As more and more companies enter the global marketplace, they are now in search of candidates who have language proficiency levels.
So now more than ever, the language skills level is a piece of valuable information to have on your resume and one that will likely give you an edge over most of your competition.
That’s why we asked experts to provide their insights on how to include language skills on your resume.
Product Owner & Co-Founder, cvonline.me
Language skills are technically soft skills, and soft skills shouldn’t be listed in a separate section on your resume. Such interpersonal or communication-related abilities should be included within your Work Experience descriptions and your Executive Summary.
However, language skills are the exception to this rule.
Job hunters should always list their language skills in a section of their own or within their ‘hard skills’ section
Language skills, as well as any other technical skills listed within your resume, should include the level of mastery. The goal here is to give the recruiters an accurate idea of the candidate’s level of proficiency in a given language.
Therefore, it is recommended to avoid general words such as “basic” or “advanced,” and instead use common frameworks that are less subject to interpretation. We always recommend our users to utilize the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or the Linkedin language proficiency scale, as it is also a well-known system and has become a standard to quickly identifying language competency.
The Linkedin scale is the following:
- Native or bilingual proficiency
- Full professional proficiency
- Professional working proficiency
- Limited working proficiency
- Elementary proficiency
As a general rule, avoid listing language courses in this section. Your current level of proficiency is of the utmost relevance, not how many courses you have taken. These can instead be included under a “Courses” or an “Additional Training” section.
If you speak more than one language, you should always include it on your resume. As the world becomes more global, cross-cultural skills such as speaking a different language become extremely desirable. When hiring a new employee, we always prioritize people who speak more than one language.
Place your language proficiency under the skill section of your resume
It is also important to include the relative level of proficiency as well. Simply listing the language you speak does not provide enough contextual information to potential employers. The best resumes include the language the applicant speaks as well as the relative level at which the applicants speaks, reads, and writes.
The levels include:
- Native (if you grew up speaking the language)
- Conversational (you can have a conversation with a person in the language with minor grammatical or pronunciation mistakes)
If your skills are elementary and cannot be used in any effective way, it is not recommended to include a language on your resume.
In addition to adding a language to the skill section of your resume, you can also include it throughout your resume. If you held a position in which you spoke two languages, translated, etc. you should include those tasks under the work experience section of your resume.
Not only does it highlight your ability to speak more than one language, but it also showcases your ability to utilize your skills in a business setting and further the company’s goals.
Matthew Warzel, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer | Certified Internet Recruiter | President, MJW Careers, LLC
Include it at the end of the introductory paragraph or summary
I think it needs to be mentioned quickly and without sacrifice to space. You do not need an entire section devoted to these proficiencies. I always include it at the end of the introductory paragraph or summary as we call it in the resume world.
It’s important to consider adding your skills of language onto the document for numerous reasons including:
- Demonstrating your multicultural communication and adaptive or quick learning skills
- Utilizing additional keywords that recruiters may use as a search term during their “buzzword” searches, or
- Maybe the hiring manager is from a country of origin that utilizes a language you know as their native language (now you’ve struck a chord and can possibly elaborate more on it during the interview)
Bottom-line, add it onto the resume somewhere. I also have seen it listed at the bottom under skills or education, which is fine, so long as the intended reader doesn’t miss it.
Dr. Heather Rothbauer-Wanish
Certified Professional Resume Writer | Owner, Feather Communications
Place it in the career summary
If being bilingual or knowing multiple languages is a key component of the job description, it’s important to address that skill at the beginning of the resume.
Instead of burying it with technical skills or ‘other’ skills at the bottom of the document, place it in the career summary. When I have written client resumes in the past, I’ll put it at the end of the career summary—identifying the language skill-set exactly as it is listed in the job posting—and then bold the information to make it stand-out.
In addition, if you have specific examples of how you have used your bilingual skills in past positions, be sure to mention those in your achievements associated with that job. It’s one thing to say you have language skills, but showing how you have used that in the past is another way to align with the future job opportunity.
It must be stated in a separate section named as language skills
Listing language skills on a resume is an optional act, you can use or leave it, and you’ve to choose the best for your situation. If you know just one language, i.e., your native language, it should not be mentioned in a different section and must be listed in your personal details.
When applying for a position that requires in-depth knowledge about a specific language (like a translator or a lingual expert), you may not only indicate your language skills in the skills section. But also focus on it throughout the resume like the experience portion.
The command over more than one language is always a plus point for career and must be stated in a separate section named as language skills. In this section, you don’t only need to mention the known languages but also indicate your proficiency.
Language proficiency has four levels, such as basic, competent, fluent, and indigenous or mother Tongue. The level of expertise in a particular language should be enlisted as basic, intermediate, and advanced. You can also rate your language fluency by giving it points out of five.
Beware that you can make any claim you want about language skills, but be ready to prove you can do what you claim. Because at the time of the interview, you can face any question about the mentioned details in your resume.
VP of Business Development, Messina Staffing Group
Mention it in some of your job descriptions
If you speak two languages, you’re a valuable asset to any company. Everyone from retail stores to medical practices is looking for bilingual employees. But you have to make sure to highlight these skills in your resume if you want them to help you land a job.
Skills are usually listed at the bottom of your resume, but I wouldn’t wait until that part to mention that you speak multiple languages. Instead, I’d mention it in some of your job descriptions.
If you worked as an EMT, you’d write a few bullet lines about what your job entailed. On one of those lines, you should mention that you communicated with patients in English as well as Spanish or whichever languages you speak. If possible, mention it at least a few times before you get to the skills section.
Think of ways to incorporate it into your cover letter. The whole purpose of a cover letter is to discuss why you’d be a valuable asset to their company, so it won’t be out of place.
Founder, Director and Chief Executive, Net Lawman
I believe it is important for individuals to understand that in any role that deals with customers, which as it happens is ANY role imaginable (as we all provide a service or a product to others which is the nature of business), then having a second or third language is a benefit.
For a company to be able to express the ability to speak to others in other languages is a huge bonus and something that can be overlooked.
Suggesting that you have these capabilities ensures that your skills are fully utilized and that not only may you be considered above others, but you can enrich the role that you are looking for by being able to move throughout the office or space as needed for these skills.
Resumes should be short and sharp. I suggest, if you have another language under your belt, you outline this clearly under a heading ‘languages,’ then to explain your proficiency.
If you feel it is fitting, you can explain in a short paragraph ‘about you’ how you came to learn these languages. Whether it was through travel or how you were raised.
Sara Jane McDonald
Director of Talent Acquisition, North America, Lionbridge
The best way to showcase language skills on your resume depends on the job. When you look at the advertisement, is language listed as a required skill? The talents you share first and foremost should be those that best articulate the skills you have that make you a good fit for that role.
A resume shouldn’t be just a list of places that you worked and titles that you’ve had; it should also be a reflection of your competencies and abilities.
It’s important that your skillsets and experience are clearly incorporated into your resume so that recruiters are able to see that you have the background that they need. When a position specifically calls for language talents, make sure those skills are more readily marked.
Remember also that there are levels of language knowledge.
Taking a year of Italian in high school, for example, is very different from growing up speaking it in the home. If you’re fluent and applying to a role that requires fluency, your resume should showcase this. You could note this on your resume in the skills section as “fluent in Italian” or “Native Italian speaker.”
You could also add skillset-specific language in your resume objective that’s tailored to the job — for example, “To utilize my ability as a fluent Italian speaker in a way that increases company sales” for an international account position. It’s also a good idea to add relevant competencies to your LinkedIn profile or any other online resumes since recruiters will search for relevant profiles.
For any job, ask yourself, “Am I demonstrating the best picture of my capabilities and work history?”
Brett Murphy Hunt, M.A.
When claiming to possess language skills, it is most important to represent your level of proficiency. Too often, individuals claim to “speak Spanish,” when they really mean that they took Spanish I in high school seven years ago.
Instead, it is best to indicate just how fluent you are. For example, you might say, “English: native speaker, Korean: can read with a dictionary, Italian: basic conversational abilities.” In this way, a potential employer is clear on what language skills you can use in practicality.
CEO & Chief Investigator, North American Investigations
Tips for including languages on a resume:
- Select a format that highlights your language skills
- If you speak multiple languages, include a section dedicated to them
- Specify your proficiency in addition to noting if you can also read and write in other languages
Don’t mention your language skills in multiple sections of your resume. Your space is limited, so you don’t want to spend any of it repeating yourself even in regard to a valued ability.
Hiring an employee with the ability to speak a second or third language is a boon for any company. Having someone that can switch to a client’s native language can solve problems, not to mention it shows good communication skills.
What we like to see is the information presented in a clear way, and in a way that doesn’t assume we can also speak those languages. I’ve seen some in the past that decided to showcase their language skills by using them to describe, well, I don’t know, which is the point.
Use a recognizable standard of competence, be clear (in English) about what languages you are proficient in, and mention any accredited institutes that featured in acquiring this language. If you learned from a family member, that’s good enough as an accredited source.
Marketing Director, Crash.co
Whatever the job you’re going after, prove your ability to do the job in that language by writing parts of your resume in that language.
Par exemple, je suis bilingue en français, donc j’écris cette phrase en français pour le prouver.
(For example, I’m bilingual in French, so I write this phrase in French to prove it.)
Is there any doubt that I’m not bilingual now? Maybe if you’re really cynical.
If you really want to prove your language skills, the best way to show them is to create a video pitch for the job. Platforms like Loom and Crash let you send a quick video of yourself to the decision makers — just make a pitch, and copy & paste the link into the cover letter / personal website section of the job application.
Social Media Director at TeacherOn
As we know, a resume is our first interaction with our potential employers, so we need to ensure that we mention all the skills that might interest them.
However, it is equally important to write only the relevant skills at the right place in the resume, because the recruiter doesn’t have all the time to read your resume. There should be no argument that mentioning language skills on your resume makes it more competitive, especially if that is the demand of the role.
You should mention your foreign language proficiency in your resume, if:
- The job description demands this requirement explicitly.
- It is relevant to the job you are applying to, e.g., customer service job, direct assistance job, job abroad, jobs that require public dealing.
- Your day to day job activities require your knowledge of foreign languages.
Do not include your language skills if they are not required or have no relevance in your job. Also, do not include them if you are not proficient in that language, because the worst thing that you can do is to lie on your resume.
Where should you include your language skills:
- Mention your language proficiency at the top of the resume beneath summary, if it is the requirement of the job you are applying for.
- If it can be a plus point to add it, add it in the middle of your resume after the education and experience section.
- If it is of no relevance to your job, try not to mention it or mention it in the education or experience section.
How should you mention your proficiency in the language:
To indicate your language skills, you need to know your language proficiency first. There are some exams which give you result-cards or certification for your level of language proficiency. You can use those results to mention your command over the language.
However, you should not refer to knowing a language if your ability is below the intermediate level. Below mentioned are the descriptions of levels from intermediate to native proficiency, which you can use in your resume.
- The intermediate level is the level where you can speak and write the language, but with a little difficulty.
- The proficient level is the level when you can speak and write most of the language without any difficulty. However, you are not fluent.
- The fluent or native level is when you can speak, read, and write without any hesitation. You have full command over the language, and you are honed in it.
You can provide evidence of your language proficiency if it is the requirement of your job role. Provide the reference of your certificates or exam grades in the ‘Awards and Certificates’ section.