Mastering a foreign language is one of the best things that can happen to you in life. That is, until you have to include these language skills on your resume. Because what may seem like a simple topic at first can quickly become quite complicated.
In fact, it is enough to turn your head around. In my case, it looked a bit like this:
What are the levels of language proficiency? Woof! Why are there so many language proficiency scales? And what the heck is ACTFL, ILR and CEFR? Okay, obviously I can’t describe my language skills in words. Instead, I will use a star rating. What do you mean ATS can’t read it? I give up.”
Anyway, if you are looking for a simple answer, you can find it in the next part of this article. Ultimately, you don’t need to understand all the nerdy details about language proficiency scales to produce a rock-solid resume.
But if you’re willing to dig deeper, prepare yourself for a really comprehensive answer that explains all of the abbreviations mentioned above. 🤓
This guide includes:
- Possible levels of language proficiency;
- How to list language skills on the curriculum;
- How to put bilingual on a resume;
- LinkedIn language levels;
- Examples of language skills on the curriculum.
How to List Language Skills on a Resume
- Create a separate subsection for your language skills in the skills section of your resume.
- Sort them by relevance. Start with the language that is most relevant to the job you want. Do not include a language you are not fluent in or a language you are just beginning to learn.
- Follow a single language proficiency scale. Please list all languages using one of the language proficiency scales described below (CEFR, ILR or ACTFL). Pick the one that is most familiar to a potential employer and stick with it.
- Use words, not graphics. Use words to describe your levels of language proficiency, not graphics or icons. This will help your resume score more with ATS (applicant tracking systems that large companies use to scan candidates).
- Include certifications. If you took an exam and obtained a language certificate, please include it in the certifications section of your resume. Gives a stronger backing
By following these simple steps, you’ll ensure that your resume language skills don’t go unnoticed (they have their own subsection), your strongest skill gets the attention it deserves (it’s at the top), and you don’t mistake the employer for their own unknown names for language proficiency levels.
What are the levels of language proficiency?
Welcome to the most confusing part of this article! Why confusing, you ask? Because there are several scales of language proficiency (of course there are). Also, each of them uses different letters and numbers to describe the same thing.
Fortunately, you only need to know three of them: IRL, ACTFL, Y CEFR.
Also, if this all sounds intimidating, don’t worry too much. Remember, your top priority is creating a resume that clearly communicates your ability use multiple languages professionally. As long as I’m successful at that, everything will be fine, fine, fine.
Well then. Let’s take a look at those different levels of language fluency.
1. ILR (Interagency Roundtable on Languages)
The Interagency Roundtable Language Scale is the standard rating scale for language proficiency developed by the United States federal service.
Therefore, it is most commonly used in the US., or more specifically, when applying for jobs in the US government.
And that’s probably all there is to say about this scale. The rest you should be able to understand in the helpful comparison table above.
The ILR scale rates people’s language skills on a scale of 0 to 5 (5 being native). On top of that, use 0+, 1+, 2+, and 4+ to address those situations where a person’s language proficiency exceeds a skill level, but does not yet meet the criteria for the next level.
The ILR scale corresponds to the language levels used on LinkedIn.
2. ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages)
The ACTFL scale was developed from the ILR scale but is more granular with 11 degrees of language proficiency instead of 6. According to the ACTFL website, it is “intended to be used for comprehensive assessment in academic and work settings.”
Compared to the ILR, it can be much easier to understand even for people who don’t care less about language proficiency scores. Which of the following is easier to decipher? “French: 4+ (ILR)” or “French: Advanced high (ACTFL)”.
3. CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages)
In Europe, we use the CEFR. This language proficiency scale is not derived from any of the American scales mentioned above, so it can be more difficult to convert scores from one to another (that is, officially).
This scale is universally understood in Europe And almost all European employers will know exactly what you mean by, for example, B2 Spanish.
4. LinkedIn language skill levels
LinkedIn uses the ILR language proficiency scale, but instead of using numbers, they created their own wording for the individual ranges. For this reason, you may want to determine his IRL language skill level before adding him to LinkedIn.
What language proficiency scale should you use on your resume?
Always use the one that is most familiar to your future employer. But how do you know what it is?
As usual, start with job advertisement and look for the words they use to describe the required level of language proficiency. Use the same words to describe your language skills on your resume (as long as your skills are at that level).
How to correctly assess your level of fluency in the language?
If you don’t know your exact levels of language skills, don’t guess. Either you will overestimate your abilities (which can lead to many awkward situations in the future) or you will underestimate yourself (which can sabotage your effort to show yourself in the best possible light on your resume).
What are your options then?
- Get an official language certificate. This often takes a lot of work and preparation, but it can be worth it. It gives you a way to back up your claims about your language skill levels and may make a better impression on the employer. On the other hand, sometimes it is simply an exaggeration. In addition, it can be quite expensive, especially if you speak several languages and want to obtain an official certificate for each one.
- Self-assess your level of language proficiency. In most cases, self-assessment should be sufficient, as long as you don’t try to overestimate your abilities and follow the official guidelines for scoring yourself.
The official IRL The website offers self-assessment PDF files for speaking, reading and listening.
The Council of Europe website provides official CEFR self-assessment charts in most European languages.
The ACTFL website allows you to download the full text of the ACTFL Competition Guidelines. It’s from 2012, but these things are only updated every 10 years. If you are looking for a less exhaustive version, this downloadable poster should give you all the information you need.
How to put bilingual on a resume?
What does it mean to be bilingual? By the most basic definition, a bilingual person is someone who speaks two languages.
But to be considered bilingual, you are normally expected to speaks both languages very well in addition to having an error-free grammar and perfect pronunciation. Most people can achieve that level of language proficiency only if they are born into mixed language families or receive formal education abroad.
Don’t be afraid to describe your language skills as almost native.
But there are also people who have been studying a second language for decades. Their command of the language often surpasses that of many native speakers. What about them?
If that’s the case for you, don’t be afraid to describe your language ability as “Almost native“. You won’t lie and it will help you get through various candidate tracking systems.
But don’t mention it in the language skills subsection of your resume. The competitive advantage of being bilingual is so great that you may want to mention it at the beginning of your resume, in the summary section of your resume (or resume objective).
Examples of language skills on the curriculum
As the saying goes, an example is often worth a thousand explanations! So let me give you a couple of examples that you can use as inspiration for the language skills section on your own resume.
ILR Language Skills Resume Example 1
- American English – Level 4+ (ILR)
- Chilean Spanish – Level 3+ (ILR)
- Russian – Level 3 (ILR)
- Ukrainian – Level 5 (ILR)
ILR Language Skills / LinkedIn Language Skills Resume Example 2
- English – Full Professional Proficiency (ILR 4+)
- French – Native (ILR 5)
ACTFL Language Skills Resume Sample
- American English – Distinguished (ACTFL)
- Spanish – Complete Professional Competence (ACTFL)
- Japanese – Advanced High (ACTFL)
Example of CEFR language skills curriculum vitae
- English – C2
- German – B2
- Czech – native
(Unlike the previous ones, in the last example we did not specify the language frame in parentheses. The CEFR is so prevalent in Europe that it is rarely necessary to do so).