How To Include Language Skills On Your Resume

What’s the best way to describe your language skills on your resume? And what section do they go in? We have some helpful tips.
closeup of hands typing on a laptop language skills resume

You’ve kept up your motivation, put in the effort and learned a new language. Awesome! Now you (rightfully) want to show off your new skills for all the world to see — and by “world,” we mean potential employers. What’s the best way to highlight foreign language skills on your resume? We’ve gathered some tips to help you out.

Which Section?

A successful resume displays information in a way that’s organized and clearly communicated. With that in mind, where you decide to feature your language proficiency matters. However, there are a couple of different schools of thought on where it should appear.

The most common placement of language proficiency is in the “skills” section of a resume. This makes logical sense because knowing another language is an extremely useful skill, just like coding or proficiency in Microsoft Office (We have yet to meet someone who isn’t proficient in Microsoft Office, but they must exist). Our recommendation would be to feature your language skills at the top of the section because, let’s face it, it’s one of the most important skills.

Another option, advocated by career coach Darcy Lear, is particularly suited for applicants interested in a job directly related to foreign language. Lear says you should “illustrate” your language proficiency by including details about it throughout the various sections of your resume. For example, be sure to include how you’ve used a foreign language in various jobs in the “professional experience” section, or highlight that French minor under “education.” This is a good way to show rather than tell recruiters about your language skills.

How Do I Describe My Skills?

Once you’ve decided where to put your language skills on your resume, your next task is to determine how to describe them. Are you fluent, are you proficient, are you at an intermediate level? What do those qualifiers even mean?

Being fluent in a language is defined in a variety of ways, but essentially it means you can have a fluid and accurate conversation in that language. Translator and language expert Laura Lawless adds a couple of other measures of fluency: the ability to figure out what an unknown word means in context and the ability to think in the language.

Proficiency in a language means you know it very well, but may use it more formally or less easily than a native or fluent speaker. If you’re at an intermediate level, you can have basic conversations in a variety of situations but still make your fair share of mistakes. Don’t bother including anything below this level on your resume.

Some career experts recommend taking a language proficiency test to determine what to write on your resume. Lear recommends Pearson’s Versant test, which evaluates oral proficiency in Spanish, French or Arabic.

There is one more option: avoid the qualifiers altogether. Instead, as mentioned earlier, you can include details on how you’ve used the language (or number of years you’ve studied it), giving recruiters and employers a better idea of your abilities.

What About LinkedIn?

Resumes are important, but don’t forget to update your LinkedIn profile as well! Increasingly, recruiters are relying on sites like LinkedIn to help them identify the perfect candidate for a role, so you want to make sure your language skills are emphasized. LinkedIn makes it easy for you by offering a special “Languages” section under the “Accomplishments” header on your profile, and even lets you select your level of proficiency.

But don’t stop there, says professional development expert Stacy West. She recommends highlighting your language skills throughout your LinkedIn profile in a number of different ways. One way is to include international schools where you studied abroad or language courses you completed in the “Education” section. Another avenue for showcasing language skills is in the “Organizations” section. Were you president of a French Club? Did you participate in a language Meetup? Include those here. In the “Volunteer Experience” section, you can add any foreign language-related charity work. Finally, West recommends adding languages to the “Skills” section and asking people to endorse you.

Honesty: Still The Best Policy

The importance of being honest when describing your language proficiency cannot be stressed enough. It’s a skill that cannot be faked, and you will get caught if you exaggerate your proficiency level. Getting caught in a lie would almost certainly hurt your prospects of getting the job, so just be honest.

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