing.'”

Example of more detailed information covered by a given descriptor.

What I noted is that there are a few main differences between Pre-A1 and A1 level speakers, and a few similarities.  Both of them can communicate about things that are familiar to them, in everyday situations, and require the communicating partner to speak slowly and clearly.  The Pre-A1 learner also requires that the speech be supported by body language and visuals, and the language must be directly addressed to him/her.  The length of text changes as well: Pre-A1 learners can cope with a word or two at a time, but A1 learners can communicate using (very) simple sentences.

As an instructor, I find it handy to use these examples to inform my teaching.  What kind of language can I use in the classroom?  What kind of speech, or text input, can the children follow?  What can I expect them to produce?  It’s important to have a concrete idea of this before walking into the classroom, so I made a very basic guide that can be used as a crash-course of classroom language interaction.  You are free to use and expand upon it as you need:  Summary of Pre-A1 and A1 language descriptors.

(Please note that it is an excerpt based on an official document from the Council of Europe.  It’s important to mention that, any time you make use of either one.)

In short, the lines of learning and dexcriptors for children’s language development are, themselves, developing.  Exciting times, these!


Here are more sites and documents with sample descriptors for young learners:


updated 2018: https://rm.coe.int/collated-representative-samples-descriptors-young-learners-volume-1-ag/16808b1688 (learners ages 7 – 10)

updated 2018: https://rm.coe.int/collated-representative-samples-descriptors-young-learners-volume-2-ag/16808b1689 (learners ages 11 – 15)

main site including bank of descriptors and such: https://www.coe.int/en/web/common-european-framework-reference-languages/bank-of-supplementary-descriptors


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