The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF or CEFR) was put together by the Council of Europe as a way of standardising the levels of language exams in different regions. It is very widely used internationally and all important exams are mapped to the CEFR.
There are six levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2
A1 - Beginner
A basic ability to communicate and exchange information in a simple way. The student can talk about himself and his immediate environment.
Example: CAN ask simple questions about a menu and understand simple answers..
A2 - Elementary
An ability to deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiar contexts.
Can understand isolated phrases and common expressions that relate to areas of high personal relevance (like personal or family information, shopping, immediate environment, work).
Can communicate during easy or habitual tasks requiring a basic and direct information exchange on familiar subjects.
Using simple words, can describe his or her surroundings and communicate immediate needs.
Can take part in a routine conversation on simple predictable topics.
B1 - Intermediate
The ability to express oneself in a limited way in familiar situations and to deal in a general way with nonroutine information.
Can understand the main points of clear standard speech on familiar subjects in work, school, leisure activities, etc.
Can manage in most situations that come up when travelling in a region where the language is spoken.
Can produce a simple and cohesive text on familiar subjects or subjects of personal interest.
Can narrate an event, an experience or a dream; describe a desire or goal, and outline reasons or explanations behind a project or idea.
Example: Can ask to open an account at a bank, provided that the procedure is straightforward.
B2 - Upper Intermediate
The capacity to achieve most goals and express oneself on a range of topics.
Can understand the main ideas of concrete or abstract topics in a complex text, including a technical article in the user’s area of expertise.
Can communicate with a degree of spontaneity and fluency during a conversation with a native speaker, in a way that is comfortable for everyone.
Can speak in a clear, detailed way on a number of subjects; express an opinion on current affairs, giving the advantages and disadvantages of the various options.
Example: Can show visitors around and give a detailed description of a place.
C1 - Advanced (Effective Operational Proficiency)
The ability to communicate with the emphasis on how well it is done, in terms of appropriacy, sensitivity and the capacity to deal with unfamiliar topics.
Can understand a wide range of long and complex texts, including any subtextual or stylistic nuances.
Can express him or herself freely and fluidly, without obviously fumbling for words.
Can use the language effectively and fluently in a social, professional or academic context.
Can speak in a clear, organised way about complex subjects, developing a well-structured argument.
Example: CAN deal with hostile questioning confidently. CAN get and hold onto his/her turn to speak.
C2 - Master or Proficient
The capacity to deal with material which is academic or cognitively demanding, and to use language to good effect at a level of performance which may in certain respects be more advanced than that of an average native speaker.
Can effortlessly understand almost everything he or she reads or hears.
Capable of a coherent summary of events or arguments from oral or written sources.
Can express him or herself precisely in a spontaneous, fluent way, conveying finer shades of meaning precisely.
Example: CAN scan texts for relevant information, and grasp main topic of text, reading almost as quickly as a native speaker.
As an example:
Cambridge English First Certificate(FCE), IELTS 5-6.5, TOEFL iBT 87-109, Michigan ECCE
DALF C1 is the level required for entry into most French universities.
Cambridge English Proficiency (CPE), IELTS 8.5-9, Michigan ECPE