Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency

Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency

“Can speak, read and write in French.”

Is that enough to show my resume language skills?

What would be the ideal description?

It’s standard to say that you are ‘fluent’ in Spanish, or you know ‘basic German’.

But, how can you make your resume stand out more?

Let’s get to the bottom of it.

In this resume language skills guide, you’ll learn:

  • When should you include language skills on resume
  • The most effective ways to describe a foreign language ability on a resume
  • Examples of different levels of language proficiency from real resumes
  • What official language scales exist and does it matter which one to use

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Do recruiters care about my language skills?

Short answer – they do.

But, they will not expect you to recite “War and Peace” in German to get the job.

It’s more about your ability to communicate with clients, fellow co-workers and management in day-to-day business operations.

Without this, many businesses won’t survive.

Therefore recruiters look for language skills to understand your communication skills in greater detail.

Language skills not only give you the building blocks to communicate with others, but it also comes with culture-specific knowledge, too.

This is becoming more and more important for businesses as the economy globalizes across all sectors.

When should I include language skills?

Writing your resume, you realise that space is a valuable real estate.

Every part of it should help you sell yourself to the future employer.

This is why you should always include your language skills only if that’s related to the job you want.

If speaking a foreign language is valuable for the company

This might seem like the obvious reason (because it is) but if your language skills are relevant to the job you’re hoping to undertake, you should include them.

Of note, however, this doesn’t just mean when the recruiter has included desired language capabilities in the job description. Think about what your day-to-day tasks will be in your role.

If you’re applying to be a retail assistant, how likely will it be that more than one language will help you communicate with customers?

If you’re working in customer support, how many countries is the company based in?

These are just some of the questions you should ask yourself.

A rule of thumb is, if you’re going to be working with the public as a key part of your role, your language skills are probably relevant.

In developing his customer support resume, Sia knew his ability to speak over three languages would make an impression on recruiters at SAP SE.

Enhancv Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency resume language skills

Example of resume language section built with Enhancv

If you have little experience

Language skills are great for adding content to your resume. If you’re putting together your first resume, or a student resume, language skills show your ability to learn quickly and your ability to apply knowledge to real-world situations.

In Avery’s volunteer resume, they highlighted their language skills as they were applying for a role with AIESEC, which has entities based all around the world.

Enhancv Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency resume language skills

Example of resume language section built with Enhancv

If the open position is competitive

Imagine the following scenario:

Both Tom and Emma are applying for the position of a Senior Marketing Manager at Etsy.

They’ve got the same amount of experience, and their skill set is fairly similar, too.

However, Emma mentioned that she’s fluent in French & German on her resume, while Tom didn’t.

Emma’s value proposition for the company increases exponentially, as there will be a lot of practical uses for her language skills.

Even though Tom’s language proficiency might be on par with Emma, he never bothered to show that – thus, his chances to get a callback get slimmer.

If you’re applying for a job in a different country

As a foreign applicant, you’ll want the hiring manager to know as soon as possible that you won’t have any language barriers.

If you have to demonstrate quick-learning skills

When learning about a lot of new things will be a part of your job, you can turn the experience you have with languages into your advantage.

You’ll benefit from showing your quick learning skills through language fluency in many areas:

  • Research and organisation fields
  • Program and project management jobs
  • Communication & marketing related roles

Don’t include your language skills on your resume if…

If any of the above scenarios are not true for you, you’d better skip on adding languages on your resume.

The same applies if you’re a monoglot, meaning someone who only speaks one language. Simply put, the recruiter will assume proficient language skill in the language your resume is written in.

There’s no need to state you’re a fluent English speaker if you live in a predominantly English speaking country and your resume is written in English.

This will unnecessarily take up space on your resume and affect your resume length.

Where should I include language skills?

Where you place your language skills on your resume will differ depending on the level of language proficiency you have and the relevance of your language skills to your position.

If language skills are essential for your position, dedicate a specific section to discussing them (as shown previously).

However, if language skills are merely preferable or not necessarily relevant to your position, you can include them as part of your education or previous experience.

How do I describe my language skill level?

Looking at language skill levels, more questions than answers appear:

  • Does proficient and fluent mean one and the same thing?
  • When should I write one or the other?
  • Will they understand that I can read and write if I’m at an intermediate level?

We’ll start by understanding what the different language levels mean.

Picking your level

Without describing your level of language skill, there’s no sense in including it in your resume. This plays off a similar premise to quantifying your achievements in different resume headings. The recruiter needs a tangible way of judging your ability.

Beginner

A beginner language skill ability can be used if you’re starting to learn a new language. You might know some basic words and phrases, but you have no real understanding of grammar.

Intermediate

An intermediate language skill refers to being able to speak a language but with some difficulty. You can’t speak with the speed of a native and your vocabulary is somewhat limited. However, you’re able to hold conversations in the language and have adequate reading proficiency.

Proficient

A proficient language skill refers to an ability to speak, write, and read a language without much difficulty at all. You don’t foresee yourself having an issue using the languages listed in your role, however, you’re not fluent. You may need native speakers to repeat things and may struggle understanding colloquialisms.

Fluent

A fluent language skill means you can read, write, and speak a language fluidly and without hesitation.

Native

A native language skill refers to a language you have grown up speaking. As far as you remember, this is a language you always have been able to communicate with. You have spent your life speaking this language and have honed in on your ability to communicate with it through formal education and so on.

Providing proof

There are formally accepted language skill frameworks.

You can consult the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages or the US Department of State to choose the level that represents your skill best.

For those including English as a language skill, you may go to an open-access test, the EFSET.

What’s more, a growing number of recruiters use LinkedIn’s own scale that has 5 proficiency levels:

  • Elementary
  • Limited Working
  • Professional Working
  • Full Professional
  • Native/Bilingual

Easily describe your language proficiency with Enhancv’s online resume builder. Drag the bar to show your language level, and use the small text to identify exactly how fluent you are.

Enhancv Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency resume language skills

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Mistakes to avoid when including your language skills

Lying

When it comes down to it, there is no reason to lie about your language ability on your resume.

Not only will recruiters void your application should they suspect you’re lying, but it doesn’t add any value.

If a particular language skill is required for your role and you lie about your ability, you won’t be able to perform in your role. Thus, applying for this position will be a waste of your time.

On the other hand, if you lie about a language skill and it isn’t relevant for your role, it’s not going to make an impression on the recruiter. Honesty is the best policy.

Forgetting to update LinkedIn

If you’re discussing your language skills on your resume, be sure to update your LinkedIn profile with this information, too.

One advantage of updating your language skill on LinkedIn is you can have colleagues provide recommendations and references of your ability in this skill.

Using too much space for languages when they are not important

This one goes without saying, but if a language will not have a significant impact on your job, then don’t spend too much time on it in a huge section.

Of course, if you have formally studied a foreign language, you can always include it in your education or experience section.

Forgetting to include your mother language

Add your native language, alongside the foreign languages you know.

Otherwise, you’ll confuse recruiters, especially if you’re applying for a job abroad.

Don’t mix and match different language frameworks

Consistency is important.

Don’t go about saying you’re B2 in Russian and AH in Spanish.

Know the company you’re applying for. If it’s a US-based one, go with the ACTFL.

If you’re not sure how different levels from different continents compare with each other, check out this Wikipedia article that compares CEFR and ACTFL frameworks.

Key takeaways: language skills on resumes

When deciding to include language skills on your resume, the most important thing to consider is relevance.

Language skills can have a major influence on the recruiter calling you for an interview, but the same cannot be said when language skills aren’t relevant to your position.

Another aspect to keep in mind is your level of language skill. Recruiters will want to know to what degree you’re skilled in languages you mention.

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Any thoughts or remarks on resume language skills? What are the most distinguishable ways you’re talking about language skills on your resume? Let us know in the comments below!