Let prospective employers know that you can speak the lingo!

Parlez vous français? ¿Hablas español? Nihongo wo hanase masu ka? Sprechen sie Deutsch?

Speaking a second language gets you more than just bragging rights - it could also land you your dream job. If you're fluent in a second, or even a third, language, you're going to want to highlight that level of language proficiency on your CV. This in-demand skill could be the difference between securing your next great role and getting passed over. It's a huge deal. 

Why should you list languages on your CV?

According to a survey by the Association of Translation Companies, UK employers are hungry for candidates who speak multiple languages. In fact, the UK is the “largest single-country market for language services in Europe.” This is especially true in the wake of Brexit, as the large pool of available workers from mainland Europe has diminished vastly, meaning there are less options for employers. 

The same study revealed that language proficiency is a key factor for UK export businesses, with SMEs (small to medium-sized enterprises) being 30% more likely to experience export success if they have staff who can speak different languages, compared to those businesses that don't. That's one very good reason right there to list your levels of language proficiency on your CV.

But which specific languages are employers looking for?

A study conducted by LTL Language School, which revealed the most desirable and highest paying second languages, analysed over 7,000 listings on a job board which mentioned a second language within the job description.

The top 5 languages that employers currently ask for are:

  1. Spanish

  2. German

  3. Italian

  4. French

  5. Mandarin Chinese

 While Spanish is the most in-demand language, German has the most earning potential. However, the language that a company is looking for will largely depend on the business and where in the world its clients live. For that reason, whatever language you speak, it's definitely a bonus to employers.

Other popular and sought-after languages include Polish, Arabic, Dutch, Japanese, and Russian.

Top tip: Having a language on your CV also demonstrates your cultural awareness, as possessing a language skill often comes hand-in-hand with the cultural knowledge of another country. This in turn can enhance your effectiveness within a role.

Why companies need multilingual employees 

There are plenty of reasons why multilingual workers are in high demand. The world is so much smaller than it used to be, due to easy international travel, connections through the internet, and worldwide user-friendly telecommunications. The realms of business are increasingly global, which means that companies need to work seamlessly with international brands.

With that in mind, here are some of the reasons that employing multilingual staff members can be a huge advantage for business owners: 

1. Dealing with international partners

If a business has clients or partners overseas, having employees that can speak their language is a massive plus. This move instils a sense of trust for the third parties and helps business transactions to progress more smoothly. 

2. Translation purposes 

Of course, some companies will need to translate materials, such as marketing copy and instructional guides. For that reason, they may be looking for employees who speak multiple languages and can translate a range of documents. 

3. Customer service

Spoiler alert: not every customer will speak English. The more languages that a business can operate in, the wider its reach. Hiring staff members that can speak a range of languages gives businesses the opportunity to connect directly with a wider range of customers, helping them to feel supported and valued. Just as with clients and partners, engaging with customers in their native language also increases trust. 

Where should you list your languages?

As we've now established, showcasing levels of language proficiency on your CV is a must. So, where and how should you do this? Most candidates tend to list both the actual language and their level of proficiency (we'll get to that further on!) on this document.

There are a few places where you can add your language skills on your CV.

These include: 

  • Personal Summary: if the job you're applying for depends on you speaking a specific language, it's probably worth highlighting this at the very top of your CV so the recruiter can immediately see that you have that particular skill

  • Skills section: this is perhaps the most logical place to list your language proficiency in a bullet-point format

  • Education: should you have a specific language qualification, you can mention it here too

Top tip: If you have the room on your CV, while keeping it within the designated two pages, you can create a special Language section that details all the languages you speak, as well as the levels.

Where you list your language skills will depend on the role you're applying for. For example, if you're going for a translation role, your language skills will be essential to the position. In that case, you may decide to list them at the top of the document so that the recruiter sees them right away. On the other hand, if the job posting doesn't mention the need for any particular language skills, you may only want to include them within the skills section or a dedicated section solely for your languages.  

Language proficiency levels

Now that you've identified exactly where to list your language skills on your CV, let's discuss the levels of language proficiency. It's important that you're crystal clear about your language levels. It's no good faking it until you make it… unless you want to end up in a particularly sticky situation. The proficiency level means putting a label on how well you can read, speak, and write in a particular language. That way, a prospective employer can immediately see whether the level you're at is the level they require.

Calculating your level of language proficiency is easier said than done though.

If you already have qualifications, you may find it easy to do this. However, the fact is that many people pick up a second language by chance. For instance, you may have grown up speaking the language in your home, or lived abroad and learnt it as you travelled. In these cases, there's a simple way to check where you stand. You can take ESL tests online for most European languages and get certification to prove your competency.

Here are the six levels, using the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) guidelines: 

  • Beginner (A1) 

  • Elementary (A2)

  • Intermediate (B1) 

  • Upper Intermediate (B2) 

  • Advanced (C1) 

  • Mastery (C2) 

When you have gained a certification in any language, you'll also have a grade that you can pop on your CV. For example, you may list your skills as, “French - Advanced (C1)” in the skills section or a dedicated languages section. The only time that you wouldn't use this system is if you happen to be a native speaker. German might be your first language, for example, but you learned English at school. If that's the case, you can list your skill as, “German - Native” and “English - Intermediate (B1)” on your CV. Simple. 

If you don't have any qualifications in the second or third languages that you speak, there is another, more informal, way of listing your levels of language proficiency on your CV.

  1. Native - you grew up speaking this language as your first language.

  2. Fluent - this basically means you're bilingual, which is another great word to add to your CV, either in the skills section or professional summary - and remember to hone in on it within the cover letter as well.

  3. Advanced - not quite fluent but incredibly proficient, so you can hold your own in a conversation and can read and write in that language - though nuances might be missed.

  4. Intermediate - here, you can hold a simple conversation, though you might need a little help from your friends! Additionally, you have a fairly good grasp of a range of vocabulary and understand the grammar.

  5. Basic - you're just beginning to learn the language, and know simple words and phrases, but probably wouldn't be able to have a normal conversation.

Language skills examples on a CV

Let's look at some examples to help you visualise how listing languages on a CV can be done.

Within the Professional Summary at the top of the CV:

A trilingual, adaptable, and intelligent Translator who deploys advanced communication skills while consistently delivering pieces of an exceptionally high standard with a prompt turnaround. Possesses an excellent command of English, Greek, and Finnish, combined with an impressive publication record, producing educational materials and science presentations at international conferences.

In its own dedicated “Language Skills”  section:

  • English (native)

  • German (fluent)

  • French (intermediate)

In the Core Competencies section:

Translating | Proofreading | Communications Development | Greek | Finnish | Research | Content Creation | Translation Management | Copy Writing | Deadline Management | Remote Editing | Editorial Development | Leadership | Problem Resolution | Client Engagement | Editing | Networking |

Three tips to keep in mind when listing languages 

Ready to get started and list languages on your CV? Before you put a figurative pen to paper, you might want some tips to help you along the way.

Here are three things that you need to keep in mind: 

Be honest about your skills 

Are you telling a white lie? When it comes to language skills, you need to be 100% honest about your ability. If you say you can read and write in a specific language, you might well be put to the test at the interview. Don't over-exaggerate what you can do here, as you might be caught out when the interviewer happens to be fluent in Danish as well and starts gabbling away and you haven't got a clue what they're saying!

Keep up to date 

Learning a language is a lot like riding a bike. If you don't use it, you lose it - but you can soon regain that skill. When you're proficient in a specific language, make sure you keep those skills up to date by testing yourself regularly and speaking to someone else with a similar level to you. 

Show off your skills 

When it comes to formatting your CV, be sure to show off your language skills, making sure they're front and centre, particularly if they're part of the job description. Keep in mind that speaking a second language is a huge selling point for a lot of recruiters, so it's often worth mentioning even if it isn't a job requirement.

The takeaway

If you can speak multiple languages, let the world know about it! Your CV is the perfect place to show off this skill set and win more job opportunities. Within this guide, we've taken a look at how you can list them on your CV… the right way. Why not revamp your CV now, and add these awesome skills to it? 

Looking for a new job where you can use your language proficiency? Check out TopCV's free CV review and get ahead of the crowd today!

Recommended reading:

Related Articles: