When you start learning German, it won’t be long before you see language levels being thrown around. You might see a German textbook aimed at A1 level, or you may talk to someone who is about to take their B2 exam.
These language levels are a really useful way to gauge your progress as you learn German, which is why in this post I’m going to explain exactly what the German language levels are. After reading it you will know:
- What the CEFR levels are and what they mean for your German
- How to discover your current German language level
- Advantages of taking German language exams
CEFR Levels Basics
CEFR stands for the rather catchy sounding ‘Common European Framework of Reference for Languages’. This framework has become the global standard for grading language ability.
The CEFR was launched in 2001 as was designed as a method of grading all languages. This is achieved through descriptions of each language level ability. Since languages vary so wildly, it was decided that giving a description of each level would be the best solution.
The levels descriptions apply to all languages, but given this website specialises in German, I’ll now refer to them as the CEFR German language levels from now on:
What are the CEFR German Language Levels?
There are 6 levels in the CERF framework. A1 & A2 are considered basic ability, B1 & B2 are intermediate or independent and C1 & C2 are proficient levels.
As a guide, when you first start learning German you’ll be considered A1, and if you become completely proficient in the language and almost at native speaker level that would be C2.
Let’s now take a look at the descriptions of each CEFR level.
Basic German Levels: A1 & A2
At A1 level you’re right at the very beginning of your German learning journey. You can understand very basic everyday words and sayings (hello, goodbye, please, thanks etc.) You can introduce yourself (I am…) and can ask and answer simple questions like ‘where do you come from?’
You can interact with other German speakers as long as they speak slowly and clearly.
When you reach A2 level you can understand common sentences and and expressions relating to simple everyday situations (basic personal and family information, employment, geography, shopping etc.) You can give and understand basic information and can give simple descriptions about your life and background and what’s going on around you.
Intermediate (Independant) German Levels: B1 & B2
You are now entering the intermediate stage of German ability. At B1 level you can understand the main points of discussion on topics you encounter regularly such at as at work or leisure. You’ll now be able to handle most tourist situations in German.
You can talk about topics which interest you in a simple manner and talk about your experiences, hopes and ambitions. You can also give basic reasons for your own opinions on a subject.
You can now understand the main ideas of more complicated text including technical terms in your specialised field. In terms of speaking ability you can have more spontaneous conversations without too much strain for either you or the person you’re talking to.
Your writing ability allows you to write detailed text on a wide range of subjects and you can give advantages and disadvantages on various options.
Proficient German Levels: C1 & C2
You’re now considered a proficient German user. You can understand a range of more complicated texts. When you speak, you do so fluently and without too many pauses to think of expressions. You can produce detailed and well structure texts on complex subjects.
At the highest level possible C2, you can understand almost everything both heard and read. Your spoken German is spontaneous and fluent. You can articulate what you mean with ease and give coherent arguments on a large range of topics.
What’s Your Current German Language Level?
So now you understand how German language levels are decided. But why is it important to know your current level?
Well firstly, although the CEFR levels cover the whole German ability; reading, writing, speaking and listening in one package, it’s likely that you’ll be at a different level for speaking as you are for listening etc. For example, at the moment I am around B1 for speaking, but my listening is probably around B2.
The reason it’s important to know where your current level is, is because most learning materials use the CERF levels to give you an idea of what is suitable for you. A quick search for German grammar books will reveal books aimed at A1 / A2 or B1 levels for example. The same goes for fictions books written for German learners.
There are many free online tests that you can take to get an idea of your current level. The German Language School Berlin is a good place to start and the Goethe Institute will test you on listening, writing and reading.
Goethe Institute Exams
Whether you’re planning to live in Germany or you just want to give yourself a deadline to level up your German, the Goethe Institute run recognised exams for each CEFR level and can be taken worldwide.
If you want the ultimate proof of your current German level, getting a Goethe-Zertifikat is a massive achievement. You can choose to take all 4 modules at once (speaking, reading, writing and listening) and you will be assessed on each. Alternatively you can take and re-take individual modules as you wish.
One of my personal goals this year is to get the Goethe-Zertifikat B1, wish me luck!