You probably already know that speaking more than one language is a big professional asset.
On top of the obvious (being able to communicate with more people), speaking multiple languages is known to improve your memory and ability to multitask, all of which are bound to help you perform better at your job.
But did you know that there is a right and wrong way to include language skills on your resume?
The first can give you an advantage over other candidates with similar qualifications, whereas the second might make your language skills practically invisible in recruiters’ eyes.
So, to help you make the most out of your resume language skills, we’ve put together this guide on everything you need to know on the topic, including:
- Why Do Resume Language Skills Matter?
- How to List Languages on Resume?
- Language Proficiency Levels
- Language Sections on Resume Examples
And much more!
What Are Resume Language Skills?
Language skills refer to the ability to communicate (speak, read, and write) in different languages.
On a resume, language skills typically refer to any other language you master on top of your native language. Considering that there are many levels of language proficiency, language skills on a resume are typically categorized into beginner, mid-range, and advanced levels.
Why do Resume Language Skills Matter?
Let’s let hard facts do the talking.
According to a Rosetta Stone survey, up to 35% of those responsible for hiring or managing employees said that a candidate’s or employee’s second language proficiency leads them to take one of the following actions:
- Extend a job offer
- Invite the candidate to a job interview
- Recommend a promotion
- Recommend a pay raise
Additionally, nearly 54% of those who already hold a job said that knowing a foreign language is important in their position.
That’s no surprise - mastering a foreign language comes with many important benefits:
- Enhanced productivity and ability to multitask
- Higher creativity and better communication skills
- Bigger access to international markets and job opportunities
So, unless your knowledge of a foreign language consists of a mere 10 words (meaning, you’re just a beginner), always include your language skills on your resume. On top of all the benefits mentioned above, your language skills will effectively set you apart from candidates with the same work experience, skills, and education.
Language Proficiency Levels
Describing your language skills on your resume can get a bit messy, especially if you and the recruiter are not on the same page regarding language proficiency levels.
For example, the recruiter might wonder if an intermediate candidate will be able to hold a work-related conversation with an international client, or whether a conversational level applicant is able to read and write, on top of being able to hold a conversation in a foreign language.
To avoid all the confusion, you can list your language skills using a language proficiency scale. These are frameworks established by language organizations that categorize people into proficiency levels based on their language fluency, accuracy, and other factors.
More importantly, these frameworks standardize language proficiency, helping recruiters and employers understand exactly what your language skill level means.
Here are the four most popular language proficiency frameworks you can use on your resume:
- Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This popular framework of European guidelines is fairly easy to understand. It scores basic users as A1 or A2, independent users as B1 or B2, and proficient users as C1 and C2.
- Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR). This US government-developed framework has 6 levels (0-5) and uses the (+) sign to differentiate the in-betweens.
- LinkedIn. As the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn has its own language proficiency framework. Similar to the ILR, it categorizes them into native and bilingual proficiency, full professional proficiency, professional working proficiency, etc.
- American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). This is another popular language proficiency framework that categorizes language skills into Novice (Low, Mid, High), Intermediate (Low, Mid, High), Advanced (Low, Mid, High), Superior, and Distinguished.
To make things easier, here is a table showing exactly how each framework compares to one another:
How to List Languages on a Resume
By now, it’s pretty clear how important language skills are. This brings us to the reason you’re probably reading this article: learning how to list your language skills on your resume adequately.
Here’s how you can do that:
#1. Choose a Language Rating System
First things first, you have to choose a language rating system to use on your resume.
Say, for example, that you master Spanish and French. If you use the CEFR framework to describe your proficiency level in French and the ILR framework to describe your Spanish skills, that’ll only confuse the recruiter reading your resume and make you look disorganized.
So, to determine which language rating system you should use, the first thing you need to do is check the job requirements.
If the job ad requires knowledge in a specific language and specifies a proficiency framework, then make sure to list your language skills according to that framework scale.
Alternatively, if you have taken one of the popular language assessments, you can include your rating after each listed language.
If, on the other hand, you’re applying for a position in a company that doesn’t require mastering a foreign language or isn’t in business with international clients, you can skip on using a formal rating scale altogether.
Remember to be consistent even if the position you’re applying for doesn’t specify a language proficiency rating. If you’re going to be listing more than one language, pick a proficiency framework and stick to it!
#2. Determine Your Fluency Level
There’s nothing worse than exaggerating your language proficiency level, only for recruiters to find out your language skills are not what you claim.
To avoid awkwardness, make sure to determine your fluency level accurately (in writing, speaking, and reading) and be truthful about it on your resume.
So, list the foreign language you know and check what the position you’re applying for needs. One employer might be more interested in your writing skills, whereas another might need someone with strong speaking skills to participate in meetings with foreign partners.
In your resume, you should be able to give factual information about your fluency level in speaking, writing, and reading - as well as highlight whatever skill is more relevant to the position. If your fluency level varies among the three and the position specifically asks for, say, high reading comprehension, consider listing each rating separately. If, on the other hand, you have the same comprehension level for all three, or the job ad just doesn’t ask for much in terms of your language skills, simply list one rating to save space and make sure your resume is within the optimal one-page length.
#3. Choose the Right Place to Include Your Language Skills
There are three ways you can list your language skills on your resume:
- On your resume summary or resume objective
- In the skills section
- In a separate language skills section
Where you choose to list your language skills will mainly depend on how important they are for the position you’re applying for. So, for example, if your fluency in a particular language is essential for the role, you can start by adding them to your resume summary as follows:
- A bilingual, hard-working customer service agent who speaks English and Spanish and has over 5 years of experience in customer support. Previous experience communicating with customers both in English and Spanish in the same role.
As language skill is mandatory for the role, the hiring manager is going to be looking for the language skill from the get-go in order to filter out unqualified candidates.
Having the language skill right on top of your resume helps the recruiter instantly see that you’re qualified for the role.
In such a case, it’s also good practice to include your language skills as a dedicated section alongside the respective skill levels. For example:
If, on the other hand, your language skills are not essential for the role, you can save space by adding them under your skills or education sections. Here’s an example of how that would look on a resume:
B.A. in Linguistics
King’s College, London
2012 - 2016
- Mastered limited working proficiency in Spanish and Italian
- Graduated with a 3,85 GPA
#4. Format Your Language Skills the Right Way
Regardless of where you choose to list your language skills on your resume, you’ve got to add your proficiency level accurately. That way, recruiters will have a clear idea of your knowledge.
One way to do that, especially if you master more than one foreign language, is to list them in descending order of proficiency. For example:
- Portuguese - Level 5 (ILR)/Bilingual Proficiency
- Spanish - Level 4 (ILR)/Full Professional Proficiency
- Italian - Level 2 (ILR)/Limited Working Proficiency
Resume Language Skills Examples
Knowing things theoretically is great, but practice makes perfect.
Here are some practical examples of how you can list your language skills on your resume:
Example #2. Dedicated Language Skills Section (ACTFL Framework)
- Romanian - Superior (ACTFL)
- Polish - Advanced Mid (ACTFL)
- Bulgarian - Intermediate Mid (ACTFL)
Example #3: Languages Under Skills Section
- Adobe Creative Suite
- Photo Editing
- Ad Design
- Spanish (Full Professional Proficiency)
Always use the most relevant language proficiency framework (in your country) when describing your skills. For a job in Europe, that would be the CEFT system, whereas for a job in the US, the ACTFL or LinkedIn system.
How Do I Determine My Level of Language Proficiency?
As we already mentioned, the proficiency level of your language skills should be as accurate as possible, which means you should avoid estimations and guesswork.
This might lead to overvaluing your skills (and eventually looking like a liar) or undervaluing them and missing the chance to stand out.
To accurately determine your level of language proficiency, do one of the following:
- Obtain an official language certificate
- Self-assess your language knowledge
The first option is perfect if the language is crucial for the job and if you’ll need to do more than the basics of communication. By paying for a test, you can get an official score of your proficiency.
If the language is not an essential requirement for the position, on the other hand, using official guidelines and rules to self-assess your skills is totally acceptable too.
Here is how you can do that:
- Through the official ILR website and their self-assessment questionnaires for reading, writing, and speaking respectively.
- The official CEFR chart, allows you to judge your listening, reading, writing, spoken interaction, and spoken production skills.
- The ACTFL site updates its proficiency guidelines every several years. They have a 10-level scale that lets you self-assess your language skills in several areas.
If you hold an official certificate for one language and you’ve self-assessed your knowledge of another, you can make the distinction by writing, for example, “French - C1 certificate” and “Italian - B1 level.”
5 Other Valuable (Optional) Sections to Include in Your Resume
Language skills are a valuable section to add to your resume after you’ve included some of the essentials, such as your work experience, education, and skills.
However, they’re not the only optional section that you can take advantage of to take your resume from great to exceptional.
Here are 5 other valuable optional sections to include in your resume if you’ve got the space:
- Volunteering experience. Volunteer work is always a resume plus, especially if the company puts emphasis on giving or if your experience is related to the job position.
- Extracurricular activities. If you’ve just recently graduated, a section with your extracurricular activities can help significantly improve your resume, as they prove you’re an active individual that is engaged beyond their academic duties.
- Projects. Side projects can show that you’re naturally curious and that you take initiative.
- Awards and certifications. If you have any awards or certifications that testify to your skills, don’t hesitate to show them off on your resume. A little healthy flexing doesn’t hurt!
- Hobbies and interests. This can tell a lot about who you are outside of work, so make sure to list the hobbies that put you in the best light.
And that’s a wrap! After reading this article, you should be able to add your language skills to your resume in the most effective way possible.
Before you get on with that, here are the most important points covered in this article:
- Knowing a foreign language can improve your productivity and ability to multitask as well as open more employment opportunities in international markets.
- To properly list your language skills on your resume, you have to pick one language rating system, determine your language proficiency, decide in what section you’ll list your languages, and format the section the right way.
- The most popular language rating systems include the LinkedIn rating system, the Interagency Language Roundtable, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.
- To determine your language proficiency level, you can either take an official language test and acquire a certificate or self-assess your knowledge following the right guidelines and documentation.