The English Profile research programme was the latest stage in a process dating back to the 1970s, when John Trim and Jan van Ek developed the original Threshold series, the first systematic specification of learning objectives for the English language. This series contributed to the development of the Common European Framework (CEF) and remains a cornerstone of research and materials development in language testing and teaching. 

English Profile builds on this research, working with the functional approach to the CEF level descriptions.  However, the programme is distinguished from previous work in the field through several innovative features:

  • Corpus-based research, giving the programme a new, empirical dimension
  • The incorporation of psycholinguistic considerations, in addition to the more traditional linguistic (grammatical/lexical) features
  • A strong focus on the impact of different first languages and learning contexts and transfer effects


Research strands

English Profile is built around three major research strands, forming a coherent long-term research programme:

1. Corpus Linguistics

Working with linguists and computer scientists to investigate the language which learners actually produce at each level. This work is managed by the Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, (DTAL), University of Cambridge.

2. Pedagogy

Focusing on curricula and materials, with particular attention to CEFR levels B2 - C2. This work is managed by the Centre for Research in English Language Learning and Assessment (CRELLA), University of Bedfordshire, headed by Professor Cyril Weir.

3. Assessment

Focusing on how language skills develop, both in terms of learners' knowledge and their ability to use the language. This work is managed by Cambridge English Language Assessment.


Research objectives

The starting point for the English Profile team was to fill the gaps left by the Threshold series and other Reference Level Description projects, such as Profile Deutsch.  Existing specifications for English did not go beyond B2, and level A1 was only ever produced in a draft form.  Therefore, a focus on the C levels, both in functional and linguistic terms, was prioritised.

Questions of particular interest included:
•    How do the different kinds of criterial features (lexical semantic, syntactic, discourse etc.) cluster together to define learner profiles in English? Which linguistic features realise which language functions across the CEFR levels?
•    How does the profile of the learner vary depending on their L1? What are the pedagogical implications of such L1 effects for the learning, teaching and assessment of English?
•    Which criterial features can be used as diagnostics of proficiency at the individual learner level?
•    How does learning to speak differ from learning to write/type? What determines communicative success and comprehensibility in these two language modes?
•    What are the similarities and differences between adult and young learners of English developmentally and at each stage of learning?
•    What is the role of learner and learning strategies?
•    How do all the previous factors interact during language learning? How do they predict likely versus less likely patterns of learner output? What type of learning model can accommodate these multi-factor interactions that underpin language learning?

Cambridge logo