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The ABCs of Learning European Languages

So you’re interested in learning French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese? That’s good, and we’re delighted you are thinking of learning with us!

Learning new languages is fun, exciting and fulfilling, but at the same time, it is also a serious endeavor - much like learning how to draw, dance or act. It takes time, practice, patience, and most of all, dedication to reach your desired level of competence.

In this article, we will discuss the levels of learning European languages, from basic to proficiency, so you know what to expect as you enjoy this incredible journey of discovering and learning new languages.

Fluency vs Proficiency

When we ask our students what they want to get out of taking our classes, most of the time they would say that they’d want to be “fluent”. While that is perfectly fine, in Verb Hive, we aspire for you to reach proficiency. Now, what is the difference between fluency and proficiency?

In simple terms, fluency describes the capability to communicate the exact message flawlessly. On the other hand, proficiency is the capacity to comprehend and speak in the language. This means that when one is proficient in a language, he or she does not only know how to speak, but also to write, listen and understand what is being told him or her.

One can be fluent in a language and yet not reach complete proficiency. However, proficiency and fluency can overlap to some extent – as the more proficient you are in a language or any topic, the more likely you have the same fluency level.

Since our priority is to develop our students into proficient users of the foreign language they are studying, our teachers have designed their modules and courses to hone a wide range of skills, through grammar lectures, reading and writing exercises, listening to songs and dialogues, speaking drills and simulated conversations.

Now, having said this, how are teachers and students able to “measure” proficiency? European languages follow a common framework, which we will discuss below.

A Common European Framework for Languages

In 2001, the Council of Europe released the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages or more conveniently known as the CEFR, was officially published. This has been the bible of all European language teaching, learning and assessment for more than two decades.

The back story

In an effort to facilitate mobility across the members of the European Union and its neighboring European countries, the leaders of the Council of Europe have decided to design a common framework applicable to the diverse European languages. In 1992, a group of linguists and leaders in language education from all over Europe gathered and worked on this document for an entire decade before its official release in 2001. Since then, additional, supportive documents have been released for each language to clarify and contextualize the different points covered in the framework. To this day, languages users, learners, teachers and administrators speak of the levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2 to determine the level of proficiency.

This 300-page document is available for free consultation on the website of the Council of Europe. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through the entire document yourself. Your partners here in Verb Hive, like Teacher Léni, explain what you need to know in your language learning journey.

The ABCs of European Languages

The CEFR is a guide for language users, learners, teachers, administrators and evaluators, detailing the skills and communication situations for a particular language level in specific contexts.

“It describes in a comprehensive way what language learners have to learn to do in order to use a language for communication and what knowledge and skills they have to develop so as to be able to act effectively. The description also covers the cultural context in which language is set. The Framework also defines levels of proficiency which allow learners’ progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis. (CEFR, page 1)”

Most language schools offering a European language adhere to the CEFR. This ensures the continuity of your language learning if you decide to enroll from one institution to another.

Our European language instructors in Verb Hive, myself and Jerome, have undergone years of training both in the Philippines and Europe and are knowledgeable with the use and implementation of the CEFR in their courses.

There are three major language levels, further subdivided into two sub-levels:

A (basic user)

  • A1 (Breakthrough or Introductory)