How to Indicate Language Proficiency on your Resume

by Felix Tarcomnicu

Globalization is a by- product of uncertain and volatile economic times. Businesses are exploring opportunities in other regions in order to capitalize on comparative cost advantages and economies of scale. This is why outsourcing and offshoring strategies have become prevalent in the last 15 years. As offshore arrangements flourish, language proficiency becomes a more valuable skill to have on your resume.

When writing a resume, relevancy is very important. If your content is not relevant to the needs of the company, it will be disregarded. You have to write your resume with a sense of purpose; put more thought and strategy in its content. Studies show recruiters spend on 6.25 seconds reviewing a resume. Therefore, you must make every second count by indicating only relevant information.

However, when it comes to language skills, there should be no argument that it should be included in your resume. Learning a foreign language tells a recruiter you’ve invested in yourself.

Most companies will be impressed to find out that you know other languages. It does not matter if it’s Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog or Swahili. It takes time, effort and resources to learn a new language.

But before you list language as a skill in your resume, you should first determine what your level of proficiency is. The last thing you would want is to indicate “Proficient in Spanish” in your resume only for your employer to discover you are not fluent enough to carry a conversation as a customer service agent for the Hispanic market.

What Does Language Proficiency Mean?

Language proficiency is your ability to speak or perform in an acquired language. There are different levels of language proficiency. Your level will determine the value of your skill with the company.

You should first assess your level of proficiency so you can accurately present it in your resume. Here are common terms used to describe language proficiency levels:

  1. Basic – If you were taking a college course, basic knowledge would be identical to studying 101 or 102 subjects. You know simple words, phrases with very limited reading skills and cannot keep up with conversations in the language. You still second guess your choice of words and constantly refer to guidelines.
  2. Conversational – You are able to carry on a conversation in the language although not fluently. The speed by which you are able to understand sentences remains measured and there is still uncertainty in your choice of words.
  3. Proficient – The word proficient is overused in resumes. In linguistic terms, proficiency does not translate to the same meaning as fluent. To state you are proficient means you are comfortable with the use of the language in spoken and written form but not at the same level as a native speaker.
  4. Fluent – Assessing your skill level as fluent means your use of the language is fluid not halting. You can read, write, converse and speak the language in the same manner as a native speaker.

Of course, “Native Speaker” means this is your primary language; your mother tongue that has been taught since birth and honed through various educational institutions.

If you want a more precise assessment of your language proficiency level you can refer to the guidelines and definitions established by the American Council for the Teaching of Foreign Languages or the US Department of State.

Once you’ve assessed your language proficiency, how should you indicate this on your resume?

The first thing you should find out is how important is having language skills in the job position? If it ranks high among the priorities for candidates, you should dedicate a specific section in your resume entitled, “Languages”. Companies that regularly transact business with multinational entities will surely put languages near the top of their list of qualifications.

However, if the language requirement is more of a “plus”, you should simply include it as a bullet point in the Skills section in your resume. The Skills section should remain behind Work Experience and Educational attainment in its location.

In order to support your contention for language proficiency, indicate in your resume if you took additional seminars, classes and forms of instruction. You can state this in the Skills section and attach a copy of the certificate or diploma as evidence.

The standard rule in writing skills and experiences is to validate your claims with facts, figures and other forms of measurable evidence. The same rule applies to languages. Otherwise, what you indicate will only be regarded as nothing more than a blanket statement.

It is not enough to merely state “Speaks Japanese”. You should compose your statement in a way that makes the recruiter see how the skill will benefit the company. Therefore, you should relate it to actual experiences at work.

For example:

As a word of caution, do not overstate your language proficiency level. The real test will be during the interview. The recruiter may hire a native speaker to assess your proficiency level as it corresponds with the needs of the company. Among the tests may be:

When evaluating your level of proficiency at a language, you should be comfortable with the assessment without overselling your abilities.

Most companies that require language skills prefer to hire native speakers. However they can be quite expensive. A candidate who studied a foreign language as an additional skill can be a more viable alternative if the level of proficiency is near or at the level of a native speaker.

The ability to speak different foreign languages will always be considered a strong point regardless of the specific needs of the job position. It becomes more important in this day and age of globalization as linguistic skill provides the company an integral component for business flexibility.

You should include it in your resume because it will propel you ahead of others who do not have language proficiency as a competence.

About the writer

Felix Tarcomnicu is the founder of ResumeOK, a site that helps job seekers write better resumes and easily pass job interviews. You can follow more of his posts on Twitter.


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