In today’s global business environment, language skills can be an important asset for virtually any industry. This guide will help you determine when and how to list your language skills on your resume, including notable dos and don’ts.
When you should include language skills on your resume
It’s not always obvious when you should include your language skills, so let’s take a moment to break it down to instances that are definite contenders. Whether or not you should include language skills on your resume is dependent on the specific job you apply to.
If the job requires fluency in a second language
Your first clue will be the job listing itself. If it mentions requiring fluency in another language (such as French, Chinese, or Spanish), then you should absolutely list your capacity for the language somewhere on your resume.
If you're applying to multi-national companies, and you're expected to travel
If the business or corporation that you’re applying to is multinational - meaning they have business operations in more than one country - then you may wish to include your language proficiency.
The first factor to consider is whether the company operates in a country that speaks the language you are fluent in. As an example, if you speak or read Japanese and the company has a headquarters in Japan, then you should include your proficiency in it on your resume. If the company is not involved in a country that primarily speaks the language you’re considering listing, leave it off.
If the role involves international communication
The second factor is the position you’re applying for. If you are applying to do onshore maintenance, for example, then language proficiency is less important than if you’re applying to join the marketing team.
Lastly, if the company you’re applying to does significant business in a region with a high concentration of foreign language speakers (such as Quebec, Southern California, or urban melting pots such as New York City), you can include your language proficiency if it is relevant to that area.
Including language on your resume is optional
A general rule to keep in mind is that listing language proficiencies is completely optional. If including your language skills isn’t likely to increase the likelihood of being hired, it’s best to leave them off.
Don't include languages you aren't comfortable with using in a business setting
If you don’t speak the language comfortably in a business setting, then you should leave it off. As an example, you may speak casual German due to attending Oktoberfest a number of times, but being limited to knowing how to order sausage and beer won’t help you when it comes to explaining sales figures to a German client.
Once you’ve determined whether or not to include your language skills, you’ll need to decide how to list them on your resume. Read on for some ideas.
How to list language skills on your resume
There are a few primary ways to list your language skills.
Including language in a dedicated skills section
One of the easiest and most standout methods is to include the language in a skills bank with your other hard skills, as shown below.
If the job listing includes proficiency in the language as a requirement, then putting the language(s) at the top of your skills bank is a solid way to show your qualification.
Include languages in an 'Additional' section
Alternatively, if knowing the language isn’t required for the job, you can list it in an “Additional” section along with secondary skills.
Include languages under study abroad or education experience
Lastly, if you’ve studied abroad, you can opt to include your language proficiency in your “Education” section (as well as listing it in your primary skills or additional skills as you see fit). This can be done simply by noting where you’ve studied and the length of your time there.
Now that we’ve covered places to list your language skills, let’s discuss when you should include your proficiency levels.
Proficiency levels and when to include them on your resume
Include proficiency levels on your resume if you aren't fluent
If you do not specify what your proficiency level is when you list a language, the hiring manager will assume that you are fluent in it. If this is not the case, include your level of proficiency with each language you’re listing.
If your understanding of the language is “Basic” only, you may wish to consider leaving the skill off entirely unless it is a specific requirement for the job, you’ve attained a rudimentary knowledge of it, and you are actively learning the language.
When to include 'Intermediate' proficiency level
Those who are in the process of learning the language but can also speak it reasonably well (such as by following a slow-moving conversation) are considered “Intermediate”. However, if your comfort level with the language does not pertain to a business environment (including sales jargon and techniques, for example), you may wish to leave it off.
When to include 'Conversational' proficiency level
At the “Conversational” level, you should be able to comfortably follow a conversation at a normal speaking pace. You may still need to look up some terms but will have a clear idea of what’s being said for the most part. If this describes your skill level, you should include it on your resume if it is relevant to the job.
When to include 'Fluent' proficiency level
Those who are “Fluent” can comfortably speak, read, and write with the language at any level, along with understanding colloquialisms and industry-specific jargon. Fluency means you are capable of translating from one language to the next.
When to include 'Native' proficiency level
The final category of proficiency is “Native”, which means you’ve used the language from birth. In multilingual households, this can include multiple languages.
How to list proficiency levels on a resume
No matter what level of proficiency you have, you should list it simply in text format as shown below.
Or in text format, here it is:
- Languages: Spanish (native), Chinese (intermediate)
What to avoid when listing language skills
In general, you don't have to list your English proficiency on your resume if you're applying to jobs in the US or English-speaking countries where it's the norm. Being fluent in English is generally implied by your application and including it could be a minor red flag for some recruiters.
Don’t inflate your proficiency level on your resume
Along the same lines, don’t inflate your proficiency level. For one thing, you can easily be caught if the hiring manager is themselves fluent in the language and you are attempting to claim that you are. Additionally, keep in mind that it takes time and considerable effort to learn a language for most people, so you shouldn’t expect that you can become fluent rapidly if you are required to.
Avoid using fancy graphics
It was noted earlier, but list your proficiency in text format rather than choosing to include a graphic. Graphics like the one below are unnecessary in that they don’t add to the understanding of the recruiter, and they take up valuable resume space. Plus, they aren't readable by an Applicant Tracking System.
In general, don’t submit your resume without proofreading it or running it through a spell checker and grammar checker to ensure you haven’t made any linguistic errors. If you want to do so while getting some pointers on the overall impact of your resume, you can use our free-to-try AI-powered tool, Score My Resume.