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How to include your language skills on your CV

You know many languages but not exactly how to place them on your CV? In this article you can find everything you need to correctly include them!
Karin Levy

Karin Levy

Digital Marketing & Startegy Analyst
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A guy is struggling with his language skills on his CV

So you’ve learned German at university, spent 6 months in Spain, and watch TV shows just in English… but how do you put those language skills into your CV? Is there a right way of describing your skill in the resume? Yes, there is! Generally, 90% of the EU population knows at least one foreign language, that’s why it’s crucial to dive into the correct language proficiency levels, formatting, designing, and many more. At the first sight, it might seem an easy job, but our full guide will reveal how many things you should actually consider.

Where to put your language skills?

You’ve probably spent quite some time acquiring a specific language, so be proud of it! Give it enough spotlight by placing your language skills in the “Skill” section. You can also list them up after the core resume parts (education and working experience).

One might think: “Should I dedicate a whole section just for the list of languages?!”. Our answer is: definitely! If you phrase your skills in the way they should be phrased, the “simple list” will occupy way more space than you would imagine.

How to list your skills?

The list shouldn’t be random. Don’t use alphabetical order or the most common languages at the beginning. Instead, order your language skills depending on your proficiency level. Start with the most proficient language, and just then list up other language skills in descending order.

How do you decide, which language proficiency level to use?

To have a proper list of your language skills, you have to focus on two main aspects. First, the wording in your resume is everything. You need to spend time and energy on finding the perfect alternatives you’d like to use to describe your level of language: 

  • Advanced: native, fluent, superior, proficient, highly developed, mother tongue, distinguished
  • Mid-range: professional, advanced, conversational, competent, upper-intermediate
  • Beginner: elementary, beginner, basic, low-intermediate, novice, limited working proficiency

 If you use this as a base for ranking your skills, one concern may occur. How can your CV exactly explain to the hiring manager, what you meant by “Intermediate English” and “Advanced German”? Can you understand everything, read everything, express yourself fluently, and even explain the structure of the language to non-speakers?

What language framework to use?

That’s why the second aspect you should consider is to define, what language framework you plan to use. The easiest way to prove your language level in Europe is to include the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) framework. In line with the guidelines, you’ll get a certification from A1 (basic users) to C2 (proficient users) examining listening, speaking, reading and writing abilities. If you are not sure about your level, you can complete an online test, which will evaluate your knowledge and will give you your respective language proficiency level. For example, here you can assess your level of English. Don’t forget, these frameworks are always territorial. If you apply to the US for example, you need to consider a different language framework, called ILR. By listing up your language skills in the following structure, you should be good to go!

Example for languages in a CV

Should I include language certificates?

Yes! A certificate shows that the hiring manager doesn’t need to have a second thought about your knowledge. But you don’t have enough space to include it in the ‘general’ skill section, right? Add a “(Language) Certificate” section to the end of your CV, so among others, you can list up these certificates as well as enclose them with your CV.

PRO TIPS – what not to do

  • Don’t write time frames. Don’t include in your resume the time frame you’ve been using or studying the language. Sometimes living 6 months somewhere develops your language skills more. Studying a language for 4 years may sound more impressive, but having studied it for 2 hours/week won’t necessarily have as much of an impact.
  • Don’t forget all the languages you speak. Don’t forget to mention all the languages you speak! It can easily happen, that you consider your mother tongue so obvious, that you forget to include it. You perhaps got used to sending out your resume in English – which many people do to be internationally more flexible. If once you decide to apply in your home country (with the English resume), the hiring manager can easily assume that you don’t speak the local language at all and this can result in a fast rejection.
  • Don’t lie. This is always a big no-go, but especially lies within the area of language proficiencies that can get discovered very fast. If you don’t use the frameworks wisely and realistically, you might have some very awkward situations. Just imagine when the hiring manager switches to another language or when you have to deal with a highly important client in the future… Not pleasant!
  • Don’t mix frameworks. If you apply for Europe, make sure you use the CEFR for describing all of your language skills, don’t involve ILR which is usual for the US market.

Conclusion

Describing language skills on your resume sounds easy, but there are many things to consider – some will surprise you!

  • You should: place your skills right, list them up in the right order, use the appropriate framework, and include certificates to showcase your language proficiency.
  • You should not: write the time frame, lie about your level, forget about your mother tongue, and mix frameworks.

You worked hard to learn these languages, so bring out the most of them! And when you’re ready, don’t forget about your cover letter: professionalize it with these structured example sentences!

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