How to mention your language knowledge on a CV

Together with the familiar cover letter, a curriculum vitae is the first impression that a potential employer receives of you.

On a CV you therefore find many different types of information about yourself, so that this person is able to form a clearer picture about just who you are and what skills you have. 

Therefore various of your assets are mentioned on a CV, such as automation knowledge, the education you’ve enjoyed and language knowledge. Below we look at this phenomenon in greater detail: when do you mention your language knowledge on your CV, and how do you so in a clear, structured way? 

What parts does a CV have?

A CV contains all the data on yourself that are important for a potential new employer. You are, as it were, subtly selling yourself, with strengths being highlighted and any shortcomings being pushed somewhat into the background. Because this is a personal document, all CV´s are different. They do, however, contain a number of fixed parts that come up in every one, such as personal details and education.

Another CV part that you often see is a section headed "skills". Here you don´t specify the education you’ve had or the work experience you’ve already acquired, but extra advantages that don’t fall under these denominators. Think here e.g. of courses and earned certificates, knowledge of specific software packages and publications in various media.

Language knowledge
Another example of a skill that an employer might be interested in is language knowledge. By this we mean a mention of the (foreign) languages that you can speak and write. Specifying this knowledge is very important for e.g. international applications, but given the ever-increasing economic globalisation it is recommended in any event to mention the languages you know on your curriculum vitae.

How do I mention language knowledge on CV´s?

The best way to indicate language knowledge on CV´s is by using a table or diagram. In this way the reader immediately sees which languages you can use and which not. In so doing, distinguish between the three following aspects of language mastery:

  • Speaking
  • Writing
  • Reading

The ability to speak a language is the most important. For example, if you can speak German well, the employer knows that he could use you in countries where this language is spoken, or in a joint venture with someone else who speaks it.

Writing a language generally means going a step further than just speaking it alone. It is often more difficult, because you to have to be able to properly conjugate verbs and so on. If you can write another language perfectly, this definitely should be mentioned on your CV.

The extent to which you can read a language also says something about your level of understanding of this language. For the employer, this can be a real reason to choose your CV over someone else’s.

What different standards do I cite?

There exist different criteria to indicate how well you have mastered a language. If you come from Flanders, then it will often be the case that you speak Dutch well. We then use the term ´mother tongue´. Do you speak French well, but it isn´t the language you grew up with in your family? Then you can use the assessment ´Fluent´ or ´Good´. All in all we distinguish amongst the following terms for indicating how well you command a language:

  • Mother tongue
  • Fluent
  • Good
  • Satisfactory
  • Rudimentary

Another possibility is to mention the international standards that apply for language proficiency. A distinction is made here between Level A (the basics), level B (a higher level) or level C (an excellent command).

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