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Illustrate your language skills on a CV

If you’re part of the more than 50% of the world’s population who speaks more than one language, you’ve probably wondered how to list languages on your resume.

Have to ever seen someone refer to their language skill as intermediate? Or professional? And what is the difference between elementary and beginner? Don’t worry, you are not alone with these questions! Working in HR or recruitment we see over a million ways of how people describe their languages skills, and we can never be really sure what they mean! It seems that each school, language school and tests has their own way of describing how well you speak or understand a language, it is a jungle – So we understand why you are confused!

Let us try to help you. In this article, we will explain the simple way for you to write your language level in your CV, so everyone understands it.

What system should I use to use to describe my language skill?

Depending on where you learned the language your grade has been indicated in different ways, and what if you are self-taught or Native? If you are applying in for a job in your own country in your native language, you might not even think about the importance of listing your language skills, but in an ever-growing international environment it is important that you showcase your skills clearly. The most common grades or test can vary a lot from country to country, therefore we suggest you go for international recognised levels. In Europe and US the most common are the following, recognized by biggest universities and companies:

IELTS – International English Language Testing System

TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language

If you have passed a language certificate (TOEFL, IELTS) with good scores, specify this in your CV:

English: reading and writing (intermediate), oral (advanced); TOEFL (iBT) score: 100/120

However, depending on your scores in these two tests, it can be hard to tell if you are beginner, intermediate or fluent, and what is the difference between fluent and native? When it comes to describing you skills in an academic form we suggest you use CEFR. It gives a great indication and explanation of your skills, and can easily be tested an backed up by free online tests.

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, abbreviated in English as CEFR or CEF or CEFRL, is a guideline used to describe achievements of learners of foreign languages across Europe and, increasingly, in other countries. It was put together by the Council of Europe as the main part of the project “Language Learning for European Citizenship” between 1989 and 1996. Its main aim is to provide a method of learning, teaching and assessing which applies to all languages in Europe. In November 2001, a European Union Council Resolution recommended using the CEFR to set up systems of validation of language ability. The six reference levels (see below) are becoming widely accepted as the European standard for grading an individual’s language proficiency

The CEFR distinguishes among four kinds of language activities: reception (listening and reading), production (spoken and written), interaction (spoken and written), and mediation (translating and interpreting)

See below the levels and explanation: 

Level groupLevelDescription
Basic user
Breakthrough or beginner
Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type.Can introduce themselves and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where they live, people they know and things they have.Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.
Waystage or elementary
Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment).Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.Can describe in simple terms aspects of their background, immediate environment and matters in areas of immediate need.
Independent user
Threshold or intermediate
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
Vantage or upper intermediate
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
Proficient user
Effective operational proficiency or advanced
Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
Native, Mastery or proficiency
Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.

Should You List Languages on Your Resume?

The short answer depends on two things: your level of proficiency and how the language relates to the position.

Make room for languages on your resume when it is a requirement for the position or feature it in a secondary area when it supports your professional skills. Employers like to know if you have a working capacity in other languages and it can be an added bonus in your application even if it’s not a requirement.

Demand for bilingual employees spreads across the job market, from service positions to C-Level directors. If your language proficiency ranges from professionally conversational to native (essentially, intermediate to advanced), it has a place on your resume. Whether you’re applying to be a barista or a senior marketing manager, a second language can help you communicate with customers, clients, and foreign offices.

Tailor your resume to the position, highlighting your language skills more or less depending on how much language lends to the role and is mentioned in the job posting

Free online language test

Education First (EF) language school offers a great free online test, so you can test your Languages level in many different Languages. The tests take between 40-60 min, and only require that you are online and in a place where you can concentrate without disruption. You will be tested in both reading, speaking, and understanding and it will give you a great indication of what level you are at in the specific language. EF Language school is approved by Cambridge and a long line of authorities, their tests are very accurate -We always advise you do it if you are not sure what to write on a CV.

English    CLICK HERE

French     CLICK HERE


Italian      CLICK HERE

Spanish   CLICK HERE

At Job Squad, we are always looking for people with various language skills, please find a job I Europe for you, CLICK HERE We are ready to help you create a solid resume, talk to you about your career path and much more. Our recruiters speak a long line of languages, so we can help you in the best possible way and make your application process feel safe and easy.

**This article is written for Europeans, however, the index and implications apply to all countries in the world. 

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