How to Write Your Résumé's Languages Section

Discover how to neatly list all your spoken languages on your résumé.

Concept of speaking foreign languages for résumé

In an increasingly globalised marketplace, the ability to speak another language is becoming a key skill for employers. Yet many bilingual jobseekers either underestimate the value of their second (or third) tongue or are unsure of how to effectively ‘sell’” it.

Luckily, we’re here to help.

Knowing how to write your résumé’s languages section might sound relatively simple, but it can make or break your entire application – therefore, it’s imperative that you get it right…

Why Do I Need to Include Languages?

It’s important to make potential employers aware of your linguistic proficiency for several reasons, chief of which is the practicality of being able to communicate with clients, stakeholders and partners overseas. But being multilingual also demonstrates other sought-after traits, even if they may be a little less celebrated.

For instance, speaking a foreign language suggests that you possess a significant degree of cultural awareness, which is something that appeals to many international companies. Smaller organisations, meanwhile, will see your language skills as a valuable asset, affording them the opportunity to expand their reach and possibly do business overseas. In fact, a 2017 report by the British Chamber of Commerce found that 62% of companies put their hesitancy to export goods down to simple language barriers – barriers that you could help to overcome.

Therefore, recording your language skills on your CV (or résumé) is vital. It can give you a competitive edge over other applicants and demonstrate to potential employers that you can bring plenty to the table that they may not have otherwise considered.

Where Should I List My Languages?

Having the ability to speak another language is classed as a skill, so it would make sense to locate it in your skills section. If you speak several tongues, though, then it might be a good idea to highlight this and have a separate, independent résumé section labelled ‘Languages’.

How Should I List Them?

There’s a multitude of ways to convey your linguistic capabilities, depending on your levels of fluency and whether or not they have been formally assessed. We’ve outlined these below.

1. Use a Guide

If there is no real tangible requirement to be multilingual but you still want to show off that you speak French and Spanish, for instance, then it’s a good idea to give a general overview of your abilities. There is no set formal way of measuring how fluent you are, but you could break it down into beginner, intermediate or advanced level. Alternatively, you could follow LinkedIn’s fluency scale, which consists of:

  • Elementary proficiency
  • Limited working proficiency
  • Professional proficiency
  • Professional working proficiency
  • Native or bilingual proficiency

2. Use a Visual Guide

If your résumé is following a more creative theme, you might choose to display your proficiency levels in a manner more befitting the overall style. This might mean using graphics, which are actually a highly effective way of conveying information, as well as being arguably more interesting to read.

Infographic résumé languages section exampleSehyr Ahmad / Behance

The cutting from the résumé above (devised by graphic designer Sehyr Ahmed) is a good example of how to get your point across clearly while still employing a touch of creative flair.

3. Provide Your Certification

Many employers will want inconclusive proof of your language abilities. Often, this takes the form of providing standardised exam grades, awarded by an internationally recognised body. Generally, the most prominent are:

  • Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR): Used primarily in Europe, the CEFR designates six levels of proficiency (A1 to C2) that represent the student’s progression from total beginner to expert. All recognised European languages are subject to this standardisation.
  • American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL): The ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines are – as the name suggests – used in the US to denote fluency levels. There are five guidelines from novice to distinguished, with each stage (except superior and distinguished) split further into low, mid and high-level proficiencies.

4. Evaluate Yourself

If you’re unsure of what level you’re at and you haven’t sat any exams, then it’s possible to undertake a self-assessment (either online or at an exam centre, depending on your language). The following bodies provide credible evaluations:

  • Pearson Versant Test: Currently offering assessments of English, Arabic, Dutch, French and Spanish, Versant’s range of tests are viewed favourably by leading corporations, government agencies and academic institutions. Fees vary by language, but at the time of writing, the English-speaking exam costs just $40 (£30) to sit.
  • The European Languages Certificate (TELC) Test: With a scoring system that is aligned with the CEFR, the TELC language assessment is divided between writing and speaking and is an internationally recognised proficiency indicator of some of the most desirable languages in the world. It is currently available for English, German, Turkish, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Polish and Arabic.
  • EF Standard English Test (EFSET): Available only for the assessment of the English language, and also utilising a scoring system that is aligned with the CEFR, EF claims that their test has been taken by over 30 million people since its launch in 2014.

5. Use Context

If you’ve never formally studied a language but have some significant knowledge of it, then you can provide context to support your claim. For example, if you worked in Switzerland for a year on secondment, you’re probably unlikely to be fluent, but you may be comfortable conducting business-specific conversations in German or French.

When Should I Not Include Languages?

Generally speaking, you shouldn’t really include languages if your knowledge of them is at an elementary or beginner’s stage. This is especially true in the online era; just because you’ve got eight lingots in your DuoLingo Russian course, it doesn’t mean that you’d make an ideal liaison for the Moscow office. Flooding your résumé with languages that you only know a few sentences of totally undermines your credibility and should be avoided.

It’s also not a good idea to include a language if you haven’t used it in a long time. As a guide, if you don’t feel as though you could hold an extended conversation in that language during an interview, then don’t include it. Alternatively, take a few refresher lessons first in order to bring yourself back up to speed.

Can I Bend the Truth a Little?

There’s nothing to say that you can’t – lying on your résumé is a personal choice, after all. However, there’s a big difference between getting a D in GCSE Italian and then claiming to be an intermediate speaker 10 years down the line. If you get caught out, you will only have yourself to blame for the consequences – and with companies regularly assessing the claims that candidates make on résumés, the possibility of that happening is strong. Stick to the truth and avoid making a fool out of yourself.

As you can see, knowing how to correctly market your language abilities not only gives you an edge over other candidates, but it can also save you some potential embarrassment, too. Remember: organisations value multilingual employees highly, so don’t be hesitant to emphasise the potential benefits your language skills can bring.

Conversely, don’t market yourself as an all-singing, all-dancing polyglot because you can order a steak in Spanish; keep things honest and keep things clear, and let your well-written résumé speak for itself.

How many languages do you have on your résumé? Let us know in the comments below…