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Why Your CV Language Skills Matter: 2024 Best Practices to Get Hired

Why Your CV Language Skills Matter: 2024 Best Practices to Get Hired

How to list your language skills on your CV? Discover the seven best sections to quantify your proficiency, stand out, and make a good impression on recruiters.

You may not be as proficient in Parseltongue as, for example, Harry Potter. And while everyone is still big on the Lord of the Rings, your Elfin has much more to be asked from. Moreover, you feel your A-level ancient Greek is a bit rusty.

Now, your potential employers may not be as impressed by your ability to yield a couple of quirky, niche languages.

Yet, when writing your CV, your application could benefit immensely from your language skills.

A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini, Italian filmmaker

As a polyglot, you may have studied a foreign language while at university or living abroad. Perhaps, you grew up in a non-English speaking household. Or, you're used to watching your K cinema in its native language.

Your language fluency will ultimately help you stand out amongst other candidates, hinting that your qualifications further align with the job requirements.

We know how difficult it is to ensure that recruiters properly understand your language proficiency. That's why this Enhancv guide will answer:

  • Why do language skills matter on your CV?
  • What framework should you use to determine your fluency, when applying for roles in the UK and Europe?
  • Is there a right way to describe your language skills on your CV?
  • How do you translate your language skills using honest and powerful language?
  • What are the best CV sections to qualify your language skills?

What are language skills?

Language skills describe your ability to communicate effectively (speak, read, and write) in a different language.

Knowing multiple languages (apart from your native tongue) allows you to thrive better in a globally connected environment.

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When talking about your multilanguage background on your CV, be accurate and honest.

Don't waste recruiters' time by overestimating or undervaluing your, for example, French-speaking skills.

Definitely include your language proficiencies, if:

  1. you are applying for a multinational company;
  2. the job specifically requires fluency in a second language;
  3. you are located in a multilingual country.

When quantifying your language skills, you could include:

  • relevant language certificate(s) - if the second language is part of the job requirements, and you have upper intermediate, advanced, proficient, or native language skills;
  • digital self-assessment - if the second language isn't mandatory and/or you're currently working on improving your basic skills.

Are you still wondering what language fluency means? Also, what is the difference between intermediate and proficient?

Check out the next section of this guide, where we get into the details of the most relevant framework for your UK CV.

Language proficiency: the most popular European framework

One of the biggest mistakes you can make on your CV is to miss including your language proficiency level.

Recruiters don't have a crystal ball to tell them just how good you are at speaking Italian or writing in Spanish.

That's why you need to quantify your language skills via the proficiency scale to ensure both you and your potential employers are on the same page.

The proficiency scale is an internationally recognised standard that categorises your comprehension abilities. This framework, established by language organisations, observes your capabilities in several factors like fluency and accuracy.

In the UK, the most common language proficiency scale is the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

The CERF examines your listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills, determining your level. Language users, based on CERF, are:

  • A - Basic users - Very limited knowledge - can handle simple communication; and know some basic words, phrases, and sentences. Levels include A1 (Beginner); and A2 (Elementary).
  • B - Independent users - Reasonable command - can carry out basic conversations, with limited working proficiency. B users have adequate reading skills and can write basic documents. Levels include B1 (Intermediate); and B2 (Upper Intermediate).

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If you are an A1, A2, or B1 user, it's not necessary to include your language proficiency on your CV unless otherwise specified. That is because your current language skills are a bit limited, within a professional context.

When listing language skills, recruiters are looking for professionals who can carry out a full-on conversation in a foreign language.

  • C - Proficient user
  • C1 (Effective operational efficiency) - This is an advanced level. Language users here can carry out complex conversations, read, and write, users make a minimal conscious effort to understand.
  • C2 (Proficiency) - Full professional working capacity, fluidly speaking, reading, and writing.

There’s also a native level beyond certifications. That is the full mastery through your upbringing or advanced education, which allows you to effortlessly communicate in all aspects and complexities of the language.

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Make sure you've clearly stated the language framework on your CV so that recruiters can understand your language proficiency. E.g.: "C1 Dutch, CEFR"

If you don't hold a certificate, don't worry. Check out CEFR's self-assessment grid to better understand your language proficiency.

Selecting the correct language framework depends on where the job you're applying for is located. For example, in the US, the most common frameworks include:

  • Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR)
  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)
  • LinkedIn's own language level proficiency scale

Why are language skills wanted by recruiters on your CV

Communication still remains organisations' highest priority, while languages are on most recruiters' checklists.

Here are three reasons why your potential employers actually care about your language proficiencies. Your ability to speak multiple languages hints at your:

  1. Effective communication in a global environment - especially with clients, partners, or colleagues from different language backgrounds;
  2. Cultural awareness of customs and traditions - vital in cross-cultural interactions and negotiations;
  3. Ability to ensure workplace growth - language skills can create more opportunities for companies to also reach international markets.

Make sure to highlight the values your bilingual or multilingual skills will bring about to the business or your potential employees.

On a personal level, language skills help you:

  • Secure more job opportunities - even abroad: They are a definite must if you want to work in translation, diplomacy, customer support, or in fields, where you have to communicate with people.
  • Stand out: There are plenty of industries where candidates happen to have the same experience, skills, and educational background. Turn your language skill set into your competitive advantage.

What skills, activities, and accomplishments help you highlight your language skills

Here are some of the most valuable skills you could use to further demonstrate your language proficiency:

  • Cultural immersion and awareness - you may have perfected your language skills during volunteer experience or by being a part of a cultural exchange program. Don't forget to list this experience on your CV, as it showcases your ability to understand the different nuances of cross-cultural communication.
  • Cross-cultural, bilingual, or multilingual communication - these interpersonal skills allow you to build effective relationships in spite of language or cultural barriers. When you're able to communicate in a foreign language, you're able to express your ideas clearly, connect with professionals from diverse backgrounds, and resolve cultural differences in communication. On your CV, list instances of how your bilingual skills have allowed you to expand your network or build more sustainable relationships.
  • International relationships building and networking - building relationships directly with international contacts is a skill set most employers look for. This allows you to enhance the customer experience and showcases the organisation's dedication to caring for its clients. Describe some of the biggest customer inquiries or challenges you helped resolve, thanks to your language skills.
  • Cross-cultural negotiation - if you've experience in international business development, you've probably participated in negotiations with clients from different linguistic backgrounds. Your CV should reflect upon these experiences, always pinpointing the results you achieved.
  • Public speaking - if you've had to do a presentation in front of an audience, no matter how small, in a foreign language, make sure to note this on your CV to show your confidence in using the language.
  • Active listening - your language skills allow you to have a deeper understanding of the spoken and body language. Demonstrate how active listening has allowed you to have a different perspective on an international problem you've had to solve.
  • Language learning strategies - what were some of the strategies you used to master the new language? List on your CV any standardised proficiency tests you've taken, independent research you've conducted, and language translation tools and language learning apps (e.g. Duolingo) you're comfortable using to show your commitment to learning the language.
  • Teaching, mentorship, or tutoring - highlight on your CV any experience and methodologies you've used to teach the language effectively.
  • Translation and interpretation - even if your experience is informal (e.g. volunteer), make sure to add it to your translation skill set. Pinpoint your translation or interpretation experience within your CV projects and focus on the languages and topics you're comfortable translating.
  • Foreign language content creation and blogging - so let's say that in your free time, you create blogs, vlogs, and content to track your language learning progress. Curate links to your language digital footprint within your CV header, if the foreign language is a mandatory requirement for the role.
  • Linguistic analysis and research - if you have a deeper understanding of the language and have conducted phonetics, syntax, or semantics studies within your university education, include these on your CV.

We’ve also curated for you a list of seven soft skills - or interpersonal communication skills - that could hint at your language skills. When listing each one, make sure to link it with relevant achievements, based on your experience:

  1. Adaptability -  learning a new language has taught you to stay open-minded to new experiences and flexible to different cultures. Highlight on your CV instances where you've had to overcome the language barrier by adapting your communication style to the client or customer.
  2. Resilience - learning a new language is never easy and has taught you to never give up in the face of challenges. List some of the most prominent barriers you've faced in your language studies.
  3. Problem-solving - have you resolved any linguistic misunderstandings in the past? Your language skills have probably taught you how to observe things from different perspectives, pinpoint challenges, and express your thoughts to achieve a mutually beneficial solution.
  4. Attention to detail - learning a new language has taught you to pay close attention to the small specifics, like punctuation. Showcase any proofreading experience you have in the foreign language to hint at your attention to detail.
  5. Multitasking (and focus) - learning a new language is all about memory and concentration while aiming to understand multiple concepts at the same time. These transferable skills should demonstrate how you've enhanced your productivity in the workplace.
  6. Quick learning - language skills are linked with your dedication and thirst for new knowledge. At times, learning may be challenging, but your proficiency would ultimately allow you to flawlessly switch between different languages.
  7. Creativity - your language skills help you to stay open-minded to new ideas and always innovate.

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How to demonstrate language skills on your resume

  • When talking about your language knowledge, make sure you've always listed the proficiency level you have, based on the relevant framework. When applying for jobs in Europe, use CERF.
  • If your language comprehension in speaking, listening, and writing is at different levels, make sure to highlight this on your CV (e.g. "B2 CERF French writing, C1 CERF French speaking and listening").
  • Don't include the years you've studied the language, but rather the proficiency level and/or certification. Sometimes, spending a year studying German at university can be way less effective than living in Munich for six months.
  • List more prominently languages you're comfortable using in a business setting. If you have a basic (or A1 - B1 level CERF) comprehension of the language, you can include it in the hobbies section to showcase your personality rather than your skill set.
  • Always ensure your application is tailored for the role: pay close attention to the language framework listed in the job requirements and whether knowing a second language is mandatory.

Example 1: Demonstrate language skills in the experience section

When talking about your language proficiency in your CV experience, note how you've used your skill set to communicate with others from different linguistic backgrounds and the accomplishments you've attained.

This can be through your work and internship experience, but also includes any:

  • International experience - where your language skills have been essential to your life, work, and studies abroad. Ensure that within the description of the experience, you've included the foreign language, location, and duration of your stay.
  • Teaching or tutoring experience -  describe the languages you taught, to whom, and what the ultimate outcomes of your work were.
  • Multilingual/ International projects - where you've had to collaborate with international colleagues. Describe within your CV what role you had and the impact of your language skills on the project's success. For example, how did your knowledge of Japanese help you localise the latest marketing campaign?
  • Volunteer or community work experience - detail how your contributions and language skills have helped you contribute to the better of the project mission, community vision, or society.
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If language skills are a large part of the job requirements, place them towards the top of your experience bullets.

Check out how this Korean language teacher showcased their language skills and abilities to create enticing lesson plans:

Korean language teacher
Bright Minds Tomorrow
Manchester, UK
  • Implemented effective Korean language teaching strategies and comprehensive support, leading to a 95% pass rate for +50 students
  • Customized language lesson plans for +50 individual students, resulting in quicker and more efficient learning
  • Organised immersive Korean cultural experiences, leading to a 75% increase in students' cultural awareness
  • Developed engaging Korean language curriculum content, resulting in an 85% enrolment rate for advanced class

Example 2: Demonstrate language skills in the CV summary section

Interpreter with CERF C2 certification in English, Spanish, and Italian with +6 years of experience in pharmaceutical and law. Meeting strict deadlines - even the next day - ensuring flawless communication in multiple languages. Seamlessly switching between languages to ensure all texts are translated with attention to detail and adapting complex technical terminology. Received the fastest interpreter award from 2020 to 2023 at the annual company retreat.

The CV example focuses on the interpreter’s language skills and:

  • ability to meet strict deadlines to ensure efficient communication;
  • attention to detail and technical terminology;
  • company-wide recognition.

Here are the top three reasons why you need to add your language skills in your CV summary; if you:

  • notice that fluency is essential for the role;
  • use the language in a professional environment;
  • communicate in the language on a day-to-day basis.

What is more, listing your multilingual abilities in the summary (or those short three-to-five sentences to catch recruiters' attention with your profile) helps you to prove your qualifications for the role.

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Did you know that "bilingual", "multilingual", or "native fluency" are a couple of the most sought-after keywords when it comes to language skills?

If those pertain to you, make sure to include them at the very top of your CV.

Example 3: Show your language skills in your achievements sections

Within your CV achievements, hint at how your language skills could be useful to your potential employers.

Highlight instances of how your multilanguage skills have become an important company asset (e.g. by training colleagues in different languages or assessing foreign profiles for recruitment).

Outstanding Arabic Language Proficiency (2023)
Recognized, amongst +200 employees, within the organisation, for possessing outstanding Arabic language proficiency.
Resolved +1K cases using Arabic language skills
Effectively applied Arabic-speaking skills to resolve a diverse range of +1K customer cases, demonstrating linguistic expertise and enhancing customer satisfaction by 65%.
Handled +25K Arabic customer inquiries via email and chat (CISCO-related)
Managed and responded to +25K customer inquiries in Arabic through email and chat, specializing in CISCO-related products and services, contributing to effective communication and issue resolution.

As in the example above, use your CV achievements section to list:

  • language-related awards - this could also include scholarships;
  • workplace success - with actual outcomes, best listed in the form of metrics and numbers, of applying your language skills.

Example 4: Demonstrate the skill through other sections of your resume

Other CV sections give your potential employers a better understanding of your language skills. You could potentially include:

  • Education, language courses, and language certification - include all relevant courses from reputable institutions (e.g. DELF), foreign language proficiency tests, and academic achievements you happen to have (e.g. BA in Spanish). Make sure to include the name of the institutions or organisations, the language studied and level achieved, and the dates you've attained it.  This CV section is a certain must if the foreign language is high on the job's priority list.
  • Extracurriculars - perhaps, when studying at university, you were a member of a language club, association, or group membership. List what your role in the organisation was and how you contributed; this would ultimately showcase your passion for the language and culture.
  • Public speaking opportunities - highlight any presentations, speeches, or lectures you've held in a foreign language. Don't miss out on mentioning what topics you covered and the feedback you received.
  • Language hobbies and interests - perhaps, in your free time, you like to read books or watch movies in Spanish. This CV section reinforces your dedication to the language and shines a light on your personality. It's also a pretty good substitute if you have a basic understanding of the language.

Example 5: Use a separate skills section

Create a dedicated "Language Skills" section on your CV if you want to showcase your linguistic talents, or if this know-how is part of the mandatory job requirements.

If knowing a foreign language isn't a must for the role, or you have beginner-level knowledge, you can skip out on this CV section.

French Speaking C2 CERF
French Writing and Comprehension C1 CERF
Portugese Speaking and Comprehension C1 CERF
Portugese Writing B2 CERF
Italian Speaking, Writing, and Comprehension B2 CERF

Should I show or say what level my language skills are?

Most certainly include your language skills level; add proof in the form of relevant certification or self-assessment. Make sure to also follow the framework that is listed within the job requirements so that you remain on the same page as recruiters.

Remember that your language skills may be assessed during the interview or on the job, so don't lie.

Should I categorise my language skills?

Yes - list the languages you know in order of proficiency level, starting with the strongest on top and continuing in descending order. Follow just one language framework.

Language skills: key takeaways for your CV

  • Your language skills can be a strong asset for your application, as they showcase a variety of skills, like your dedication to attaining new knowledge or your ability to adapt.
  • Listing your language skills should be based on the job requirements and your proficiency level. If knowing a foreign language is mandatory (and you are at a more advanced level), list the language towards the top of your CV. If you have a more basic understanding, list the language within less prominent CV sections, like hobbies and interests.
  • When talking about your language skills, always ensure you’ve included the relevant framework, as listed in the job requirements. You could use your language certificate as proof of your knowledge, or, otherwise, carry out a self-assessment to determine your proficiency level.
  • Remember that recruiters want to see how you’ve applied the language in real-life situations and what you’ve achieved thanks to your skill set.
  • Never lie about your language fluency, as this could be tested during the interview or on the job.

Make your move!
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Make one that's truly you.
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Volen Vulkov
Volen Vulkov is a CV expert and the co-founder of Enhancv. He applies his deep knowledge and experience to write about a career change, development, and how to stand out in the job application process.
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