Describing My Language Skills on a Resume

Foreign language skills can make a resume really stand out; the ability to communicate in different languages can be very attractive to an employer. However, it’s often hard to know how to describe your language skills. What exactly does ‘one-semester college-level French’ or ‘my parents speak Farsi at home’ translate into for a resume? Use this worksheet to determine what level of proficiency you should indicate on your resume, and take pride in your language skills!

I can….

  • Read and understand short paragraphs of simple text
  • Communicate basic, everyday needs to a native speaker, with some repetition required on my part
  • Understand a native speaker in short conversations about basic, everyday needs and the gist – though not the details – of longer descriptions
  • Create sentences and short paragraphs related to my survival needs

👉 on your resume, write ‘basic [language]’

 

I can do all of those things, and I can also…

  • Understand most factual material in non-technical prose, separating out the big idea from the small details
  • Control my tone to be appropriate to the situation most of the time, communicating on topics relating to my particular interests effectively, for the most part
  • Understand most conversations on work requirements, as well as some discussions on concrete subjects – but I may get lost in more abstract topics
  • Write with some precision and detail about most common topics, but I struggle with more abstract topics and some constructions

👉 on your resume, write ‘conversational [language]’

 

I can do all of those things, and I can also…

  • Read and comprehend a variety of styles and forms that are pertinent to professional needs
  • Use the language to satisfy professional needs in a wide range of sophisticated and demanding tasks, while sometimes exhibiting some uncertainy or errors
  • Understand most of the content and intent of a variety of forms and styles of speech pertinent to professional needs, general topics, and social conversation – but I sometimes miss cultural subtleties and nuances
  • Write in the language in a few styles that are pertinent to my professional or educational needs

👉 on your resume, write ‘proficient [language]’

 

I can do all of those things, and I can also…

  • Read and understand extremely difficult and abstract prose, such as general legal and technical writing – as well as highly colloquial text
  • Use the language in conversation with complete flexibility and intuition, and my speech is fully accepted by native speakers
  • Understand all forms and style of speech, including regional and illiterate dialects, as well as conversations that have interference from other noise
  • Write official reports and documents, as well as write for specialized purposes

👉 on your resume, write ‘fluent [language]’

 

But what if I can do some, but not all, of the tasks at one level?

It’s very common to be stronger in some areas than in others in your language ability. Additionally, if you grew up in a household that spoke a different language than the one you used in school, your writing abilities will often lag behind your other skills. And that’s okay! With the exception of the ‘Fluent’ level, if you can do three of the four tasks described above, you may consider yourself at that level of fluency. To consider yourself ‘Fluent,’ you should be able to do all four tasks detailed above.

By Yale Office of Career Strategy
Yale Office of Career Strategy Yale Office of Career Strategy