How to include languages on your CV
Updated 14 August 2023
Having skills in more than one language can bring professional opportunities and demonstrates to employers you have good cultural awareness. For some jobs, competency in certain languages is a requirement, while for others, it demonstrates additional skills which may benefit employers. Knowing where to put your language skills on your CV and how to describe your proficiency can help you to make sure they stand out and get noticed. In this article, we'll explain why and how you might include languages on your CV, the best ways to describe your competency in languages and give a few examples.
Why are languages on your CV important?
Languages on your CV are important because they enable you to work with people across borders and from different cultures. Your language skills can also benefit employers who may need occasional help with translation for customers or employees in different countries.
Multinational companies: Many companies are now multinational and have employees and customers across a number of countries.
Multicultural society: Even when companies don't have operations in more than one country, an increasingly multicultural society means it's likely you'll be working with and serving people whose native language is different to your own.
Cultural awareness: Language skills often come together with cultural knowledge of another country. Whether you're implementing global projects, waiting tables in a popular tourist restaurant or working in a call centre with a multicultural customer base, your language skills and cultural awareness can enhance your effectiveness in your role.
When to include language skills on your CV
If you're competent in more than one language, it's usually a good idea to include it on your CV. If you simply have enough knowledge to use on holiday, you may be better off avoiding adding these to your CV. However, it may still be worth mentioning basic language skills if these could help in your role. For example, if you're applying to serve tables in a tourist cafe and would feel comfortable taking orders and handling simple transactions in one or more languages, this is relevant to the role and benefits your employer.
If you're applying for a more office-based role, for example as a senior financial analyst, then basic language skills may not help in your job and you're better off leaving them off your CV or limiting them to a bullet point in the skills section.
Explaining your language proficiency on your CV
If the job you're applying for has a required level of language proficiency, you can demonstrate this either by listing relevant qualifications or by using a recognised rating scale. If language skills are not a requirement for the role, then your employer might not be aware of recognised rating scales and it may be more helpful to use a different way to describe your abilities.
Here are some ways that you can describe your language abilities:
Recognised language proficiency scales
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) was created by the Council of Europe to standardise levels of ability in European languages and is widely recognised in the UK, throughout Europe and beyond. If your role requires proficiency in a European language, then use this scale to explain your skill level.
There are three overall levels, and each is divided into two sub-levels. Here's a description of what a person would be able to do for each sub-level:
A: Basic user
A1 Breakthrough or beginner: You're able to introduce yourself, answer basic questions about where you live and the people you know and can interact with people who speak slowly and are willing to help.
A2 Waystage or elementary: You can understand simple sentences and commonly used phrases along with being able to discuss topics like family and shopping.
B: Independent user
B1 Threshold or intermediate: You're able to deal with most things that come up when travelling in an area where the language is spoken, can write on topics of personal interest and give simple reasons for opinions you hold. You are also able to describe events, experiences and aspirations.
B2 Vantage or upper intermediate: You can write in detail on a broad range of topics and converse fluently and spontaneously with native speakers.
C: Proficient user
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency (EOP) or advanced: You can use the language skilfully and articulately in social, academic and professional settings and can understand complex, in-depth texts including implicit meaning.
C2 Mastery or proficiency: You can easily understand anything you hear or read and are able to articulate complex concepts, thoughts and ideas with dexterity, drawing out the finer meanings.
Common ways to describe language abilities
If your employer is not specifically recruiting for language skills, rating your abilities using this terminology may be more appropriate:
Beginner: This skill level describes somebody who is just beginning to learn the language. You know some simple words and phrases, but wouldn't be able to write connected text, understand a newspaper or have a conversation in the language.
Intermediate: As an intermediate speaker, you can read and write some phrases and have a simple conversation in the language, provided the person you're speaking to is happy to help and willing to repeat themselves and speak slowly. You understand the grammar of the language and your vocabulary covers a broad range of topics.
Competent: The competent skill level describes a person who can comfortably hold a conversation in the language about topics of interest to them, their own work and social lives, though complex concepts and idiomatic phrases may still present some difficulty. Reading and writing are fairly easy, though implicit ideas and finer points may be missed.
Fluent: People at this skill level are entirely comfortable reading, writing, speaking and listening in almost all situations. They can have a meaningful conversation, and work effectively in the language, though don't have a native level of mastery.
Native: While native language skills refer to the language a person grew up speaking, some people can develop this level of skill after spending many years in a country where the language is spoken.
Where to include languages on your CV
Now you know how to describe your proficiency to employers, the next step is to present your language skills on your CV appropriately. Doing this depends on your abilities and the position you're applying to. Here are some ideas:
Bilingual: If you're bilingual, this is an excellent skill that's worth including in your personal summary, no matter what job you're applying for.
If language skills are required for the role: If language is a requirement for the job, you might have a dedicated language skills section close to the top of your CV. It may also be a good idea to include details in your personal summary section.
If language skills are relevant to the role: When language skills are relevant to the job, but not a requirement, you can have a dedicated languages header in the skills section of your CV.
Other situations: When your language skills aren't obviously relevant to the job, it's usually best to include them in your skills list. It's still worth mentioning them as it demonstrates your cultural awareness and may be helpful in ways that your potential employer hasn't articulated in the job description.
Examples of how to include language skills on your CV
Here are some examples of how you could present your language skills on your CV in different situations:
If you're bilingual
In the personal summary section:
Bilingual legal secretary with seven years of experience working in London and Paris.
In a job where language is a requirement
In your personal summary:
Creative Account Manager with fluent Spanish and French language skills gained over ten years spent working in Seville and Marseilles.
In your language skills section:
English – Native
French – Fluent (CEFR level C2)
Spanish – Fluent (CEFR level C2)
Italian – Advanced (CEFR level C1)
In a job where language is relevant
As a dedicated section under 'skills and education':
Skills and education
In other situations
As a skill:
Word processing and spreadsheet software – intermediate
Full, clean driving licence
Portuguese – Fluent
The model shown is for illustration purposes only, and may require additional formatting to meet accepted standards.
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