Your English skills aren’t just about memorizing grammar rules or the number of words you know; it’s all about what you can actually do with the language. Let’s break down these English levels and figure out where you’re at.
So, over in Europe, they’ve got this thing called the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which has been around since 1990. It’s like the go-to standard for measuring how good you are at any foreign language. They split it into three groups (Basic, Independent, Proficient) and six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2):
- A —Basic User
- A1. Beginner Level
- A2. Elementary Level
- B — Independent User
- B1. Intermediate Level
- B2. Upper-Intermediate Level
- C — Proficient User
- C1. Advanced Level
- C2. Proficiency Level
Now, when you cross the pond and land in the U.S., they’ve got their own system called the Interagency Language Roundtable Scale (ILR). Here’s how it lines up with CEFR:
- A1 Beginner — ILR Level 0
- A2 Elementary — ILR Level 1
- A2/B1 Pre-Intermediate — They don’t really specify this one.
- B1 Intermediate — ILR Level 2
- B2 Upper-Intermediate — ILR Level 3
- C1 Advanced — ILR Level 4
- C2 Proficiency — ILR Level 5
How to Discover Your Level of English?
Option 1: At each level, you need to have knowledge of various language skills and aspects: Listening, Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Grammar. To confirm your level, you take a Cambridge exam, achieve a certain number of points on a 230-point scale, and receive a certificate at levels A1 to C2. The exams, like FCE (First Certificate of English), CAE (Certificate in Advanced English), and CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English) are forever-valid and match up to B2, C1, and C2 levels. They put your Reading, Listening, Writing, Speaking, and Use of English skills to the test.
Option 2: IELTS and TOEFL tests can also help determine your language level. Their results are accepted by almost all foreign universities and employers. The main difference between IELTS and TOEFL is that the former is a British exam, while the latter is American. Depending on the country where you plan to study or work, you may be required to provide a certificate from one of these exams. TOEFL is accepted in the United States and Canada, while IELTS is accepted in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Both IELTS and TOEFL certificates are valid for two years.
Option 3: you don’t feel like tackling those big exams, just hop online and take a casual English level test. You’ll get some handy tips from the experts at LinguaTrip.com and find the perfect learning plan.
Option 4: Or, you can just wing it and try to figure out your level using the descriptions below!
A1. Beginner Level
When you’re at the Beginner Level (A1), you’re taking your first steps in using English. It’s all about everyday situations, like saying hello, sharing basic info about yourself, or having a simple talk with foreigners who talk slowly and clearly.
Words You Know: You’ve got around 1,500 words in your English vocabulary like names, colors, and things you use all the time.
Listening Skills: You can understand simple phrases with basic vocabulary when heard.
Reading Skills: You can read short labels on posters, road signs, and notes.
Writing Skills: You can write a simple email and message, fill out a form with personal information such as name, surname, nationality, etc.
Speaking Skills: You can have a chat with native speakers if they speak slowly and use simple vocabulary. You can talk about the weather, your favorite foods and movies, share about your family and hobbies, or ask for a drink or where the bathroom is.
Grammar: You’re learning the basics like verbs “to be” and “to have,” singular and plural forms, personal and possessive pronouns, prepositions of time and place, negative sentences, questions with auxiliary verbs “to be” and “to do,” Present Simple tense, Present Continuous tense, modal verb “can,” Past Simple tense, irregular verbs, Future Simple tense, the “to be going to” construction, demonstrative pronouns, countable and uncountable nouns, quantitative pronouns “few/a few” and “little/a little.”
Situation for your level: You meet someone from an English-speaking place. You can say “hi,” share a bit about yourself, and exchange numbers for quick messages. It’s a simple start!
A2. Elementary Level
KET exam (Key English Test)
At the Elementary Level (A2), you feel comfortable in most everyday situations when you’re abroad, like shopping or using public transportation. Plus, you can have simple chats with native speakers about personal stuff.
Words You Know: You know around 1,500 to 2,000 words.
Listening Skills: You can follow conversations about personal topics, like family and work.
Reading Skills: You can read short texts and simple letters. Figuring out bus and train schedules is not a problem.
Writing Skills: You can write quick messages and postcards, and even take some notes.
Speaking Skills: You can talk on everyday topics and have small talk using easy grammar. Talk about your friends or give out a compliment – you’ve got it covered.
Grammar: You’re getting into the grammar game: Comparative and Superlative Degrees of Adjectives, Past Continuous (Past Progressive), Phrasal Verbs, Modal Verbs (must, can, could, should, have to), Present Perfect, Adverbs of Frequency, Adverbs of Time and Place, Articles with Countable and Uncountable Nouns, Gerunds, Sentences with “want” and “would like,” Wh-Questions in the Past Tense, Zero and First Conditional Sentences.
Check out what grammar topics you need to know at the Elementary level in our article.
Scenario for your level: You are on vacation in an English-speaking country. You feel comfortable using public transportation, can buy tickets, and are familiar with the prices. You can ask someone on the street for directions to cool places and even post a quick social media update about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen.
B1. Intermediate Level
IELTS exam Band 4–5, TOEFL exam score 57–86, PET (Preliminary English Test)
At the Intermediate level, you can already use English in familiar work situations, such as reading reports, writing letters, or participating in discussions to express your opinion. You feel confident when traveling, engage in spontaneous conversations with native speakers, and can seek clarification when encountering unfamiliar information.
Vocabulary: You’ve got around 2,000 to 3,000 words under your belt.
Listening: You’re tuned in and can follow folks when they chat and the viewpoints they express. You can catch what’s happening in everyday news and audio stories, and watching movies in their original language with English subtitles. No sweat, as long as it’s not too fancy or jargon-y.
Reading: You’re the boss at reading everyday stuff. You can read texts on non-specialized topics, comprehending their meaning, and can guess the meanings of unfamiliar words from context.
Writing: You can write short texts, work-related emails, and create resumes.
Speaking: You’re the life of the party when it comes to chatting. You can dive into conversations without prep and handle most things while visiting English-speaking spots. You can clearly and confidently describe your personal and professional experiences, as well as share your dreams, hopes, and plans. You can also participate in job interviews in English.
Grammar: You’re rocking the Future Continuous, Past Perfect, and you’re still cruising through those phrasal verbs. You’re all over the Present Perfect Continuous, and you’ve got the lowdown on when to use Present Perfect vs. Past Simple. You’re casually handling Reported Speech, playing it cool with passive voice, and you’re down with second and third conditional sentences. You can even make future predictions using “will” and “going to,” modal verbs “might/may” and “should have/might have.”
Check out what grammar topics you need to know at the Intermediate level in our article.
Chill Scenario: The company you work for collaborates with an international supplier, and you have encountered an issue with the latest order. You will write a complaint letter in English with a detailed description of the problem. If your letter goes unanswered, you will make a phone call to resolve the situation.
B2. Upper-Intermediate Level
IELTS exam band 5–6, TOEFL exam score 87–109, FCE (First Certificate of English)
You’ve pretty much got this English thing down pat. You can rock a presentation and dish out your opinions like a pro, whether you’re talking or typing. And when you’re traveling, you’re as cool as a cucumber, catching most of what’s going on in the media.
Vocabulary: You’re packing around 3,000 to 4,000 words.
Listening: You’ve got an awesome grip on personal and professional conversations. You can watch movies without subtitles as long as they’re about everyday situations.
Reading: You’re diving into newspapers and getting the hang of technical terms.
Writing: You’re cranking out texts on a wide range of topics and can handle all sorts of stuff, and you’ve even got the hang of shooting off business messages.
Speaking: Chatting with native speakers? No big deal. You can hop into debates and tell stories about everyday stuff like a champ.
Grammar: Future Perfect? You’ve got it. Future Perfect Continuous? Piece of cake. You’re breezing through those mixed conditional sentences and rocking the Relative Clauses. Plus, you’re casually throwing in “Wish/If only” and using “Would” to talk about stuff you used to do.
Scenario: Imagine you’re studying at a foreign university in English. You can confidently deliver a presentation in front of your class and smoothly field questions related to your research topic.
C1. Advanced Level
IELTS exam band 7–8, TOEFL exam score 110–120, CAE (Certificate in Advanced English)
At the Advanced level, English is your trusty sidekick in any situation, whether it’s work or school. You can rock it in any situation, be it work or school. Even if you’re not an expert on the basics, you can dive into complex topics like a pro and easily express your thoughts. Plus, you’ve got a good sense of humor, and you can crack a joke or two in a conversation.
Vocabulary in Your Toolbox: You’ve got a solid 4,000 to 5,000 words in your arsenal.
Listening: Long speeches and talks on unfamiliar topics? No sweat. Watching movies without subtitles? You’re in. Plus, you’re all about podcasts and stand-up comedy.
Reading: You’re not afraid of big, challenging texts, whether it’s books, manuals, or whatever. Different writing styles and technical jargon? You handle them like a champ.
Writing: You write well-structured pieces where you can clearly get your point across. Plus, you can whip up essays with fancy stylistic tricks.
Speaking: Conversations just flow, and you chat effortlessly in English. You adjust your style depending on the situation. You can argue your point, back it up with facts, and draw some solid conclusions.
Grammar: You’ve got Inversion with negative adverbials, mixed conditional sentences, past modal verbs, and passive voice down pat.
Casual Scenario: You’re working in some international gig. Your buddy at work is explaining this new security system, getting into all the gear and possible glitches. And even if you’re not exactly a tech whiz, you’re still picking up most of what they’re saying.
C2. Proficiency Level
IELTS exam band 8–9, CPE (Certificate of Proficiency in English)
at the Proficiency level, you’re basically an English wizard. You understand everything you hear and read, speak English effortlessly without hesitation, and can synthesize information from various sources and argue any point of view.
Words in Your Arsenal: You’ve got a whopping 5,000+ words in your toolkit.
Listening: Fast talkers? Accents? No biggie. You catch every word.
Reading: You breeze through the fancy stuff, even those super-specialized articles.
Writing: You can jot down your thoughts like it’s nothing, whether it’s a boring old work report or a fancy scientific paper.
Speaking: You’re a pro at giving presentations and speeches. Talking politics, medicine, law, or just about anything else is a piece of cake. You’re so comfy with idioms and expressions; you throw ’em around like confetti.
Grammar: You’ve got what you’ve learned down pat and you’re picking up new idioms like a boss.
Casual Scenario: Picture this – you’ve hopped over to London for a science shindig. You’re casually shooting the breeze with American and British colleagues, sharing your breakthroughs and thoughts, and tossing in some fancy lingo for good measure.
How Long Does It Take to Get Good at English?
Well, it all depends on what level of awesomeness you’re aiming for.
Cambridge educators did some math and figured out how many hours you’d need to put in to reach certain English levels. So, from Beginner to Advanced, you’re looking at around 1000-1200 hours.
Level — Hours Needed to Go from Zero
A1 — 90–100 hours
A2 — 180–200 hours
B1 — 350–400 hours
B2 — 500–600 hours
C1 — 700–800 hours
C2 — over 1000 hours
They say you need roughly 200 hours of teacher-led learning to hit each level. That’s just an average. How fast you learn really depends on you—your skills and how motivated you are. If you’re doing an hour-long session with a tutor twice a week, it might take you a couple of years to master English. On the flip side, with intensive courses (40 hours a week), you could conquer a level in about a month and a half.
Now, if you want to supercharge your progress and leap up to the next level, you can always toss in some solo practice. Work on your English every day, and you’ll be soaring.
In a nutshell, when it comes to mastering English, it’s not just about the nitty-gritty grammar rules or the number of words you’ve got in your brain—it’s about what you can actually do with the language in real-life situations. We’ve taken a laid-back stroll through the different English proficiency levels, from the basics to the top-tier, and we’ve even dished out some tips on how to figure out where you stand. Write in comments what level you are at now.