Describing language skills
Globally understood descriptions of language proficiency
The following terms are commonly used in English job applications to describe language proficiency, starting with the highest level of proficiency. These terms are understood in all English-speaking countries across the world:
Commonly used descriptions for language proficiency:
near native / fluent
excellent command / highly proficient in spoken and written English
very good command
good command / good working knowledge
basic communication skills / working knowledge
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)
The Council of Europe has introduced the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to provide a comprehensive and transparent system for describing levels of language proficiency and for the easy comparison of language qualifications. The CEFR is now widely used as a standard by educational establishments, language testing systems and publishers of language-learning materials throughout Europe.
The system describes what a learner should be able to do in listening, speaking, reading and writing at six levels of language proficiency as follows:
Proficient user C2 Mastery
Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency
Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognise implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
Independent user B2 Vantage
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling in an area where the language is spoken. Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Basic user A2 Waystage
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters. Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
A more detailed version of the CEFR is available from the Council of Europe website
The CEFR enables you to give differentiated descriptions of your individual language skills. You can say, for example, that your level of proficiency in writing English is B2, whereas your spoken English is C1. The CEFR also helps you to give a very detailed description of your language skills if you are applying for a job for which languages are a key aspect of the job.
Remember, however, that companies outside Europe (and many recruiters within Europe) will not be familiar with the CEFR, so, for most English job applications, it’s still probably safest to use the “old” descriptions. A comparison of the commonly used descriptions for language proficiency and the CEFR is approximately as follows:
Commonly used descriptions for language proficiency CEFR description
native speaker –
near native / fluent proficient user (C2)
excellent command / highly proficient in spoken and written English proficient user (C1)
very good command independent user (B2)
good command / good working knowledge independent user (B1)
basic communication skills / working knowledge basic user (A1 to A2)
If you’re applying for a job in English within Europe, you can add the CEFR level in brackets if you think it will be understood.
English: highly proficient in both spoken and written English (Common European Framework of Reference C1)