How To Feature Your Language Skills on a Resume

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated November 24, 2022

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

As businesses develop, they engage with more diverse customers and clients. There is always a demand for employees who speak multiple languages, regardless of their role or industry. Understanding how to demonstrate your language skills on a resume can increase your chances of success in roles where multiple languages are an advantage or requirement. In this article, we explore what language skills are, explain how to highlight them on your resume, and provide examples you can follow when featuring your own.

What are language skills?

Language skills refer to additional languages you can communicate in apart from the one you used to write your resume. Employers assume that by writing a resume in a particular language, you are proficient in it. Your language skills are any additional languages in which you have a practical ability. While there are proficiency levels for beginners, employers only consider proficiency levels suitable for workplace communication.

How to highlight language skills on a resume

If you know multiple languages, you can include this on your resume to impress prospective employers. Speaking and understanding multiple languages fluently is a crucial skill for some professions, especially those in government or international business. Expressing which languages you speak can aid your application, even in roles where multilingualism isn't a requirement. Follow these steps to demonstrate your language skills on a resume:

1. Select a language rating system

The language rating system you use determines how you include your language skills on your resume. For many jobs, simply listing the language and specifying one of the basic proficiency levels is sufficient. However, larger corporations or organizations that deal with multiple foreign clients might require you to use a more professional rating system. You can determine if your potential employer uses a specific language rating system by going through their job description. You can also speak to past or current employees or observe how they included their language skills on professional platforms. Some language rating systems include:

Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR)

This rating system judges language proficiency levels on a scale of 0-5 and is common in both Canada and the United States. The range includes six main proficiency stages, with some levels in-between, to allow for more accuracy in appraising language skills. The in-between levels have a plus (+) sign in front of them to signify that the individual is ahead of one stage, but not yet at the next.

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

The ACFTL is a popular language rating system that comprises five different proficiency levels, from novice to intermediate, advanced, superior, and distinguished. The novice, intermediate, and advanced levels are further divided into low, mid, and high.

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR)

The CEFR metric appraises language proficiency using six simple metrics. This rating system is popular because it's easy to explain and understand, and is internationally recognized. Under the CEFR, basic users receive either an A1 or A2 grading. At the next level, independent users, score either B1 or B2, and proficient users score between C1 and C2, making them fluent in another language.

2. Determine your level of proficiency

After deciding on the language rating system, the next step is to determine your proficiency level. Being honest about your proficiency level is crucial, as dishonesty is a grave offence in resume writing. Your proficiency level indicates your understanding of proper vocabulary, semantics, and syntax in your chosen language. This encompasses writing, speaking, listening, and reading abilities. For jobs where an extra language is just an added benefit, you can opt for self-assessment. The ILR and ACTFL offer self-assessment materials on their websites. Similarly, the CEFR provides a chart so you can assess your language proficiency skills.

If you're applying for a job where a second language is crucial, you can take a proficiency test and earn a certificate. One of the most popular English proficiency exams is the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Other variants exist, such as The European Language Certificates (TELC), which offers proficiency tests for 10 European languages, and the Test de Connaissance du Francais (TCF) for proficiency in French. The ACTFL also issues the Assessment of Performance toward Proficiency in Languages (AAPPL) which offers proficiency tests in 13 languages.

Related: How To List Proficiency on Your Resume (With Tips)

3. Decide which section to include your language skills

The appropriate section to list your language skills depends on the number of languages you speak, your proficiency levels, and the role you want to get. If you're fluent or have professional proficiency in more than one language, it helps to include this in your professional summary to make it more clear. If the role you're applying for doesn't list an extra language as a requirement, or you have intermediate to low proficiency levels, then you can include them more casually under the skill section. You can also list language skills under your education or certification section if applicable.

If proficiency in another language is crucial for the role, or you speak several languages with varying proficiency levels, you can add a separate section for your languages. This section can come after the core elements of your resume, including your education, work experience, and skills. You can have varying proficiency levels in a language for reading, speaking, and writing. In such instances, you can list the proficiency levels separately under the language section. This is important, as hiring managers can test your proficiency level through any metric, and including only one level can affect their expectations.

4. Edit and format thoroughly

Ensure your language section follows the same format as other sections on your resume. Cohesiveness is important to make your resume readable and professional. Whether you add your languages to your skill section or list them in a separate section, use bullet points to make them more visible. List your languages in the order of the most relevant to the role or the one with the highest level of proficiency. Ensure you use the same language rating system for all your languages for uniformity. Lastly, remember to differentiate between languages you have a certification for and those you've assessed yourself.

When to demonstrate your language skills on your resume

If you're proficient in multiple languages, that's always an advantage, even if it's not a requirement for the job. This is especially true for regions with diverse populations. As applicable, you can always list your extra languages under the skill, education, or certification sections. If the job description lists multiple languages as a requirement, ensure you highlight your language skills in your language section and resume summary.

Additionally, if you discover any specific activities the company engages in requiring multilingual proficiency, you can include your language skills. For example, a nurse applying to a hospital in a neighbourhood with many Spanish residents can mention that they speak Spanish on their resume. This can apply to customer service roles. Similarly, you can highlight your language skills when applying to multinational organizations. Such large corporations often transfer workers between branches. Again, mentioning that you're proficient with multiple languages can give you some leverage over other candidates.

Related:

  • How To Write a Resume

  • How To Write an Effective Resume Headline

Examples of how to list your language skills on your resume

Here is how to incorporate your language skills on a resume in different situations:

Resume summary

Listing your language skills in your resume summary is an effective way to make them obvious and is helpful for roles where speaking multiple languages is a requirement. Here are examples of how you can include language skills in your resume summary:

  • A bilingual lawyer with five years of experience in commercial transactions.

  • Seasoned marketing associate with professional proficiency in five languages.

Languages section

Listing your languages under a separate section is ideal if you understand multiple languages, or it's an essential requirement for the role. Here are examples of language sections using different rating systems:

ILR system

Here is an example of the ILR system:

  • English - ILR Level 5

  • Mandarin - ILR Level 4+

  • German - ILR Level 4

CEFR rating system

This system can be ideal for job applications to a European company. For example:

  • German - Native/Bilingual

  • Spanish - C1 certificate

  • Italian - B2 certificate

Skills or education section

In cases where languages aren't a requirement for the role, you can include them under your skills section. You can also include them under the education section if you learned the language through coursework. For example:

Skills

  • Word processing software

  • JavaScript

  • Russian - Level 4+ (ILR)

Education

Wembley University, Whitehorse, YT 2014 - 2018
Business administration

  • First Class Honours (3.8/4.0)

  • Relevant coursework includes marketing, sales, and Spanish

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Related articles

What to Put in a Resume (WIth Tips)

Explore more articles