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What is the difference between B2 and C1 language levels? How about C1 and C2?

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

Which level are you at?

B2, C1 or C2? You kind of know what these levels mean but you are unsure how you would interpret them when you are preparing for an exam?

The Common European Framework defines the global scale of these language levels and it is often used by employers and in academic settings. You may need a CEFR certificate for:

- School admissions

- University course requirements

- Employment

- Visa/Immigration requirements

But what do CEFR levels really mean? Let me translate this for you to common language. I hope this will bring you closer to what you need to achieve when taking your Cambridge (or any other) exam.

B2 – Independent user - Upper-intermediate level

Your English is good enough to get by in English-speaking environments: workplaces, high-school or universities. You are able to produce complex sentences and sound natural in normal conversations. Needless to say, you have your accent, some errors and mistakes, and you’re certainly not ready to deliver a 2-hour-long presentation in English on neuroscience. However, you now have the language skills to live in an English-speaking country comfortably, and work in an English-speaking office. B2 is still mostly textbook language - you have some access to native expressions but you still deal with pre-set phrases and language sophistication is quite low.

At B2 level, you can:

  • Understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialisation.

  • Take an active part in discussions in familiar contexts and provide relevant explanations and arguments.

  • Understand standard speech spoken at a normal speed, provided the topic is reasonably familiar.

  • Understand the main ideas when reading a complex text, as well as contemporary literary prose, articles, and reports.

  • 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.

C1 – Proficient user - Advanced level

C1 users can speak English with ease and understand the language in most of its complexity. By this point, you will be able to have longer conversations, even about unfamiliar topics. You’ll also comprehend longer English texts both in reading and in listening. At this stage, you can use English not only for day-to-day topics but also for business and academic purposes. Although B2 is already considered to be “fluent,” C1 fluency implies increased understanding of the nuances the language. At C1, you can understand subtle jokes in the language, and express yourself with a variety of native phrases.

Join our next C1 online course:

With C1 you start moving towards a much more instinctive language. You start understanding, ‘feeling’ and naturally using the nuances of the language. Now you start seeing the small differences between synonyms and when to use specific expressions. This level is not only about widening your range of vocabulary but also about using efficiently what you've learnt before. And with much more ease. As for writing, choosing the right word and using the most natural grammatical construction are what distinguish a sophisticated author's writing from an average high-school essay.

Download the FREE Cambridge C1 Booklet HERE.

C1 and C2 levels are about engaging with and appreciating the language on its own terms and exploring all the unique and subtle elements of the language that add an extra flavor to it.

At C1 level, English learners can:

  • Use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.

  • Express ideas fluently and deliver professional presentations in the language.

  • Understand subtle jokes and implicit meanings within a conversation.

  • Understand a wide range of more complex academic texts on a diverse range of topics, and approach unfamiliar ones with ease.

  • Produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organisational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.

  • Write about complex subjects, underlining what I consider to be the salient issues selecting the style appropriate to the reader in mind.

C2 – Proficient user – Proficiency level

C2 proficiency is the highest English level and therefore earns the title of “mastery” or “proficiency”. It implies that the English user can express themselves a native-like way with full confidence and control of the language. C2 level English users are comfortable writing or speaking about any type of subject, with nuanced expression and coherent delivery. You can also read and comprehend speech without any problem. C2 means that you’ll find very few (if any) restrictions to conducting your daily life in English, and you are extremely comfortable using it in an academic or professional setting.

Join our next C2 online course:

This means a high level of understanding, not only of the words but also of abstract ideas and concepts. Candidates who take an exam at this level may fail not because their lack of language skills but because of their inability to understand and express complex or abstract ideas. At this level candidates need to be able to read and summarise academic texts, need a wide range of vocabulary and the capacity to use it clearly and coherently.

By C1 Advanced level, users will have most of the grammar, failing only occasionally in areas such as mixed conditionals, inversions and slightly inappropriate tense choice. C2 Proficiency denotes ‘near-native like fluency’, which is very hard to achieve. It is a question of many things: vocabulary, both active and passive, idiomatic and figurative language, having a grasp on phrasal verbs, which are tough, and context dependent and finally, - of course - getting an accent that is preferably close to British or American English. In terms of reading or listening comprehension, the gap between C1 and C2 is fairly small.

At C2 proficiency level, English learners can:

  • Express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

  • Take part effortlessly in any conversation or discussion and have a good familiarity with idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms

  • understanding any kind of spoken language with no difficulty, whether live or broadcast, even when delivered at fast native speed.

  • Write coherently and concisely, with the ability to summarise information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.

  • Read complex, technical texts: virtually all forms of the written language, including abstract, structurally or linguistically complex texts such as manuals, specialised articles and literary works.

Check our Conversation Circle. A lot more than just speaking!

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