Language skills are a vital component of many successful job applications. As a job hunter who has likely put a lot of effort into crafting an outstanding resume, are you sure that you’ve given enough attention to this part?
After all, writing a resume to find a job in today’s business climate can sometimes feel like finding a needle in a haystack. Except here, the haystack is your entire life’s worth of accomplishments, with the needle being the one thing to help you stand out among the competition.
That’s why we’re here—to sharpen the needle that is your language skills and help you craft an impeccable document that will grab the attention of any recruiter. Without further ado, let’s get started!
Language skills allow individuals to use verbal and written communication with people from other countries, cultures, and backgrounds.
These abilities are becoming increasingly important in today’s interconnected business world, making them highly valuable on many candidates’ resumes.
When adding language skills to your resume, it’s generally recommended to use a popular framework and accurately describe your proficiency levels.
You can mention these abilities in your resume summary or objective, add them to your skills or education sections, or create a standalone languages section.
What Are Language Skills?
Language skills describe a person’s ability to use one or more languages to effectively communicate with others. Communication can be both verbal and written, which is why these skills include the ability to speak, listen, write, and read.
Proficiency in foreign languages includes a number of components, such as grammar, vocabulary, reading and listening comprehension, pronunciation, knowledge of different dialects, and more.
A person with a strong command of a certain language can use it to convey their thoughts clearly and concisely and understand others. Not only that, but language skills also allow people to understand different cultures and pick up on specific behavioral and conversational nuances.
In terms of job hunting, "language skills" usually refer to those languages you know on top of your native tongue. They are highly valued by employers in many industries, as they can give them a competitive edge in today’s globalized world. Now let’s find out how they can do that and what makes them important for your resume.
Why Are Language Skills Important For Your Resume?
Between 2010 and 2015, the demand for bilingual workers more than doubled. With businesses expanding and going international, that trend is projected to continue for workers at both the low and high ends of the skill spectrum.
Adding language skills to your resume shows more than just your ability to communicate. It indicates that you can understand cultural differences and effectively navigate them to drive business success. That’s becoming an essential ability in an increasingly interconnected world.
As a result, professions that deal with international clients or have a global presence heavily rely on language skills. For example, if you’re in sales, marketing, hospitality, or customer service, you should go the extra mile to highlight your proficiency in one or more foreign languages.
These abilities are also essential in professions that involve translation, interpretation, and language teaching. In these fields, being proficient in the required languages is a must.
Language skills are also good indicators of personal and professional growth potential. Candidates who can demonstrate them properly also indirectly show improved cognitive function and strong memory skills.
On a final note, proficiency in the English language is a valuable asset in any profession, which is important to keep in mind if it is not your native tongue. English is the global business language, and utilizing it to its full extent can help you collaborate with colleagues and clients from all over the world.
How to Describe Language Skills Levels on Your Resume
Language skills are hard skills, which makes them rather easy to measure and demonstrate. Unlike soft skills, which can be hard to prove and substantiate, you can describe language skill levels on your resume to make them concrete in the eyes of recruiters and hiring managers.
Describing language skill levels is important because not every job requires the same degree of competence. Certain positions might simply require conversational knowledge of a particular language, while others may require bilingual proficiency.
To make this process easier, there are various frameworks that you can use to demonstrate your knowledge of foreign languages. These are standardized and universal, which means that you can use them to effortlessly showcase your competence to recruiters and potential employers.
Language Skills Frameworks
Here are some of the most popular language proficiency frameworks:
Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). This is a popular, globally-used language proficiency framework. It offers a six-level scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2). These levels are broadly grouped into three categories, with A, B, and C categories describing basic, independent, and proficient users.
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). ACTFL is primarily used in the United States and features four levels of proficiency in foreign languages. Novice, intermediate, and advanced levels are split into low, mid, and high categories, with “superior” being the highest level.
Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR). The ILR is an unfunded federal US organization that focuses on teaching foreign languages to government employees and evaluating their knowledge. It offers six levels of proficiency that go from 0 (no proficiency) to 5 (native or bilingual proficiency).
International English Language Testing System (IELTS). IELTS is a popular test that assesses the English language proficiency of non-native speakers. It offers nine scoring levels that range from 1 (non-user) to 9 (expert user).
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Similarly to IELTS, TOEFL assesses the English proficiency of non-native speakers. It’s widely accepted by employers in the US, Canada, and other English-speaking countries. The test offers a score range of 0–30 across four different categories: reading, listening, speaking, and writing.
Additionally, many countries all over the world offer specialized frameworks to assess competence in their languages. For example, there are the Canadian Language Benchmarks (CLB), the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi Test (HSK), and others.
How to Add Language Skills to Your Resume
Optimally adding language skills to your CV or resume is a three-step process, so let’s examine it further.
#1. Select a Language Skills Framework
Before you start listing language skills on your resume, you should decide which framework to use. It goes without saying that you should use one framework throughout your resume, as including multiple will only confuse the person who’s revising it.
You can check out the job ad and look into the company to find out whether they have a preferred framework. Certain roles might require a specific level of proficiency in a particular language within a certain framework. In that case, you have your work cut out for you. Otherwise, you should pick the framework of your preference.
Alternatively, a job ad might not ask for any language in particular. If it’s an optional section but you still want to include it, you can simplify the entire section and save valuable space by omitting formal frameworks altogether and using descriptions such as:
Full professional proficiency
Professional working proficiency
Limited working proficiency
#2. Determine Your Language Skills Levels
One of the most important things to remember when adding language skills to your resume is to be honest about your knowledge. We already mentioned how these are hard skills, which means recruiters and employers can easily check your competence. The last thing you want is for them to find out you’ve been “overestimating” your proficiency.
Another detail to keep in mind is that not every employer looks for the same thing. One job ad might ask for high levels of conversational proficiency, while another might ask for writing skills.
You can infer that information if it’s not explicitly stated. For instance, if your potential job involves meetings with foreign colleagues and customers, you’ll likely need conversational proficiency. However, if you’re going to be tasked with email communication or the creation of technical documentation, you’ll likely need to be good at writing.
If you’re equally good at speaking, reading, and writing, there’s no need to emphasize one over the other. However, if you excel at one aspect that is important for the position that you’re applying for, you should consider listing each rating separately.
#3. Add Your Language Skills to the Optimal Spot
There are three places in your resume where you can include the information about your language abilities.
Right from the start, you can introduce your language skills in your resume summary or objective. Since this is usually the first section of your resume that recruiters will read, you should only do this if language skills are crucial for the job.
You should also create a separate language skills section after all the mandatory ones. In this part of your resume, you should list the languages you know using a predetermined framework, starting with the one that you’re most skilled in.
However, if language skills aren’t required for the position that you’re going for but you still want to include them, you can add them to the skills section, combined with other hard skills. You can even make them a part of the education section by putting them on a bullet list.
Resume Language Skills Examples
Now let’s put what we’ve learned into practice and see examples of how you could add language skills to your resume.
Here’s an example of a language skills section using the ACTFL framework:
ACTFL Framework Example
Russian - Superior (ACTFL)
Norwegian - Advanced High (ACTFL)
Swedish - Advanced Mid (ACTFL)
Hungarian - Intermediate High (ACTFL)
Here’s another example, this time using the CEFR framework:
CEFR Framework Example
English - C2 (CEFR)
French - B1 (CEFR)
Spanish - A2 (CEFR)
Lastly, let’s see how you can work your language proficiency into the skills section of your resume:
Language Proficiency Example
German (Full Professional Proficiency)
French (Professional Working Proficiency)
How to Determine Your Language Skills Levels
We’ve stressed the importance of being accurate and factual when talking about your language skills on a resume. That’s why it’s also important to know how to determine your proficiency levels.
Misrepresenting your competence can negatively impact your chances of getting the job. If you undervalue your abilities, you might not stand out as a competent candidate. On the other hand, if you overvalue them, you run the risk of looking like a liar.
One of the best ways to determine your level of proficiency while also obtaining highly valuable proof of your skills is to get an official language certificate. This option is often mandatory if language knowledge is vital for the role.
However, if the language is not required but can help your chances of getting the job, you can self-assess your knowledge. CEFR, for example, offers a self-assessment grid you can use to rate your reading, listening, spoken interaction and production, and writing skills. The ILR and ACTFL websites offer similar means of self-assessment, as do many other online sites.
As you can see, language skills aren’t just another feather in your cap—it’s the whole bird. Having a strong command of one or more foreign languages doesn’t just look good on paper, but it also indicates a larger and rather impressive set of additional skills and traits that employers look for in candidates.
So don’t let your resume get lost in translation—keep in mind the three-step process that will make your language skills pop and leave recruiters speechless. Demonstrating these abilities is one of the easiest ways to get ahead of the competition right off the bat. Use this knowledge wisely, and your career will take flight in no time!