Vocabulary Size and the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages

  • James Milton
  • Thomaï Alexiou


In its earliest stages of development the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) included vocabulary lists in its materials and these gave some indication of the scale of the vocabulary knowledge that the creators were envisaging at the various levels of the framework. More recently these have been removed and learners, textbooks and course syllabuses are placed into the framework levels according to skills-based rather than knowledge-based criteria (Council of Europe, 2003). The purpose of this chapter is to see what happens when vocabulary size measures are placed back into the framework and there are two reasons for wanting to do this. One is academic interest in seeing what vocabulary sizes emerge at the CEFR levels and considering how these compare across levels and across languages. The second reason is a practical one and is to help to make the framework more robust. The skills-based criteria have the virtue of making the framework flexible and highly inclusive, and almost any course, textbook or learner should be able to find a place in the system. However, the penalty for such flexibility is that the levels become imprecise; it is often possible to place learners or textbooks at several of the CEFR levels. This potentially devalues the framework and diminishes its usefulness. The British foreign language exam system in schools, for example, has been criticized for being misplaced within the system and, as a consequence, for misleading those who try to use it (Milton, 2007a).


Foreign Language Word List Vocabulary Knowledge Vocabulary Size Cent Coverage 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© James Milton and Thomaï Alexiou 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Milton
    • 1
  • Thomaï Alexiou
    • 2
  1. 1.Swansea UniversityUK
  2. 2.Aristotle UniversityGreece

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