The marketplace has changed dramatically in recent decades, as increased mobility and globalization have made rapid daily trade across continents more widespread than at any point in history. Along with that increased globalization has come a need for language proficiencies that go beyond a worker’s native tongue.
In fact, many companies are consistently seeking employees who are proficient in – and educational facilities are increasingly focused on teaching those skills to their student. Of course, being proficient in a second or third language is one thing. Properly conveying that information to prospective employers is another thing entirely. So, should you list languages on your resume? How should you list languages on a resume.
Listing Languages on a Resume
There are different schools of thought among resume specialists. Some argue in favor of creating a separate resume header section for languages. Others argue that this information should simply be highlighted within the qualifications or skills section of a resume. There are valid reasons for both choices, and either will work to ensure that the hiring manager understands your language proficiency – if, of course, you accurately document your skill level. The following are some tips to help you know when you should list secondary language proficiencies on your resume.
Does the job listing indicate a preference for candidates with multilingual capability? If so, then you should certainly include specific details about your level of familiarity with the needed language. The only time you wouldn’t include this information is if you have no such language proficiency.
Does the job listing require a specific language? If you are proficient in that language, be sure to mention that fact in your resume.
What if you learned the language but haven’t used it in years? You can still claim some level of proficiency, but may also want to note that you will need to refresh your familiarity with the language to ensure that you’re up to speed.
What if no language requirement is listed in the job listing? Should you still include your language proficiency? Absolutely! Employers who are faced with a choice between two otherwise equally talented and qualified candidates are likely to view knowledge of a foreign language as a deciding factor – especially when that language is one that is in common use by some segment of their customer base.
What if you don’t know the required language at all? This question is a tough one, because there may sometimes be a temptation to claim proficiency just to get the job. Don’t do it. If you don’t know that language, just acknowledge that you’re not qualified for the position and move on to another job option.
How Should You Assess Your Language Proficiencies?
Once you’ve decided that your proficiency merits mention, the next thing to consider is how you should define it. Language is a tricky thing to describe, since proficiency can come in many forms – and those who learn second languages often only have true proficiency in certain areas of the language. As a rule, there are four basic elements of language proficiency:
Reading - This describes your ability to understand the language as written.
Writing - This level of proficiency means that you can write comfortably using your secondary language.
Speaking - Can you speak the language without much effort? Then you can claim this level of proficiency.
Listening - This simply refers to your ability to understand what is being said when others use the language.
As you might imagine, not everyone possesses equal measures of proficiency in every one of those areas. Some can speak and understand the language with ease, but struggle to read or write in the tongue. Others may have some understanding of others’ use of the language, but struggle to speak it themselves. And so on. Determine your strengths and weaknesses so that you can accurately define your proficiency for the employer.
How to List Languages on Your Resume
When deciding where to include languages, there are two main options.
The first is to include it under your skills section. This is probably the best option when there is no specific requirement for language proficiency included in the job listing.
The second option is to list it under "other information" or "additional credentials". You can also list it under your education.
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This is often the best choice when you know that language proficiency is something that the company is specifically seeking from its candidates.
There are several ways that you can provide this information. Some people like to simply list the language and number of years that they’ve studied the tongue. Others try to grade their proficiency. Perhaps the best option is to define your own proficiency in terms that indicate its usefulness. For example, if you can speak, write, understand, and read the language, you can consider yourself fluent in that tongue. If you can converse in it and understand it when others speak it, then you can refer to yourself as conversant in that language.
It's also important to describe yourself as bilingual, to ensure that the hiring manager doesn’t assume that your secondary language is the only one that you speak (yes, this can happen!). Just something to keep in mind so that you avoid any unnecessary confusion.
Other Examples of Listing a Language on a Resume:
You can also go list your language in a more creative way that also shows the proficiency level.
Fluent in English and Spanish, conversant in French, Chinese
Six years high school and college Spanish education
Interned in Paris, France for two years after graduation
Certificate in conversational Chinese, Superior University, 2014
As you can see, there are some simple ways to list your language proficiencies on your resume. The important thing is to properly assess your skill level and accurately portray the skill to your prospective employer – even for jobs where no secondary language skills may be required. At the end of the day, that information may just be the determining factor that helps you to get the job of your dreams!
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.