Comparing CEFR, ACTFL, & ILR Proficiency Scales

If you’re out to prove your language level, you may find it difficult to determine which of the three major language proficiency frameworks is right for you. From the ILR scale, to the ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines, to the CEFR, navigating the maze of levels, descriptors, and skills can be somewhat overwhelming.

To avoid this, efforts have been made to align all three scales in a way that shows clear and accurate correspondences between all of the various levels.

These efforts, both official and unofficial, have drawn relationships between the three scales to varying degrees of success.

In this article, we will explore the officially-recognized relationships between all three scales, with the goal of providing you with the most accurate view possible of the language proficiency landscape.

Comparing ILR to ACTFL

The two American scales, the ILR and ACTFL guidelines, are highly intertwined, the latter having been developed out of the former. Because of this, there are clear, official equivalencies between the two.

The four lowest of the ILR’s five major proficiency levels—0, 1, 2, and 3—correspond neatly to ACTFL’s Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior levels, respectively. This includes the various sub-levels within those ranges on both scales.

The remaining ILR levels of 4 and 5 are generally considered to fall within ACTFL’s Superior designation, as well,

It is unclear in the literature where ACTFL’s Distinguished level falls in relation to the ILR scale, though ILR clearly does not rate proficiency at that high a level.

Comparing ACTFL to CEFR

The European CEFR, on the other hand, was developed independently of its two transatlantic counterparts, making officially-recognized equivalencies harder to come by.

Though ACTFL and the Council of Europe (CoE) have worked together since 2010 to align the two frameworks on an empirical (research-based) basis, there are no official alignments between both frameworks recognized at this time.

However, the research has shown that “CEFR ratings can be assigned on ACTFL assessments, in all languages”, but that the reverse is not yet possible. ACTFL literature explicitly states: “to date, no CEFR-based test, or other international test not developed by ACTFL, has been linked to the ACTFL Framework”

In layman’s terms, this means that if you take an ACTFL test, it is possible to have a CEFR rating assigned to that test result. However, you cannot have official ACTFL ratings assigned to CEFR test results.

How CEFR ratings are applied to ACTFL test results are determined by the specific exam in question. ACTFL exams that test Listening and Reading skills use one CEFR correspondence scale, while exams that test Speaking and Writing skills use a second scale.

Comparing ILR to ACTFL to CEFR

As of this writing, there are no definitive three-way equivalencies between the major proficiency frameworks. Several equivalency tables have been proposed and estimated, but none exist that have been researched and verified by the respective parent organization of each framework.

Conclusion

Attempting to draw relationships between the world’s three major proficiency frameworks is no easy feat. Each scale was designed with a unique purpose and unique objectives in mind, making direct and consistent comparison between them difficult—if not unreliable.

Fortunately, the organizations that developed these three scales have made efforts to help each framework interact with the others. Above, we have outlined these official correspondences as they currently stand. Keep in mind that any connections between the three scales not mentioned above are likely unofficial, and can only be relied upon as theories or estimates.

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