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Listing Your Language Skills On Your CV

In today’s international environment, language skills are an asset. Speaking a foreign language or two can give you an edge over other similarly qualified candidates, even if you don’t need language skills to perform the job. The reason is that businesses are always looking to expand their customer base and one of the fastest ways to do so, is to employ staff who can speak other languages.

Foreign language skills are becoming the most sought-after skills by employers. Being able to speak another language demonstrates much more than communication skills. They also demonstrate that:

  • You can understand and get along with other cultures
  • You’re able to adapt to new situations
  • You’re able to take on new challenges (learning a new language is no mean feat!)
  • You’re open to new ideas

The list goes on. As multilingualism brings with it a whole host of benefits, more and more employers are turning to the international job market to find the right candidate. Therefore, mentioning your language skills in your CV can help you compete with international candidates who will very likely speak more than one foreign language, e.g. English and their native language.

What’s the right way to list language skills on your CV? Is it enough to mention that you can speak conversational French or intermediate Spanish? Read on for some tips.

International standards for language proficiency

One of the main ways to indicate your language skills is by using the (Common European Framework of Reference) which is a guideline to help language learners in Europe to assess their language levels.

Letters are used to categorise language levels into three broad divisions and six levels to describe the learner’s ability in reading, writing, speaking and listening:

  • A – Basic user

A1 – Breakthrough or beginner

A2 – Waystage or elementary

  • B – Independent user

B1 – Threshold or intermediate

B2 – Vantage or upper intermediate

  • C – Proficient user

C1 – Effective operational efficiency

C2 – Mastery or proficiency

Breaking down your skills this way will help employers to understand whether you are able to use your language skills in a professional environment.

This international standard can be used when writing a CV in English or when applying to an international company, for example:

Languages

English C1

Spanish B1

French A2

Include proof for your level of proficiency

As with any skill, it’s a good idea to include evidence for your level of proficiency. For example, if you indicated that your level in German is C1, you could back this up by mentioning how you worked with German clients on projects. Here are other examples that demonstrate your reading, writing, listening or speaking abilities:

  • Bilingual parents
  • Time spent working or studying abroad
  • Jobs interacting with foreign customers
  • Working in a foreign company
  • Translating and interpreting projects
  • School immersion programmes
  • Language tandems or exchanges

Use a CV builder

A professional CV builder such as Jobseeker.com can help you to present your language skills in a way that’s understandable to employers.

On Jobseeker.com, we use the following levels:

  • Native (you’ve spoken the language from a very young age or were brought up bilingual)
  • Fluent (you can converse with native speakers in all kinds of situations with very little difficulty)
  • Good (you’re able to express yourself clearly and with few grammatical mistakes, although you may sometimes struggle to find the right word)
  • Reasonable (you’re able to use the language conversationally, but may struggle in work contexts)

Don’t know how to rate your language skills?

It’s not always easy to assess your language abilities. Perhaps, you can have a conversation with your flatmate in German, but you struggle to write e-mails in the language or you can chat with your colleagues in French, but find it difficult to converse with customers on the phone.

In any case, the best way to find out is to take a language test. While there are hundreds of language tests available online, it’s a good idea to choose an officially recognised or authorised provider. On Wikipedia, you can find accredited language providers per language.

Where to include your language skills on your CV?

You could add your language skills to a general ‘Skills’ section or include them in a new section entitled ‘Languages’.

If your language skills are essential for the job and you are proficient enough to use them in a professional environment, it’s worth mentioning this in your personal statement or profile at the top of your CV, so that it’s one of the first things recruiters will read, e.g.

I’m a German-speaking project manager with 2 years of experience working with German clients at a software company.

What about language courses?

As a general rule, it’s best to mention any courses you’ve taken in a separate ‘Courses’ section of your CV. This goes after the ‘Education’ section.

However, if you have taken language courses in work time, you may want to place them in the ‘Work Experience’ section, so that employers can see that these courses are tied directly to work, especially if you’ve taken a course such as ‘Business Spanish’ or ‘Spanish in the Workplace’.

Be honest about your language skills

If you do put your languages on your cv, it is important that you are honest about your language skills and your level of proficiency.

A lot of candidates tend to overestimate their language levels and end up struggling when it comes to interviewing in a foreign language.

However, as recruiters and employers can easily test your language skills by setting a test or asking you some questions in the foreign language, you’ll only be doing yourself a disservice if you exaggerate your language skills.

If you don’t speak a language fluently or well enough for professional purposes and you’re found out, employers will wonder what else you may have lied about in your CV.

Even if you do manage to convince employers that your language skills are up to scratch, once you’re hired, you’ll almost certainly be caught out if speaking a foreign language is a requirement of the job.

Honesty is really the best policy here – if your language skills are weak, indicate as much on your CV or better still, leave them off and focus on your strengths.

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