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Language Skills on Resume: How to Explain Proficiency & Fluency

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Languages open doors to worlds previously off-limits. Or to your next dream job.
Sep 8, 2022 12 min read

A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini

Did you know that the languages you speak can affect your personality? Indeed, they can change the way you express your emotions, your intonation, your facial expressions and gestures. Rather than making you inconsistent, this versatility’s a fortune. How lucky are we to be able to take on different roles – we do this when we change jobs, and when we speak another language. Sometimes, we can do both simultaneously!

Your language skills are effective in all walks of life, and your career is no exception. In our interconnected world, being multilingual is highly valued by recruiters. Wondering how to list your language proficiency on your resume? Our guide covers that and more!

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Key takeaways:
  • The core language skills are speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Each of them is uniquely useful, so practice all of them when you can.
  • Listing your language skills is always a good idea, especially in jobs where you’ll work with multinational clients. Language proficiency can help you in different settings, as learning them practices valuable skills such as self-discipline, creativity, and cultural awareness.
  • Your language skills are best placed in a separate section, but interspersing them in your summary, experience, education, and skills section is also an option.
  • A good language section is concise but catchy, so consider using an interesting design to present your fluency.
  • Your language level is probably the most important information to recruiters. Remember to be consistent with the framework you use.
  • If you’re based in the US, choose between the IRL or ACTFL frameworks. The CERF scale is best if you’re in Europe. The LinkedIn scale is universal.

What are language skills?

Your language skills can range from holding a casual conversation to writing your PhD in a certain language. So, what people consider a language ability can vary widely depending on their needs.

Generally, language skills are what allows you to communicate effectively with people from different nationalities and cultures. These abilities are typically divided into four main categories: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. Each of these is important for a unique reason:

  • Listening: Imagine being able to listen to your favorite Spanish song and understand the meaning, or walk around an Italian city and catch glimpses of strangers’ conversations. Listening is all about accurately catching the words, picking up on the grammar and intonation, and making sense of what you hear. In a work environment, strong listening skills can help you accurately understand client needs during meetings and respond effectively.
  • Speaking: Speaking is your ticket to actively engaging with others in a new language. It might be the most useful language skill you can have in a work setting. Don’t sweat about pronunciation so much! Your focus should be on using the proper words to be understood. Mastering conversational nuances can help share your thoughts and connect with people around you. You can use your speaking skills to lead presentations, negotiate deals, and collaborate with colleagues from diverse backgrounds.
  • Reading: Good reading skills can provide access to exclusive information. Many valuable resources, such as industry-specific research, technical manuals, and market analysis reports, are published in various languages. Collecting insights that might not be available in your native language gives you a competitive edge.
  • Writing: Writing allows you to share your ideas and stories with the world in another language. It involves more than just correct grammar and spelling. It's about crafting your thoughts clearly and logically, making sure your message hits home. In a work setting, writing pays off through your ability to draft clear emails, create detailed reports, and develop persuasive proposals.

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When should I include language skills on my resume

It’s always worth mentioning your language proficiencies on your resume, as they can help in diverse situations. Even if the job posting doesn’t specifically call for them, language skills can set you apart in a competitive environment. Language learning’s also valuable because it develops different cognitive skills like memory and problem-solving. It enhances communication abilities, fosters social and cultural awareness, and cultivates practical skills like time management and digital literacy.

Here are some concrete examples of when your language skills could be beneficial in your application.

If speaking a foreign language is valuable to the company

That’s pretty straightforward — if your language skills are relevant to the job you’re hoping to get, you should include them.

Think about what your day-to-day tasks will be in your role. If you’re a translator or a language teacher, your job will naturally revolve around languages. But what about other jobs, where language skills might not seem as crucial? If you’re applying for a retail assistant, will multiple languages help you communicate with customers? If you’re working in customer support, how many countries is the company based in? Reflect on how your language abilities can add value, even in roles where they aren’t an obvious requirement.

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

Sia built his language section with Enhancv. His example uses one of the most popular frameworks, the ACTFL Proficiency Scale (we’ll talk about it in a bit).


If you have little experience

Language skills are great for adding content to your resume. If you’re putting together your first resume, language skills show your ability to learn quickly and to apply your knowledge to real-world situations. Especially if you’ve chosen the functional format that gives more weight to your skills rather than your limited experience.

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.

Limited working proficiency

This language section example uses the LinkedIn language framework (we’ll talk about this one in a bit, too).

If the open position is competitive

In a competitive environment, listing your language skills can make you a more well-rounded candidate. Imagine the following scenario:

Both Tom and Emma are applying for the position of 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's, he never bothered to show that – thus, his chances to get a callback get slimmer.

Emma's language fluency makes her stand out for the Senior Marketing Manager role at Etsy, proving how crucial it is to highlight all relevant skills on a resume.

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

Reassure the hiring manager that there’d be no language barrier when communicating with your coworkers. Think of ways to express culture familiarity and language use in professional settings. If you speak French, for example, you can list things like:

  • Conducted market research and wrote detailed reports in French for a French-speaking region.
  • Coordinated with French suppliers, ensuring seamless project execution.
  • Spent six months in France on a work exchange, immersing in French business practices and culture.

If you’re going to work in a language that’s not your mother tongue, make sure you can provide evidence of your abilities. This will give you credibility. What courses and certificates can you list to show you’ve worked at learning the language?

If you have to demonstrate quick-learning skills

If you’re applying for a job involving lots of continuous learning, your language-learning experience can come to your advantage. Here are some concrete examples:

  • Adaptability and flexibility: "Learning a new language required me to quickly adapt to different methods and environments, showcasing my flexibility."
  • Problem-solving skills: "Overcoming language learning challenges enhanced my problem-solving abilities."
  • Self-discipline and time management: "Balancing language study with other tasks strengthened my self-discipline and time management."

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

There’s one situation, though, where it makes perfect sense to leave the language section out – if you’re a monoglot. Unlike its more popular cousin, the polyglot, this is someone who only speaks one language. Simply put, the recruiter will assume you’re proficient in the language your resume is written in. So, if you’re living and working in the US, and your resume’s written in English, there’s no need to specifically underline that skill. It’s a given.

Where should I include language skills?

Our advice is to include a dedicated language section. You don’t want your language skills to get lost; you want to make them as visible as possible. If language proficiency is essential to the job you’re after, create a specific section where you list all the languages you know, along with your fluency levels. Our resume builder allows you to be as concise as you want and customize the language section to fit your needs.

You might see some advice on incorporating your language skills throughout your resume. This might be effective for positions where languages aren’t a priority or a top-wanted skill, but be aware that they could easily get lost among your other abilities and accomplishments. Still, it can save space on your resume without underrating the skill. Here’s how you could approach this:

  • In your experience section, e.g., “Conducted training sessions in both English and Spanish to support a diverse team of new hires”.
  • In your education section – when you have a degree in Linguistics, Languages, or Literature.

How to write a good language skills section?

If you’ve opted for a separate language section, make it concise but catchy. You just need the language and the level of fluency. The trick is to creatively visualize your proficiency. The Enhancv resume builder has five different styles you can use to present your language skills.

When crafting this section, follow these tips:

  • List languages by proficiency: Start with the ones you’re most proficient in. In most cases, skip languages you only know at beginner/elementary level. These can add color to your resume, but they’re not really helpful in a work setting.
  • Mention context of use: Detail contexts where you've utilized the language, like "Used in international conferences" or "Daily communication with overseas clients."
  • Avoid overstatement: Be honest about your proficiency. Overstating your skills can lead to uncomfortable situations in professional settings.
  • Use standard proficiency levels: Use widely recognized proficiency levels like "Native," "Intermediate," "Professional Working Proficiency," and "Limited Working Proficiency."

Use Enhancv’s Resume Builder

Use Enhancv’s Resume Builder and make a resume that stands out.

Language proficiency level

Marking the level of fluency in a language is similar to quantifying your achievements in different resume headings. The recruiter needs a tangible way of judging your ability. Let’s review the most popular frameworks:

LinkedIn Framework

LinkedIn’s scale is based on, and is very similar to, the IRL (Interagency Language Round-table) scale, developed by the U.S. Foreign Service Institute. It measures language proficiency in terms of work settings, so its levels are, as follows:

  • Native or bilingual proficiency
  • Full professional proficiency
  • Professional working proficiency
  • Limited working proficiency
  • Elementary proficiency

Take a look at this sample language proficiency section:

Native or bilingual proficiency
Full professional proficiency
Professional working proficiency

The IRL scale is mainly used when applying for US government jobs. Its levels (from 0 – 5, where 5 is Native) correspond to the levels on LinkedIn.

ACTFL Proficiency Framework

This scale assesses the ability to use language to accomplish communication objectives in real-world situations, with specific criteria for accuracy, context and content, and text type. Here are the levels it works with:

  • Distinguished
  • Superior
  • Advanced
  • Intermediate
  • Novice

These scales are widely recognized by recruiters in the US, so choose the one you feel more comfortable with. But what if you’re based outside the States? Then, we recommend this one:

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

CEFR is an internationally recognized standard for describing language ability. It outlines what learners can do in speaking, reading, listening, and writing at each level. It’s widely recognized across Europe but currently gaining popularity in other countries as well. Here’s an overview of its levels:

  • C2 (Proficiency)
  • C1 (Advanced)
  • B2 (Upper Intermediate)
  • B1 (Intermediate)
  • A2 (Elementary)
  • A1 (Beginner)

Again, just remember that if you’re coming from Europe but are applying for a job in the US, you should use the LinkedIn/IRL or the ACTFL framework.

And here’s a quick recap of what each level represents. Note that the CERF doesn’t measure native proficiency, as it’s mainly designed for learners of foreign languages.

  • Native or bilingual proficiency/Distinguished: This means you’ve grown up speaking the language, using it throughout your life, and refining your abilities through formal education.
  • Full professional proficiency/Superior/C2: You can read, write, and speak a language smoothly and without hesitation.
  • Professional working proficiency/Advanced/C1: You can speak, write, and read a language comfortably for your role, though you might struggle with colloquialisms and occasionally need repetition.
  • Limited working proficiency/Intermediate/B1-B2: Intermediate language skill means you can hold conversations and read adequately in the language, but you speak with some difficulty and have a limited vocabulary.
  • Elementary proficiency/Novice/A1-A2: You can understand basic words or phrases but can’t hold a conversation. We recommend you don’t list this one on your resume.

Mistakes to avoid when including your language skills


What’s essential in listing your language skills is being fair about your fluency level. You don’t want to list an intermediate language level if you can only ask for coffee or say a few phrases.

And if you list your skills as advanced or above, be prepared to answer a few questions or hold a conversation in that specific language. You never know – perhaps the recruiter will be fluent and in the mood for a little bit of practice!

Forgetting to update LinkedIn

If you’re discussing your language skills on your resume, be sure your LinkedIn profile is up-to-date, too.

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

Forgetting to include your mother tongue

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 list one of your language levels as “Professional working proficiency”, and the other as “Intermediate.”

Use the most relevant language framework

If you’re based in the US, choose the LinkedIn, IRL, or ACTFL scale. In Europe, go with the CERF levels.

FAQs about language skills on resume

How to demonstrate language skills?

You can show your fluency on your resume with examples of how you’ve used the languages you’re proficient in. This could be a portfolio of work samples in different languages, or any certificates, awards, and diplomas. For cover letters, real-life examples are your best bet.

What language level is considered fluent?

Depending on the framework you use, a person with an advanced level of proficiency or someone with a professional working proficiency or above will be considered fluent.

Is proficient better than fluent?

Fluency refers to the flow of your speech, the ability to speak comfortably and consistently. In other words, being fluent means being able to carry out a conversation without much hesitation. Proficiency, on the other hand, is the ability to comprehend and accurately produce content, so it refers mainly to reading and writing. It is highly valued in jobs that require a precise use of language, such as an academic setting. So, to answer the question, one is not necessarily better than the other, because they refer to different things. We recommend using “proficient” on your resume, as it’s the word recognized by the most popular frameworks.

How to check language proficiency?

You can look up local language centers – most test your language skills for free if you’re interested in enrolling in a course. Some even have language proficiency checkers online!

Can you have two native languages on a resume?

Yes, of course! Being bilingual will definitely impress recruiters. You can list all the languages you speak natively.

How to list programming languages?

Speaking of languages, you might wonder about programming ones. Programming skills refer to the ability to write, test, and maintain code that enables software applications to function. Some of the most popular programming languages include Python, Java, and C++, each used for various purposes. Knowledge of one programming language can often help you learn others quickly. As with other skills, list your programming languages in a dedicated "Skills" section on your resume. If you can, give context to past projects or work experience (like a GitHub portfolio) to demonstrate practical application and expertise.

What is the most important language skill?

The answer to this question is individual to your situation. What do you need the language for? To read documents or to have conversations? Are you going to communicate orally with clients? Do you know the etiquette and turns of phrase to talk to your coworkers in their native language? Understanding your specific needs and context will help determine whether reading, writing, speaking, or listening is the most crucial language skill for you to focus on for the specific job you’re applying for.

In conclusion

Your multilanguage magic can open doors with every word you know! We hope the tips in our guide will help you in proudly list your language skills on your resume. It’s inspiring to think about the myriad of cool things you can do with another language in your arsenal.

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Kal Dimitrov
Kaloyan Dimitrov is a resume expert and content manager at Enhancv. He frequently publishes blog posts around resume writing, cover letters & job applications, and authors more than 500 publications on the site. Kaloyan also runs a Career Accelerator Bootcamp for young graduates where he applies his practical knowledge of job applications and writing resumes and educates people on how to present their best selves in front of business representatives. His opinions on resume writing and career development have been featured in Chron., as well as cited by top universities such as Simon Fraser University and UCL.
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