Your proficiency in multiple languages could give you the edge you need in your job search efforts, so it is important to know the right way to include them in your resume.
As globalization has increased in recent decades, language skills have become an important asset for job seekers in many industries. And since many employers actively look for candidates who are multilingual, knowing how to list language skills on a resume is more important than ever before.
In this post, we will explain when you should include language skills on a resume, provide guidance to properly describe your level of proficiency in a given language, and show you how to list these skills the right way.
Should you always include your language skills on a resume?
While some would argue that the decision to include language skills on a resume depends on the nature of the job you are seeking, many resume experts agree that real language proficiencies are always relevant. So, as a rule, you should always add them to your resume. The only real question is how much prominence you should give to those skills. Consider these factors when determining the amount of resume space that you want to devote to any given language skill:
Is language skill a job requirement? If so, then you will want to highlight it in a separate section, describing your level of proficiency and experience using it. If not, then you can probably just add it to your other skills within your skill section.
Are you really proficient in the language? Remember, true proficiency includes being able to speak, read, and write the language. If you only have a passing familiarity with a foreign language, you should think about just how useful it will really be in your chosen job.
Research the company to get an idea of its exposure to foreign customers and business partners. If the firm's business activities might include dealing with people who speak your second language, your knowledge of that language could help set you apart from your competition.
How should you describe your level of language proficiency?
As you learn how to list language skills on your resume, one of the most important things you need to understand is the proper way to describe your level of proficiency in that tongue. There are several different proficiency level standards in use today, but the one used by LinkedIn may be the simplest to understand. It also just happens to be based on the U.S. Foreign Service Institute's Interagency Language Round-table scale (ILR), so it has broad application around the world. Its levels include, from highest to lowest proficiency:
A person with this level of proficiency typically speaks the language as a second native language or has many years of regular usage of the tongue and is 100% fluent and accent-free.
Full professional proficiency
If your knowledge of the language enables you to easily converse in the language with only relatively minor missteps and a little bit of an accent, you can claim this level of proficiency.
Professional working proficiency
While not quite as proficient as the full professional level, this level of comfort with the language can still enable you to be a valuable part of conversations with foreign clients and coworkers.
Limited working proficiency
This level of language proficiency can be claimed by anyone who is able to conduct limited conversations in the language but who requires some assistance to navigate more complex interactions.
This is the lowest level of actual proficiency and typically indicates the ability to speak and understand simple sentences. Basically, it is beginner-level knowledge.
If you only know a few words of a language, you have no proficiency. You also should avoid mentioning the language on your resume.
As you consider which category your proficiency aligns with, remember to be honest with yourself. You should strive to be as accurate as possible in your level selection, since hiring managers and companies are likely to quickly discover the truth if you exaggerate too much. At the same time, make sure that you are not underestimating your skills either, especially if you are simply concerned that your language proficiency has declined from lack of use. In most instances, a language skill can be easily restored once you begin to use it again.
PRO-TIP: Use the proficiency scale
You should try to restrain your descriptions of language proficiency to those terms used in the ILR proficiency scale. Resist the temptation to use less quantifiable terms like “proficient” or “familiar with” since they are subjective in nature and may leave the hiring manager wondering exactly how well you actually know the language. If a company cannot determine your proficiency from your resume, they will most likely focus their attention on other candidates who more accurately describe their language expertise.
Where should you include your language proficiencies on a resume?
The next question is “Where on your resume should I list those language skills?”. As it turns out, there are several places where you can choose to list those language skills, including the education or skills section, or in its own section. The choice will depend on how important the skill is for the job you are seeking, and the number of languages that you know.
Skills section: if it's an additional skill
In cases where the job makes no mention of the need for language proficiency, you may want to simply include that skill within your skills section. That way, the employer will be made aware of your level of fluency in a second (or third) language, but you won't waste valuable space on your resume that can be devoted to more relevant abilities and experiences.
Language Skills section: if the job requires that language
On the other hand if the job requires you to be able to communicate in that language, you should consider highlighting it in its own “Language Skills” section. A brief language skills section can help to ensure that your proficiency gets noticed. Simply place that section after your other core resume sections, including information about the level of your proficiency. If you studied the language in school, include that study in your education section.
Resume Summary: if you have extensive experience using the language
Finally, you may also want to include mention of your proficiency in your resume summary when the language is a job requirement. If so, then you can also include a brief mention of any extensive experience you have had using the language in a professional setting, or if you lived in that part of the world for any length of time. For example,
Bilingual marketing executive with 10 years of experience working in the Costa Rica field office.
How to list language skills on your resume
The final step in learning how to list language skills on your resume is to figure out the format needed for those listings. As noted earlier, a non-relevant language skill can just be added as another bullet point in your skills section. But for essential job-related language skills, you will want to know how to list language skills on your resume in a way that highlights their importance.
How to list language skills in a language skills section
Obviously, the easiest way to do that is to create a Language Skills section.While some may argue that a separate section is only needed if you know multiple foreign languages, we suggest using one even if you only have one proficiency other than your native tongue. That separate section will enable you to include the language, level of proficiency, and some detail about your experience using the language.
English - Native (ILR Level 5)
Spanish – Bilingual (ILR Level 5) – 10 years continuous usage in Costa Rica field office
Mandarin Chinese – Professional working proficiency (ILR Level 3) – Two years usage in Beijing office
The above example provides the reader with necessary details about your language proficiencies, while also briefly describing your real-world experience with those languages. That can be a quick and simple way to convey that experience to an employer without taking up too much space in your resume. Note, though, that you should only list your proficiency in English if you are applying for a role with a company outside of the U.S. As a rule, most hiring managers will assume that you are proficient in English if that's the language used for your resume!
You may have also noticed that each listing includes a reference to the Interagency Language Round-table scale (ILR) and the proficiency ranking. Including that information in your resume can be a great way to demonstrate your understanding of language proficiency and helps the reader to know which scale you are referring to as you describe your expertise.
How to list language skills in your education section
If you studied overseas and developed a language skill at a university in another country, you should include that information in your education section. Be sure to include details about the university, its location, how long you studied there, and what you achieved. For example
Name of University, City and country, Dates of study
Name of Degree and your Major
- Completed [duration] year(s) of study, including study of [language]
When and how to list language skills in your experience section
If you have worked in a job where you utilized your language skills on a regular basis, you may also want to highlight that fact within your work experience section. While this should be obvious if any of your jobs were overseas, it may also be useful if your work has included roles where you regularly interacted with foreign language speakers. For example, that work experience listing might look like this:
Global Company Name
Your Job Title
Start Date to End Date
Led a 10-person team responsible for onboarding new customers in the Chinese market, boosting contract success rate by 15%, and expediting onboarding process times by 20%.
Oversaw activity on the company's Chinese outreach social media accounts, increasing customer interactions by 25%.
Developed multiple new product and service strategies in Mandarin that were used during new partnership launches between [date] and [date]
In a world that seems to be getting smaller and more interconnected every day, the ability to speak, write, and understand different languages can make you a valuable commodity for many companies. As a result, you should never be afraid to leverage that proficiency in a resume to ensure that your language skills are on prominent display. With this guide, you can learn how to list language skills on a resume in a way that ensures hiring managers instantly recognize your potential value for their company.
Not sure how to proceed with your resume or still struggling to figure out how to list language skills on your resume? Get a free resume review from our experts at TopResume today and learn how our professional resume writers can help you create the compelling resume you need to secure interviews and land a great job!