For members


QUIZ: Test your Italian language level on the A1 to C2 scale

Learning Italian can be a long process and it also brings you into a world of bewildering acronyms - here's what these language levels mean in terms of your everyday Italian conversation.

What's your level of Italian?
What's your level of Italian? Photo by Alissa De Leva on Unsplash

Whether you are looking to apply for Italian citizenship or university, want to sign up for a language course or perhaps if you are simply interested in quantifying your existing language skills then you will need the A1-C2 language level indicators.

These are part of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CERL) and mean that language levels can be assessed on an international level, without having to try and compare national qualifications such as SATs, A-levels and baccalaureates, which all use different qualifications. 

Under the CERL scale, language learners are split into three broad levels – A meaning beginner, B meaning intermediate, and C meaning advanced.

If you’re looking to take exams at any of these levels, they will involve four sections; reading, writing, listening and speaking.

Here’s how the Council of Europe breaks them down:

A1 is a basic, introductory level where you should be able to “understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.”

At this level you ought to be able to introduce yourself, and ask and answer personal questions about things like where you live, who you know, and things you have.

A2 is one step above A1, moving toward every day language capabilities.

At this point, you should be able to understand sentences related to “very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment” and conduct a “simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.”

READ ALSO: 12 signs you’ve cracked the Italian language

B1 is the first intermediate level. At B1, you should be able to communicate well in daily situations, particularly when standard language is being used.

You should “understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.” and “deal with most situations likely to arise whilst travelling” in Italy.

You should also be able to “describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.”

Some grammar subjects taught at the B1 level include past-perfect tense, the past and present conditional tenses, and speaking using hypotheses (se – or if). This is the level required for Italian citizenship.

B2 is the upper intermediate level. You should be able to “interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party” and “understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics.”

You should also be able to produce “produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue.”

While you may have learned some subjunctive in B1, you should have a wider understanding and ability to use it when at the B2 level.

Your Italian level could be anywhere from A1 to C2 on the CERL scale.

Your Italian level could be anywhere from A1 to C2 on the CERL scale. Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP.

C1 is the first advanced level. Many Italian language learners find it challenging to move from the B2 upper intermediate level to C1.

At the first advanced level, you should be able to comprehend long and demanding texts and capture implied meanings; speak spontaneously and fluently without struggling or having to look for words; use language effectively and flexibly in social, professional or academic life; and express yourself on complex subjects in a clear and well-structured way that demonstrates control over syntax, strong articulation and cohesion of discourse.

C2 is the highest language level according to the CERL – it corresponds with having a master or near-native level in the language.

You should therefore be able to understand virtually everything read or heard effortlessly, write at an advanced level with the ability to provide strong arguments, and express yourself orally in a spontaneous, very fluent, and accurate fashion while comprehending nuance and complex subjects (although having an accent is no impediment to achieving C2 level, as long as you can be clearly understood by an Italian person).

READ ALSO: 12 of the most useful Italian words you need to know

What level do I need for Italian nationality?

In order to apply for Italian naturalisation, you must prove that Italian is at least at B1 level – you will need a certificate at B1 level in a test administered by one of four educational institutions approved by the Italian Education Ministry or Foreign Ministry.

They are: The University of Siena for Foreigners (CILS); The University of Perugia for Foreigners (CELI); The Dante Alighieri Association (PLIDA); and The University of Rome 3 (CERT).

READ ALSO: TEST: Is your Italian good enough for citizenship?

These tests can be taken at language schools around Italy and abroad. If your language school advertises B1 testing for citizenship, make sure they are accredited by one of the above institutions.

The exact structure of the test varies slightly depending on which institution you go with, as well as on whether you’re taking the B1 cittadinanza exam or a regular B1 level Italian language certification.

Could you pass an Italian language test at B1 level?

Could you pass an Italian language test at B1 level? Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

Both tests involve answering similar questions at the same level, but the B1 cittadinanza is essentially a shorter version which costs less to take. The downside is this certificate can only be used for your citizenship application and not for other purposes, such as for university applications.

Foreign residents who aren’t at the stage of applying for Italian naturalisation but who want to apply for permanent residency may need to pass an A2 language exam to demonstrate proficiency in basic Italian.

READ ALSO: What to expect when applying for Italian permanent residency

How can I test my level?

The Europass language site offers short free quizzes ranging from A1 to C2 in difficulty to test your Italian grammar level.

The non-profit Italian Academy of Languages/ Accademia Italiana di Lingua in Florence offers a longer online free grammar test of 76 questions ranging across all levels, and gives you your Italian level upon completion. Both sites require a name and email address.

If you think you might be at B1 level, you can take a sample citizenship test from one of the accredited institutes to see how difficult you find it.

You can find a sample test paper, including reading, writing, listening and speaking elements, on the CILS website here.

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For members


REVEALED: The Italian versions of 11 famous English sayings

From full barrels and drunk wives to catching fish, the Italian language has its own unique way of expressing the sentiments behind some of the most popular English sayings.

REVEALED: The Italian versions of 11 famous English sayings

Though lots of popular English sayings are largely similar (or even identical) to their Italian equivalents, that’s not always the case. 

In fact, some Italian translations of famous English idioms can leave language learners perplexed.

Here are a few of our favourite examples.

Non dire gatto se non ce l’hai nel sacco

We all sometimes get ahead of ourselves and start making plans based on something that’s not happened yet (and in some cases may not be likely to happen). 

While the English ‘don’t count your chickens before they hatch’ is as good a self-reminder as you’ll find, you may also add the Italian version to your repertoire: ‘non dire gatto se non ce l’hai nel sacco’, which literally means ‘don’t say cat if you haven’t got it in a bag’.

READ ALSO: ‘Anglicismi’: The English words borrowed into Italian – and what they mean

Why anyone would want to get a cat into a bag eludes us, but here’s an iconic clip of Giovanni Trapattoni using the expression when manager of the Republic of Ireland’s football team:

In alto mare

If, with just one week to go till the start of your summer holidays, you still have no idea what you’re going to do or where you’re going to go, you could definitely say that your holiday plans are ‘in alto mare’.

While literally translatable as ‘on the high seas’, the idiom is the equivalent to the English ‘up in the air’. Same issues, different natural elements.

Due gocce d’acqua

While an English speaker may describe two people that are closely similar either in appearance or character as ‘two peas in a pod’, an Italian would scrap the grocery reference and describe them as ‘two drops of water’. 

Vuotare il sacco

If you’re organising a surprise birthday party for a friend of yours, you may ask all guests to be extra careful and ensure they don’t ‘spill the beans’. 

READ ALSO: Etto, ino, ello: How to make Italian words smaller

But if you’re throwing the party in Italy, you’ll have to ask them not to ‘empty the bag’, or ‘vuotare il sacco‘, with the sacco figuratively protecting the big secret from indiscreet ears.

Prendere due piccioni con una fava

The Italian ‘prendere due piccioni con fava’ is actually very similar to the English ‘kill two birds with one stone’, except that the former specifies the type of bird – two pigeons – and uses a different hunting technique: a trap using a fava bean as bait. 

An Italian hunting masterclass, clearly.

Pigeons in Milan's Piazza Duomo

Catching ‘two pigeons with one fava bean’ will save you a lot of time in your Italian daily life. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Ogni morte di papa

The death of a pope is not something that happens very often. Actually, you might even say that it happens ‘once in a blue moon’.

Chi dorme non piglia pesci 

Here’s one of Italian dads’ favourite sayings as they try to impress upon their children that much more is achieved by early, decisive action than by idleness. 

READ ALSO: ‘I’m not Onassis’: Seven things Italian dads say and what they mean

‘Those who sleep don’t catch any fish’ is the Italian equivalent of the well-known ‘early bird gets the worm’.

Per il rotto della cuffia

If someone made three mistakes in their Italian driving licence theory quiz, you may say they passed by the ‘skin of their teeth’ as only three errors are allowed.

But an Italian might say that they passed the exam ‘per il rotto della cuffia’, literally meaning ‘thanks to the rupture of the helmet’.

A knight on horseback

Popular Italian expression ‘per il rotto della cuffia’ stems from a mediaeval game known as Saracen Joust. Photo by Oli SCARFF / AFP

The saying stems from an old medieval game, the Saracen Joust, where a knight on horseback would have to hit a target with a swinging arm. If the arm hit the rider’s helmet and broke it but did not unseat him, the rider would have gotten away ‘per il rotto della cuffia’. 

Come il giorno e la notte

When two things are nothing alike, you might say they’re like ‘chalk and cheese’, but an Italian will surely say they’re ‘come il giorno e la notte’, that is to say ‘like day and night’.

La botte piena e la moglie ubriaca

Sometimes, you just can’t have everything you want at the same time and you must choose between one or the other. 

So, you ‘can’t have your cake and eat it too’ in pretty much the same way Italians might say you can’t have ‘a full barrel and a drunk wife’. 

Non sputare nel piatto dove mangi

In Italian, someone who ‘spits into the plate they eat from’ is ungrateful or behaves badly towards the people they receive help from, much like someone who ‘bites the hand that feeds them’ does.