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December 10, 2019

In every major language there are standardised tests of the language proficiency for non-native speakers, i.e. learners who are learning the language as a foreign language. The English have been pioneers in this. For a long time they used the IELTS 9-band scale as international language testing system for such purpose. It was and developed and administered in 1989 by the British Council, IDP Education and Cambridge Assessment English, and based on a score from 0 to 9 in 0.5 band increments it tests knowledge and skills in listening, reading, writing and speaking of the English language. All applicants from foreign countries for education in the UK or jobs had to pass this test and reached a certain level before they are admitted. It was not the first test for such purpose – there are other tests, and the reader may know something about the older (from 1964) TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). Educational materials were developed to serve the needs of learners at each level.

This system is now being replaced by the CEFR, Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. This was launched in 2001 by the Council of Europe and represents a series of descriptions of abilities at different learning levels that can be applied to any language, and is now used across the world. It is a 6 steps-wise system on a ladder to be climbed from the basics (Levels A1 & A2) to the intermediate or independence level (Levels B1 & B2) to the advanced or proficiency level (Levels C1 & C2). These levels are defined through ‘can-do’ descriptors. The graph below shows the different levels and what is expected in terms of the language knowledge and skills at each level.


Graph showing the six levels of the CEFR with descriptors for each level


Graph showing the six levels in the CEFR: knowledge and skills of the foreign language learner expands with each higher level reached (From the Council of Europe website)

This is a practical useful tool designed to learn foreign languages in a methodological way. Its purposes can be explained under three headings:

  1. Self-assessment by the foreign language learner of their current level of language knowledge and skills.


Electronic tools for self-assessment are available online (here, a learner, S, of Croatian as a foreign language gets to know their level at listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production and writing by going through well designed tests for self-assessment)

  1. Officially assess the foreign language learner’s knowledge and skills in the language through tests properly designed to motivate the learner to concentrate and “push” him to progress along the CEFR ladder.
  2. Development of pedagogical material that is suitable at each level, not too easy and not too difficult, with the aim of taking the learner one step higher. This is probably one of the most important purposes. With a graded readers system one can progress from a lower to a higher level until one reaches the level of proficiency. This helps in designing teaching programmes and improving teaching.

Now, as the Copts are in the business of reviving their language (which sadly they learn it as a second language), they have become acutely aware of the problems that face them: there is no authoritative body to undertake this mission, particularly in the field of standardisation and modernisation of the language; there is no language policy in Egypt to protect and promote Coptic. In face the Arab Egyptian governments suppress Coptic. Fear rules in many Coptic hearts, even those who are very enthusiastic about revival of Coptic. There are many educational material but all are not produced in a scientific way by linguists but by enthusiasts. There are no self-assessment or official tests to evaluate the knowledge and skills of Coptic learners. No graded readers to help learners to progress from bottom to top have been produced. The time to learn from other nations, and from the CEFR as a practical useful tool, has come. The Copts must adopt and adapt the CEFR for the Coptic language.



  1. Council of Europe: The CEFR Levels
  2. Shannon Kennedy, CEFR Levels: What They Are, Why They Matter, and How to Test Yourself
  3. ILETS


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