Fluency Levels for Foreign Language on Resumes

What are the levels of fluency for a language, and for each level how much are you expected to know in an interview setting?

language fluency levels for job applications

When putting your foreign language experience on your resume or on your application, it is important to not overstate your skill. A key point is that it is better to be more conservative rather than less conservative. Some users even feel that you should only put your language skills on your resume if you are business proficient or higher.

Which Level of Language Proficiency Am I?

If you are not sure how skilled you are at a language, one user shared a site that can help you test your proficiency in a respective foreign language – you can use this to determine your level of proficiency for the purposes of your resume.

You can also use the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale to figure out your proficiency. The ILR scale gives a complete description of language proficiency levels which is more transferable to resumes. We've listed the common equivalent next to the ILR ranking. Examine the rankings carefully. An exaggeration of language skills could put you in a bad situation. Do not list "Full Professional Proficiency" or "Fluent" next to any language, unless you can proceed in an interview in said language.



ILR Level and equivalentLevel of Proficiency
Elementary Proficiency / BasicIncludes the only the basic functions of using the language.
Limitied Working Proficiency/ ConversationalAbility to communicate socially with limited professional application of the language.
Professional Working Proficiency / BusinessAble to speak clearly in a structured manner. Good sense of the languages grammar. Broad Vocabulary.
Full Professional Proficiency / FluentCan participate in any conversation with experience. Fluent use of the language.

How to Put Fluency on Resume?

You can check out how to list foreign language skills on your resume. Note that the applicant lists their language skills as basic in French and fluent in Mandarin.

Read more about this topic on two detailed WSO threads:

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Comments (45)

Aug 4, 2011 - 8:29pm

Basic, Proficient, Fluent, Native -- of course those aren't the only ones I've seen. I hope you're fluent if you're getting interviewed in that language.

Array
Aug 4, 2011 - 9:46pm

I mean, there's a huge gap between basic and proficient.

I mean is basic like knowing colors, numbers and some words? And would proficient be some grammar?

Always be improving
Aug 4, 2011 - 10:29pm
OSahead:
I mean, there's a huge gap between basic and proficient.

Intermediate? Interested as well.
I consider myself fluent in spanish in the regard that I can read a newspaper, discuss politics, tell stories, and in general converse with natives w/o slowing them down terribly. I never put anything more than intermediate on a resume though.
Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art - Andy Warhol
Aug 4, 2011 - 10:39pm

The only two fluency levels relevant for your resume:

none or business-level.

They really dont care if you can ask where the bathroom is in spanish. If you arent ready to interview in the languages on your resume, you should just leave them off. (I learned this the hard way)

Array

  • 1
Best Response
Aug 5, 2011 - 12:48am

Allow me to qualify my last post. I put spanish intermediate fluency as it was for a microfinance internship in LatAm. I was first given a phone interview where they proceeded to ask me to translate several different statements and answer a series of questions in spanish.
The job description included a requirement for a "developed" level of fluency.

Ditto what cries said for anything more formal; all you're doing is giving the interviewer a chance to ding you.

Here is mba/admission/academic_record.html">Stanford GSB's language proficiency tiers (scroll down)

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art - Andy Warhol
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Aug 5, 2011 - 1:28am

SB for both. Thank you so much for the response. Also that link is awesome.

Always be improving
Dec 15, 2011 - 9:15am

I learned 5 years Spanish in school and describe my knowledge there as "basic", the lowest level. Reason is I can not communicate in the language, but my knowledge would help me not starve in a spanish-speaking environment . Also it is a good basis to improve my skills to conversational.

Fluent means for me that you can discuss whatever subjects arise in this language and you can communicate. It's fine if the other person you talk to notices that you are not a native-speaker and possibly make a lot of mistakes and use not optimal grammar/wording as long as it does not create a burden on actual communication, i.e. what do you want, what is the problem, what are the solutions etc...

Jan 1, 2012 - 6:11pm

I grew up speaking Chinese and English, so I'm a native speaker when it comes to Mandarin. I'm fine with cultural references and some local jargon and the Shanghai dialect (to an extent) but because I only ever use Chinese for casual conversation/vacation I can't really participate in conversations on a professional level (esp. if finance/banking terms are being used). What level of fluency would this be counted as?

Jan 1, 2012 - 10:14pm

yeah, my chinese professor told me that I'm conversationally fluent (I'm learning how to read/write right now, but I'm in the course sequence for native speakers so we've already covered a good 500+ characters) but I'm just worried that if I put that on my resume the assumption is that I'm fluent when it comes to professional-level conversations.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:08am

What constitutes "fluency"? (Originally Posted: 10/04/2009)

I'm currently applying to internships overseas, and my question is whether or not I should be expecting some sort of test of "fluency" if I land any interviews. While I could definitely carry on a conversation in said foreign language, my concern is that my vocab isn't advanced enough to pitch a stock or talk about global markets without sounding like a 5th grader. Any input?

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:10am

Wait, you're applying to jobs in countries where said foreign language is the national language? You're wasting your time. If you are not fluent enough to discuss finance, you're certainly not going to get the job, and if you do you are going to be useless. Either way, it doesn't sound like you're fluent.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:12am
drexelalum11:
Wait, you're applying to jobs in countries where said foreign language is the national language? You're wasting your time. If you are not fluent enough to discuss finance, you're certainly not going to get the job, and if you do you are going to be useless. Either way, it doesn't sound like you're fluent.

This doesnt apply to hong kong, you can get a job there without knowing how to speak/read/write cantonese or mandarin,

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:14am
CNI:
Again, I'd have no problem talking about a movie, sports, politics, whatever. I just don't exactly know wtf WACC would translate to in mandarin.

lol same here! You should be able to also read a magazine article in the language, had to do that in one of my interviews (it wasn't pretty...)

For Mandarin, you don't really need to worry unless you're applying to the Asia offices though.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:15am

that's not true - i've interviewed before and some ppl thinkk lfuent is just talk, some think its translate, some think its talk 1/2 in english and 1/2 in Chinese - it all depends

i've been turned away b/c im not "fluent enough" while others think im plenty fluent

as far as im concerned im fluent since i translate at work all the tim e-im just more comfortable speaking english

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:16am

Language fluency (Originally Posted: 02/09/2011)

Can I consider myself fluent if I can read/write/speak a language, but i do not know the technical terms to use it at a business setting? Since it is a matter of learning business jargon rather than not knowing grammar structure/phrasing, etc.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:17am

you're fluent so that if the person interviewing you launches into a diatribe in that language, you can understand and converse fluently in that language.

therefore, be very, very careful in claiming fluency about spanish, french, russian, or chinese because you never know... getting called on this bluff is the quickest way to a ding.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:18am

Here's the thing: how many AMERICANS are fluent in finance lingo in the English language? I think it's fair to say if you're a native speaker or close to it (re: you didn't just take courses at school) it's reasonable to put it on. I don't know many people who are business fluent in their native tongue, even if they finished high school in their respective countries.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:19am

The whole putting fluent thing on a resume has always made me uncomfortable. I lived in Austria for a while and speak German. Never had a problem doing anything when I was there entirely in German but I don't know if I would call myself fluent because there are definitely situations where I would be lost (Hospital environment, High Level academic discussion, etc.)

If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford
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Feb 9, 2015 - 11:21am

It depends a bit on the language and culture of the country(ies) in which it is spoken. In some countries it is looked down upon if you don't know the technical terms while in others (usually with more obscure languages) it's perfectly ok to make grammar mistakes or forget a word every now and then as long as you're understandable and can follow a conversation. When you are REALLY fluent (as in you can ready any book, watch any movie, understand different accents, follow a conversation in a loud bar, talk as fast as a native, understand a lecture on complex topics etc.) but you just don't know some terms you should be fine in most places.

I moved out from my home country when I was a teenager and so when I was interviewing there I often didn't know the technical terms. It was never an issue. I worked in many different countries (including ones in which languages mentioned by ibhopeful532 were spoken, and many others) and I've seen:
- colleagues trying to speak the local language and making a grammar mistake in every single word (you would think they would get at least a few of them right, if only by coincidence, but not!) and still being taken seriously,
- executives who were unable to use any technical term despite having no foreign accent (as a result every third word they spoke was in English - it was hilarious, sometimes the only words they used in the local language were "and", "because" and "in my opinion"). Still, they were well respected by their colleagues for their knowledge and experience
- I've worked in teams where I was the only non-fluent speaker and often resorted to mixing languages to make myself understandable - again, never an issue, I got on well with my teammates and got good reviews

In my experience perfect fluency is overrated - you can be successful with just "very good" knowledge of a language. Sure, you can meet a language purist who dings you because you don't know a term, or (much more often) just get dinged because of other reasons but be officially told your language skills are not enough.

Of course it never hurts to improve and learning technical vocabulary is not that difficult - much easier than learning a language! Just read some newspapers regularly, go through some textbooks and you'll pick it up easily. If you have a friend of family member who speaks the language it helps a lot if you try to explain some to them some more complex concepts where you will need to use technical terms.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:23am

How to state language proficiency? (Originally Posted: 10/17/2012)

As of now, I write on my resume that I have "basic proficiency" in Chinese. If you were read that description, how good at Chinese would you assume I am?

My actual speaking/listening ability level falls somewhere in between Novice-High and Intermediate-Mid according to this guide (http://www.actfl.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/public/Guidelines.pdf). I'm rusty right now, but a month of hitting the books/Rosetta Stone speaking practice would get me to the top-end of that range.

In terms of writing and reading, I'm a bit worse: I think I could pass Level III of this test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hanyu_Shuiping_Kaoshi), but it would be skin-of-the-teeth thing.

What proficiency level do you think I should put down? I don't want to oversell myself and be ripped to shreds by a native speaker at an interview...

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:26am

Resume Question - Languages question (Originally Posted: 10/30/2012)

I'm apologizing right now if there is a thread with this, but I can't find it in searching.
When listing languages on a resume, I am wondering what proficiencies I can claim. Obviously English is my native language, but I also can read and decipher and put together simple sentences in Swedish. I am by no means fluent, but I can ask people simple questions and understand simple replies. Also, I am now beginning Spanish at my local university and by the time my resume is submitted I would have completed a semester based Spanish 1010 class. How could I present this to my benefit on a resume, and still be 100% truthful?

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:27am

Also, this will not be for a job, but rather a graduate school application. I felt they could be one in the same.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:29am

How should I label language proficiency? (Originally Posted: 10/30/2012)

I speak English as my native language.
I am able to ask and follow simple commands, as well as maintain a slow uncomplicated conversation in Swedish. (I don't have phrases memorized, I can fabricate sentences myself). I am in no ways fluent.
I am now starting a beginner Spanish Class, which by time my resume is submitted, I will have completed 1 semester of Spanish 1010 at a local university.
How should I present this on my resume to be beneficial, and also truthful?

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:31am

Would you really expect a conversation in Swedish if he puts "conversational"? I've always taken that to mean "look, I can speak it if I have to but not in a business context so really this is just filler sh*t" and have never been asked to conduct interviews in the languages I have down as conversational. The Spanish.. either "beginner" or just leave it off the CV - it probably won't ever add any value beyond saying to a reader that you took some courses and that's that.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:32am

Foreign languages on resume (Originally Posted: 07/19/2015)

I can fluently communicate in 4 languages, how should I put this on my resume? I don't want to look like an idiot who believes he "speaks" 4 languages, but I definitely think this might help me stand out. Also, should I include some language test scores to "prove" it?

Thanks!

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:33am

'Languages: Proficient in w,x,y, and z'

I think providing test scores would actually make you look like a prick. Theres a major difference between working proficiency, which is the biggest joke of all times, and 'proficient.' Just my 0.02

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:34am

Unless you are applying outside of the US, or if you are applying in the US and one of those languages is Spanish, I don't think any are going to be useful on a resume - also just my $0.02. If the firm is big enough to be in foreign countries, chances are that they can hire cheaper labor in those countries with native speakers.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:36am

Absolutely list the languages. We invest globally and highly value candidates who can speak the local languages where we transact. We strive to build a complimentary team in that respect.

Double Doubler
Feb 9, 2015 - 11:37am

Definitely list the languages, and especially if you are at the fully-proficient to fluent level.
This coming from someone who has had a couple of Wall Street interviews conducted in foreign language.

Feb 9, 2015 - 11:38am

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