How To Identify and List Levels of Fluency on Your Resume
Updated October 17, 2023
A woman sits writing on a notepad next to a list with the title "Language Proficiency Levels" and these items:
• Basic language proficiency
• Independent language proficiency
• Proficient user
There are thousands of languages throughout the world spoken by people of varying backgrounds. If you've learned another language or multiple languages throughout your lifetime, you may wonder how to assess your language skills and accurately list them on a resume.
In this article, we will define levels of fluency, how to include them on a resume and tips for listing language skills.
What are levels of fluency?
The term "levels of fluency" refers to predetermined levels of language skills that correlate with a person's proficiency when speaking, writing and reading a foreign language. Your level of fluency on a resume helps potential employers decide whether or not you're qualified for a specific job position. To assess your level of fluency, you may refer to online tests and guides that help you understand your level of fluency in a foreign language.
In America, there are two commonly used proficiency frameworks. They are known as the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL). The ILR scale includes six levels:
0 - No proficiency. This means that knowledge of the language is nonexistent or limited to a few words.
1 - Elementary proficiency. Demonstrating this level of fluency means you know how to structure basic sentences, which may include commons questions and answers typically used by tourists.
2 - Limited working proficiency. Level two means you're able to have limited social conversations and understand basic commands.
3 - Professional working proficiency. Level three means you understand the language well enough to contribute greatly in the workplace, though you may exhibit an obvious accent and need help with advanced terminology.
4 - Full professional proficiency. Having level four skills on the ILR scale is what most employers want to see on a resume. It means that you can have conversations at an advanced level and have a firm understanding of the language, though you may have some misunderstandings or occasional mistakes.
5 - Primary fluency / bilingual proficiency. Level five means you are entirely fluent in a language. You were raised speaking the language or have spoken it long enough to become proficient in it. Your accent is either nonexistent or barely recognizable.
The ACTFL scale consists of five main fluency levels known as Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior and Distinguished. These levels include sublevels of proficiency known as low, medium or high.
Here is a visual to see how the levels of these two scales compare:
When writing your resume, you should pay special attention to how you classify your level of fluency to avoid any confusion. If you're not sure which level you're at, you can search each scale's official websites for helpful PDFs and guidelines. If you'd rather not take the approach of self-assessment, you can pay for an online test that provides your official language score.
How to include language fluency on a resume
If you're bilingual, you should definitely highlight this fact on your resume. Not only is being bilingual a highly desirable skill to have, but it may also set you apart from other job candidates. Often, it is not enough to say that you're proficient in speaking a language. It's important to structure your resume in a way that helps your language skills stand out and identifies them properly. Follow these steps when deciding how to include your bilingual skills on a resume:
1. Highlight multiple language skills in a special section.
When you're applying to a job that requires proficiency in a foreign language, you'll want to ensure that you display your bilingual skills prominently. Rather than list it in your skills section where it can easily be overlooked, you'll want to create a special section that describes your level of fluency. If you only speak one foreign language, the skills section is the best place to list it. But for many who want to emphasize their skills, a special section is best.
2. Display the language skills after core sections.
The main parts of a resume include the heading, professional skills, work experience, and education. Insert your language section following the education section, unless you happen to have another core section at the end. This way, the section is much more visible to the hiring manager as it follows along with the natural flow of the resume.
3. List languages showing proficiency.
Now that you've located the perfect spot to include your language abilities, you're ready to list them using one language framework. There are many language frameworks or guides available that rank your level of proficiency in a foreign language. However, you should only use one of those scales for consistency when proclaiming your abilities.
4. Begin with your most proficient language.
Perhaps you speak multiple languages. You likely have a level of proficiency that differs from language to language. On your resume, it is best to list the most proficient language first, then follow the rest in descending order.
No matter which framework you choose, it's worth noting that lower levels of fluency beneath the intermediate level are not worth including.
Tips for listing languages on a resume
Now that you've learned how to list your levels of language fluency on a resume, we're going to discuss a few tips to ensure you've represented your skills most accurately.
Remember the importance of being honest in your abilities. If you're doubting any of the things you're about to write or include, it's probably best to leave them off. Here are the most important tips for listing languages on a resume:
Don't overstate your skills
This is a bad idea for many reasons. When you tell your employer that you have skills that exceed your actual skills, you're giving a false representation of your abilities. At some point, you'll have to demonstrate how well you know the language, which can be embarrassing if you're not as good as you once proclaimed. Also, you don't want to make the impression that you've been lying. When in doubt, it's a good idea to underestimate your language skills rather than overestimate them.
Include your primary language of fluency
If you were born and raised in an English-speaking household, it's smart to list English as your native/primary fluent language when you're listing multiple languages on a resume. Leaving this detail off your resume invites the possibility of confusion. Don't assume that employers know you speak English, though submitting your resume in English should give them the idea.
Leave extinct languages off resumes
Though it may be tempting to list Latin on your resume because you use it often in your line of work, it's better to leave it off. There may be special circumstances where you'd want to include it if you were applying to a Latin-based job, but otherwise, it is not necessary.
Avoid using years when referencing fluency
It is best to avoid the term 'years' when explaining your language skills. That's because "years" does not determine your level of proficiency in a language. You may have taken French for four years in high school, but that does not mean you possess the same skills as someone with the Level 4 (IRL) distinction.
State that you're bilingual in your summary
In addition to creating a special language section on your resume, you should also lead your summary with the fact that you're bilingual. Having this term immediately known prepares the hiring manager for upcoming information about your language skills, found further down the resume.
Consider removing languages if irrelevant to the job
The most common resumes are one-pagers. If you're running out of space and if being bilingual is not a crucial requirement for the job position, consider removing the language section altogether. You can always mention it again in the cover letter or during the interview, if necessary.
If you're ready to include your language skills on your resume, you may be looking for some examples to reference. Here are a few examples of how you'd include your levels of fluency on your resume:
If you only speak one foreign language, you may list this with other items under an 'Additional Skills' section with the following bullet point:
Level 3 (ILR) in Spanish
If you have multiple languages to list, you may choose to write your language skills like this under the language skills section:
American English - Level 5 (ILR)
Spanish - Level 3+ (ILR)
French - Level 3 (ILR)
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