How to list language levels of proficiency on your resume

Looking to improve your prospects of getting hired in a competitive job market? Language skills will help boost your chances!

Employers in Malaysia and all over the world are looking not only for the usual candidates. They’re searching for candidates who can connect with diverse clients. Job seekers who can manage global businesses. Those who can speak languages vital to their businesses — like English.

Having strong English proficiency is key to successful employment. According to Malaysian Employers Federation president Datuk Dr Syed Hussain Syed Husman, good English language skills allow employees to broaden their knowledge and find more career opportunities.

Adding this to your resume may, thus, raise your chances of landing an interview.

Whether you have native or bilingual proficiency, this guide will help you stand out. It will give you everything you need to know about listing levels of language skills on your resume

  • Understanding language levels of proficiency
  • Defining language levels of proficiency
  • Determining your current skill level
  • Creating a language skills section on your resume
  • Keeping language skill levels relevant and updated
  • Level up your resume now
  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Understanding language levels of proficiency

Language proficiency refers to an individual’s competency to use a language with accuracy and fluency. It encompasses a range of skills, including speaking, listening, reading, and writing.

Before including your language skills on your resume, learn the main frameworks used. This helps you to accurately represent your abilities.

Several employed frameworks in Malaysia include:

Defining language levels of proficiency

Familiarise yourself with CEFR, ACTFL, and ILR below:


The CEFR has six levels, from A1 to C2. They are divided into Basic User, Independent User, and Proficient User categories.

Adjust these levels for local needs. Each has ‘can-do’ descriptors, showing language skills and abilities at each stage.


ACTFL’s scale consists of five levels: Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, Superior, and Distinguished.

The first three levels have Low, Mid, and High sub-levels. Each major level shows different language abilities. They create a hierarchy, including the skills of the lower levels.

3. ILR

The ILR Scale measures listening, reading, speaking, and writing language skills. It rates levels from 0 (No Proficiency) to 5 (Functionally Native Professional Proficiency).

Assign Plus levels (e.g., 0+, 1+) when the proficiency is higher than a base level but not yet at the next higher base level.

The proficiency levels on the ILR Scale are as follows:

  • 0, or No Proficiency
  • 0+, or Memorised Proficiency
  • 1, or Elementary Proficiency
  • 1+, or Elementary Proficiency, Plus
  • 2, or Limited Working Proficiency
  • 2+, or Limited Working Proficiency, Plus
  • 3, or Professional Working Proficiency
  • 3+, or Professional Working Proficiency, Plus
  • 4, or Full Professional Proficiency
  • 4+, or Full Professional Proficiency, Plus
  • 5, or Native or Bilingual Fluency

Determining your current skill level

woman working on her laptop at home

The first step is to assess your language skill. Use these three methods to determine your level.

Method #1: Self-assessment

Self-assessment is a valuable starting point. Begin by reflecting on your language skills and evaluating your abilities. This helps you to gauge your strengths and areas for improvement.

Think about how well you speak, listen, read, and write in the language. Compare your abilities to descriptors from CEFR or ILR to find your best level.

Method #2: Language tests & certifications

If you want a professional evaluation, consider standardised language tests and certifications. They are recognised neutral assessments of your proficiencies.

They measure your language abilities and provide a score based on your skill level. Popular language tests include the TOEFL, IELTS, DELE, and others.

Method #3: Evaluating practical usage

Besides formal assessments, real-life language usage provides valuable insights into your communication skills.

Think about how you use the language at work, travel, or through books and movies. This helps you see how well you can communicate in real situations.

Combine the above methods to have a well-rounded view of your language level. This helps you list language skills accurately on your resume and set realistic learning goals for growth.

Creating a language skills section on your resume

Once you’re aware of your skills, it’s time to add the languages you know to your resume. Effectively showcasing your language skills on your resume impresses potential employers.

It also sets you apart from other candidates.

For example, English is “valued as a pragmatic language among Malaysia’s working adults”, according to a research paper published in the GEMA Online™ Journal of Language Studies. In Malaysia’s diverse job market, employers will thus prioritise a candidate’s English skills.

Let’s look at the key aspects of creating a compelling language skills section on your resume.

Aspect #1: Organising your language skill levels

When organising your language skills, you have two choices. Decide if you want a separate section or integrate them with other resume sections. Both work. But, a dedicated section allows your skills to be seen easily.

Separate or integrated section: A separate section is recommended if language skills play a crucial role in the applied job. This way, employers can quickly identify your linguistic competencies. If your language is complementary, integrate it within sections like the personal statement. This can be a more practical approach.

Placement within the resume language section: The location of your language skills section matters. Put it near the top of your resume to catch the recruiter’s attention early on. This encourages employers to review your resume more thoroughly.

Aspect #2: Formatting & presenting your language skill levels

Next, keep your language skills section clear and easy to understand. You have two options to show your skill levels:

Descriptive adjectives vs level indicators. Descriptive adjectives like “Fluent” or “Basic” provide a quick gauge of your skill level. Meanwhile, standardised level indicators like CEFR’s A1, B2, or ILR’s 0, 1, 2, offer precise and recognised descriptors. Choose the format that best suits your own resume language skills and target industry.

Visual representation of skill. Use graphics like bar charts to represent your skills. They offer an overview of your language abilities. It can also be an attention-grabbing addition to your resume.

Whichever option you choose, be sure to list your language skills using consistent naming conventions. For instance, if you are fluent in Spanish, consistently use Spanish” instead of “Español.” This uniformity makes your language skills section appealing and professional.

Aspect #3: Listing specific language skills

Present your linguistic abilities clearly and concisely. This section allows employers to gauge your language skill. They can also assess how it aligns with the job requirements.

Native Languages. Begin by stating your primary languages. These are the ones you are most proficient in or consider your native languages. Employers consider it a valuable asset. This is especially so if the job requires communication in the local language. When indicating them, you can write “Native”, such as “Malay (Native).”

If you are fluent in your native tongue, two, or many languages, emphasise this unique skill. For example, list “Malay (Native), English (Native)” to show your bilingual skills. This is helpful in Malaysia’s multicultural environment.

Foreign Languages. Afterwards, include those you have learned or are proficient in. Specify your level of proficiency in each foreign language. For example, “French (Intermediate)” or “Spanish (Advanced).”

You can still mention it on your resume if you’re learning a language and haven’t yet reached fluency. State your current skill level (e.g., “French (Intermediate)”). Add a note about your ongoing efforts to improve. For example, write “Currently taking advanced French courses to enhance language proficiency.”

As you progress, update your resume to showcase your commitment to continuous improvement. This makes you an attractive candidate for multilingual positions.

Note, however, that adding more linguistic skills to your resume can be beneficial, as long as they are relevant to your job, notes New York-based career expert, Amanda Augustine.

Aspect #4: Describing your language level

Next, effectively describe your language skill on your resume. This is crucial for employers to understand your competency level accurately.

To ensure consistency and clarity:

Review standardised proficiency descriptors. 

Take the time to review the standardised proficiency descriptors by frameworks like CEFR, ACTFL, or ILR. They offer clear guidelines and benchmarks for different language skill levels. Effectively communicate your language abilities to recruiters and hiring managers by understanding them.

Familiarise yourself with descriptor scales. 

Each skill level is linked to specific descriptor scales. Familiarise yourself with them to accurately gauge your language skills. This helps you determine whether you fall within the Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, or Superior levels. It also provides a more precise indication of your abilities.

Be honest about your competencies. 

Honesty is key when describing your language skills. Avoid exaggerating your abilities or claiming to be more proficient than you are. Likewise, don’t underestimate your skills. Be transparent about your true level of proficiency. Employers may evaluate your language abilities during interviews or practical assessments.

Align your skills with the descriptors.

Ensure your language skills align accurately with the descriptors provided in the frameworks. For instance, you have the ability to engage in basic conversations but need help with complex written texts. Place yourself within the appropriate proficiency level that reflects this. This way, employers can better understand your strengths and areas for improvement. Also, add context and real-life examples to your language skills section. This strengthens your resume and substantiates your claims.

Here are two key areas where you can show your language ability levels:

Demonstrating language proficiency in work experience. Showcase experiences where language skills were important. For instance, you were a bilingual customer service representative. Mention how you communicated with clients in their native language, boosting customer satisfaction.

Highlighting language skills in education. Include language-related educational experiences that show your skills. If you completed language-specific courses, emphasise how they contributed to your linguistic development.

Aspect #5: Highlight language-related achievements

  • Lastly, include language-related experiences and achievements beyond education that reinforce your skill. This demonstrates practical application and real-world use of your skills.
  • Here are some ways to do so:
  • Mention any language certificates or diplomas from recognised institutions in your resume. They add credibility to your claims and show your commitment to professional development. 
  • Include test scores from standardised language proficiency exams like TOEFL or DELE. They provide a neutral measure of your language abilities. The scores are also respected by employers and institutions worldwide.
  • If you have specialised language diplomas in fields like legal translation, highlight them too. They show expertise and make you valuable in industries with specific language demands.
  • Mention on your resume if you participated in a study abroad programme or worked in an overseas country where the target language is spoken.
  • If you have engaged in translation or interpretation work, include relevant details. Have you done professional translation services? Or informal ones for friends or family? What about providing interpretation during meetings or events?

Keeping language skill levels relevant and updated

an employee doing online research on his laptop

Like any other skill, language skills need continuous practice to remain relevant. Incorporate these strategies to stay competitive in the job market:

Strategy #1: Continuous learning and improvement

Recognise that learning is an ongoing process. Embrace a growth mindset and strive to improve your language skill levels continuously. Set achievable goals and track your progress to stay motivated and focused.

Enrol in language classes that align with your skill level and learning objectives. Structured learning environments provide opportunities to practise in the target language.

Language learning apps and websites also offer accessible and convenient resources for self-study. Many platforms provide interactive lessons tailored to your language proficiency level and schedule.

Strategy #2: Professional language development

Or, invest in professional language development programmes. This is important if language skill is significant in your desired job. These courses cater to professionals in specific fields. They focus on industry-specific skills.

Immerse yourself in language communities, both online and offline. Join language exchange groups or social media communities to speak with native language speakers. Engaging with others provides valuable real-life practice and cultural insights.

Or, look out for language workshops, seminars, and conferences in your area or online. Language experts and experienced speakers there often share valuable tips and best practices.

Level up your resume now

In today’s globally connected job market, presenting language proficiency on your resume has never been more paramount.

Beyond listing languages, it’s about showcasing your ability to bridge communication gaps. It’s also to understand diverse cultural nuances and engage in a multicultural world.

By emphasising your language proficiency, you’re not just adding another skill to your resume. You’re also signalling to potential employers your readiness to navigate the intricacies of a globalised workplace.

It’s also about empowering yourself with a competitive advantage. In a sea of qualified candidates, it’s these soft skills, like language proficiency, that often make the most significant difference.

As you step into the future, let your multilingual capabilities be the beacon that sets you apart, making you not just a potential employee but a global asset.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

  1. Should I include every foreign language I know on my resume?
    Including every foreign language you know is not necessary. Focus on listing languages relevant to the job you are applying for or are sought after in your industry. You may mention complementary languages in your cover letter to make it stand out more if you wish to.
  2. Can I mention a language I am learning but not yet fluent in?
    Yes, you can mention a foreign language you are currently learning on your resume. But, be transparent about your skill level. Use phrases such as “Currently learning” or “In progress”.

    ⁠This indicates you are still developing your skills. It also shows your commitment and willingness to expand your language abilities.
  3. How do I express my language skill level if I am a native speaker?
    If you are a native speaker of a language, you can state it as “Native” next to the language. For example, “Malay (Native)” or “English (Native).” Being a native speaker showcases your highest fluency and expertise in the language.
  4. Should I provide evidence or proof of my language competencies?
    You don’t need to provide direct evidence of your language proficiency levels. But, you can mention certifications or test scores to support your claims. Be ready to discuss your language fluency abilities during interviews if needed.
  5. How do I update my language skill levels on my resume as I progress?
    Regular updates show your dedication to learning and improving. Add higher proficiency levels and new certifications. Also, keep the section organised and consistent with your current language abilities.

Source – Jobstreet