How to List Language Skills on Your Resume

resume writing tips
••• Because I'm Addicted

One of the most valuable skills that job candidates can offer potential employers is strong fluency in a foreign language. If you have strong foreign language skills, including this fact on your resume will likely give you an advantage over most of your competition whenever the ability to speak another language is a prerequisite for the job.

The Most Requested Languages on Resumes

The level of demand for job candidates with specific foreign language skills depends on a few factors, including the industry and the geographical location of employers. According to the “Not Lost in Translation” study by New American Economy (NEA), the five most in-demand foreign languages requested by U.S. employers are Spanish, Chinese, French, Arabic, and Korean. 

Oftentimes, the second language requested depends upon the industry. Spanish fluency is frequently sought for customer service roles in the financial services and auto parts sectors. The hospitality and luxury retail industries have a high demand for Chinese speakers. French and Arabic, on the other hand, are desirable languages for job candidates seeking work with international humanitarian aid associations. Korean speakers, meanwhile, are targeted by the pharmaceutical, education, telecommunications, and banking industries.

Demand for employees with foreign language competencies also varies from state to state. The states with especially large immigrant populations—California, Texas, Florida, and New York—naturally have the most job postings for bilingual applicants. Other states with a high demand for second language fluency are Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oregon.

Jobs That Require Foreign Language Skills

There is a wide range of employers who list foreign language qualifications for consideration on their job listings. For some positions, candidates are expected to provide a standardized measure of their level of proficiency in a foreign language on their resume.

Depending upon your industry, you may be asked to use a specific proficiency framework/test to self-assess and quantify your command of a foreign language.    

Customer Service Jobs

The vast majority of jobs where foreign language fluency is desirable are in customer service, sales, and medical positions—roles requiring extensive interaction with clients within our global economy. The NEA study mentioned above notes that bilingual customer service representatives are most in demand (7.8%), followed by wholesale/manufacturing sales representatives (6.3%), retail salespersons (6.1%), registered nurses (3.2%), and financial services sales agents (3.2%).

When applying for most of these sorts of jobs, it is fine to describe your fluency in general terms such as bilingual, native, near-native, advanced, intermediate, or competent. If you have a LinkedIn account, you can use the proficiency designations provided there (native or bilingual proficiency, full professional proficiency, professional working proficiency, limited working proficiency, or elementary proficiency) to add your language skills to your profile.

Here’s an example of how to cite your foreign language competency level on your resume:

  • Foreign languages: English (native proficiency), Mandarin Chinese (full professional proficiency)

If you only have a basic understanding of a second language, it is generally best not to mention the language at all on your resume (except when this is required, as it is for some federal job applications). Never exaggerate your foreign language proficiency.

Federal Government and Military Jobs

Federal agencies that actively recruit personnel with foreign language skills include the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Virtual Translation Center, and the Peace Corps. 

Foreign language skills are in high demand for these federal government jobs, and there is a shortage of qualified applicants. The United States Government Accountability Office reports that 23% of Foreign Service Officers appointed by the State Department to work overseas lacked the required language proficiency. 

The demand for talented foreign language speakers in the government sector is so great that many agencies now offer hiring incentives to job applicants with fluency in priority languages. 

Required proficiency framework: Candidates for federal jobs may be asked to prove their language proficiency by taking a test based on the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale. This scale ranks one’s language competency at six different skill levels (0-5). Here’s what a citation of this scale might look like on a resume:

  • Foreign Languages: Spanish-Native/Bilingual (ILR Level 5); English-Native/Bilingual (ILR Level 5); French-Professional Working Proficiency (ILR Level 3)

Foreign Language Teaching Jobs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there were approximately 27,240 foreign language teachers in the American workforce in 2017. Colleges and universities, junior colleges, and local governments are the leading employers of foreign language teachers.

Required proficiency framework: The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) has created a series of guidelines used to evaluate one’s functional language ability. This scale, commonly used both by teachers and employers to assess foreign language competency, analyzes proficiency in speaking, writing, listening, and reading. 

Here’s an example: 

  • Foreign Languages: English (Native); Spanish (ACTFL: Speaking-“Superior,” Writing-“Superior,” Listening- “Advanced High,” Reading-“Distinguished”)

Jobs with European Companies

Most Europeans begin learning a second language early in their primary education. If you hope to work abroad for EU employers, a solid command of a second language may well be required. 

A good way to learn which languages are required in order to work overseas is to scan the listings on one of these best international job search engine sites.

Required proficiency framework: Employers in the EU use the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) to determine their job candidate’s degree of language proficiency. A basic understanding of a language is ranked as “A1” or “A2” (“Basic User”), an intermediate command is scored as “B1” or “B2” (“Independent User”), and advanced competency is described as “C1” or “C2” (“Proficient User”). 

Here’s what a citation looks like:

  • Foreign Languages: English (Native, CEFR C2); German (CEFR B2); French (CEFR B1)

Where to List Foreign Language Skills on Your Resume

If foreign language competency is one of the “preferred” or “required” qualifications on a job listing, then you need to mention this skill throughout your resume.

Although this might seem repetitive, multiplying the mentions of your language skills on your resume will ensure that it “passes” its initial review by the automated applicant tracking systems that many employers use to narrow down their pools of candidates. These systems are programmed to identify both the placement and the number of times specific keyword phrases are incorporated within your resume.

The best places to showcase your language skills on your resume are in an initial qualifications profile, a dedicated languages skills section or table, and within your “Education and Certifications” section. 

You should also describe your professional use of a foreign language as a “key achievement” in your “Experience” section. 

Qualifications Summary Example

The qualifications profile (also called a “summary of qualifications”) of your resume provides the important first impression to an employer, so it’s important to highlight your language skills prominently here. You can do this by mentioning them both in a resume headline and in the text of the profile itself:

Jordan German
123 Railroad Avenue
Bethlehem, PA 18020
(123) 456-7890
jgerman@email.com
www.linked.com/in/jordangerman

CUSTOMER SERVICE PROFESSIONAL

Bilingual Customer Service Representative with 6-year track record of excellence in auto parts sector.

Service-oriented support specialist offering proven communications strengths within fast-paced call center environments. Easily engage customers from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds through attentive needs identification and consultative dialogues. Bilingual command of English (native tongue) and Spanish (near-native fluency).

Language Skills Section Example

Another good way to showcase your language skills is to set them off in a dedicated “Language Skills” section or table. This should be placed either directly after your summary of qualifications or (especially on federal resumes) at the end of the resume following the description of your education and training.

Foreign Language Competencies

  • English: Native (ILR Level 5)
  • German: Professional Working Proficiency (ILR Level 3)
  • Dutch: Professional Working Proficiency (ILR Level 3) 

Experience Section Example

If you have used a foreign language frequently as part of your day-to-day work experience, be sure to highlight this in your “Experience” section.

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

ABC GENERAL HOSPITAL, Quincy, Massachusetts
Registered Nurse (February 2008 – Present)

Provide attentive and empathetic nursing care to mothers and infants in 50-bed labor and obstetrics ward. Implement treatment plans, monitor stages of labor and delivery, and educate new parents in neonatal care. 

Key Contributions:

  • Willingly stepped up to work overtime and weekend shifts when needed.
  • Leveraged bilingual command of Spanish to translate for physicians and Spanish-speaking patients and their families.

Education and Certifications Section Example

Any academic or professional training you have had in a foreign language should be mentioned in the “Education” section of your resume, along with language certifications you have earned.

EDUCATION & CREDENTIALS

CLEMSON UNIVERSITY, Clemson, South CarolinaBachelor of Arts in French

Junior Year Abroad: University of Paris, Paris, France (20XX to 20XX)

Language Certification: International Centre for French Studies: Diplôme d'études en langue française (DELF) diplomas (CEFRL C1 and C2)

Resume Template to Download

(compatible with Google Docs and Microsoft Word) to use as a starting point for your own resume.

Foreign Language Resume Sample

Sonya See
17017 Riverwalk Road
Arlington, VA 98223
(555) 555-1212
Sonya.see@email.com

Concierge

Multilingual, customer-focused Concierge with 7 years’ experience serving an international clientele.

Charismatic and focused professional offering world-class service to patrons of upscale hotels, conference centers, and cruise ships. Seamlessly discern and respond to client requirements to ensure unique and memorable experiences. Bilingual in English and Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), with advanced command of Korean and Japanese. 

PROFESSIONAL EXPERIENCE

WELLINGTON HOTEL AND CONFERENCE CENTER, Arlington, VA

Concierge (June 2014-Present)

Orchestrate local travel, restaurant, tourism, and entertainment arrangements for hotel guests. Respond to customer inquiries and mediate service issues; work closely with local vendors to provide enjoyable entertainment opportunities.

  • Leverage superb command of spoken and written Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Korean, and Japanese to ensure positive guest experiences and generate business referrals.
  • Recruited by marketing team to help develop email communications and collateral targeted to customers from Asia and Southeast Asia.

SOUTHSEAS CRUISES, Singapore

Concierge (August 2012-May 2014)

Worked closely with Guest Relations Manager to fulfill requests for on-board services and coordinate shore-side services at ports of call in Langkawi, Phuket, and Penang.

  • Spearheaded highly successful programming that brought local dancing groups to perform onboard at each port of call.
  • Stepped up to serve as personal translator and as tour guide for English-only speaking guests.

EDUCATION

University of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA

BS of Business Administration in Hospitality Management (Minor: Japanese) 2012

Study Abroad: Summer Abroad Program, Seisen University, Japan (2011)

Foreign Language Certifications:

  • JLPT Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (N5), Japan Foundation / Japan Educational Exchanges and Services
  • Test of Proficiency in Korean (TOPIK II, Level 6), Korean Institute for Curriculum and Evaluation

Foreign Language Self-Assessment Tools

Not sure just how good your foreign language skills are? You can take self-assessments using the ILR proficiency scale (for federal jobs), the CEFR scale (for jobs overseas in the EU), and the 10-level ACTFL proficiency scale.

Article Sources

  1. The New American Economy. "Not Lost in Translation." Page 21. Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  2. The New American Economy. "Not Lost in Translation." Page 22. Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  3. The New American Economy. "Not Lost in Translation." Page 18. Accessed Feb. 20, 2020.

  4. The New American Economy. "Not Lost in Translation." Page 13. Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  5. The New American Economy. "Not Lost in Translation." Page 8. Accessed Feb 17, 2020.

  6. LinkedIn. "How To Include Language Skills On Your LinkedIn Profile (and Resume)." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  7. Interagency Language Roundtable. "Federal Foreign Careers Information." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  8. United States Government Accountability Office. "Foreign Language Proficiency Has Improved, but Efforts to Reduce Gaps Need Evaluation." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  9. Interagency Language Roundtable. "How Can I be Tested and Rated on the ILR Scale?" Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  10. Interagency Language Roundtable. "What are the “ILR Language Skill-Level Descriptions?" Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  11. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment Statistics. "Foreign Language and Literature Teachers, Postsecondary." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  12. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. "ACTFL Proficiency Guidelines." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.

  13. Pew Research Center. "Most European Students Are Learning a Foreign Language in School While Americans Lag." Accessed Feb. 17, 2020.