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Language Proficiency Levels: How to Figure Out Your Language Skill Level and What to Put on Your Resume

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Published:
Jul 3, 2020

Interested in adding your new language to your résumé and wondering what the requirements are for including it? Or maybe you’re just curious about where your language level is currently at and just how well you know the language. If you’re wondering which language proficiency scales or exams you can take to determine your level in a language, you’ll find the answers below.

There are several scales you can use to determine your language proficiency level. If your interest is just to know your level in the language, you can use these frameworks to roughly estimate your level. If you plan to list your language level on your CV or résumé, it’s best to back it up with an official language exam--in fact, many companies require an official certification to verify your ability in the language. 

Language Proficiency Scales

There are several scales you can use to determine the answer to the question: “What are the different levels of language proficiency?” There are three primary scaling systems for language levels: CEFR, IRL, and ACFTL. 

Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR)

The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) has three main levels: basic user, independent user, and proficient user. These are each broken down into two further subdivisions. A basic user could be A1 or A2, an independent user B1 or B2, and a proficient user C1 or C2. 

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Here are the official descriptions of each level according to the CEFR website:

Basic User - A1

Can understand sentences and frequently used expressions related to areas of most immediate relevance (e.g. very basic personal and family information, shopping, local geography, employment). Can communicate in simple and routine tasks requiring a simple and direct exchange of information on familiar and routine matters.  Can describe in simple terms aspects of his/her background, immediate environment, and matters in areas of immediate need.

A2

Can understand and use familiar everyday expressions and very basic phrases aimed at the satisfaction of needs of a concrete type. Can introduce him/herself and others and can ask and answer questions about personal details such as where he/she lives, people he/she knows and things he/she has. Can interact in a simple way provided the other person talks slowly and clearly and is prepared to help.

Independent User - B1

Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in his/her field of specialization. Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party. Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.

B2

Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc. Can deal with most situations likely to arise whilst traveling in an area where the language is spoken.  Can produce simple connected text on topics which are familiar or of personal interest. Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes & ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.

Proficient User - C1

Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read. Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments, and accounts in a coherent presentation. Can express him/herself spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in more complex situations.

C2

Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer texts, and recognize implicit meaning. Can express him/herself fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions. Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic, and professional purposes. Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors, and cohesive devices.

Inter-agency Language Round-table (ILR)

The Inter-agency Language Round-table (ILR) is based on the U.S. Foreign Service Institute’s scale. It, along with ACTFL, are the most common proficiency scales in the U.S. IRL has five different levels (with Level 3 usually being the minimum requirement from employers). 

Here are the five foreign language proficiency levels based on the ILR scale: 

0 - No Proficiency

At this level, you may know a few words in the language but aren’t able to form sentences or hold conversations. It would be written as “No Spanish” or “No French”.

1 - Elementary Proficiency

At elementary proficiency, you are likely able to form basic phrases in the language as well as ask and answer basic questions. You would be at this stage if you knew just enough of the language to travel to the country and “get by” or shortly after you start to learn the language. It would be written as “Elementary Spanish” or “Elementary French”.

3 - Professional Working Proficiency

Are you able to carry out basic work tasks in your language? If you can contribute to conversations in meetings, carry out tasks, or have conversations with clients or co-workers, your language proficiency would be Professional Working. 

At this level, you would likely have an extensive vocabulary and speak at a normal speed, but you still might not understand nuanced or highly technical language. It would be written as “Professional Working Spanish” or “Professional Working French”.

4 - Full Professional Proficiency

If you have Full Professional Proficiency in a language, you can hold advanced discussions on a diverse range of topics. You would be comfortable speaking about your personal life, current events, or even technical subjects related to work, politics, or finance. This level is highly desired by employers. It would be written as “Full Professional Spanish” or “Full Professional French”.

5 - Native / Bilingual Proficiency

If you are a native speaker of a level or have bilingual proficiency, you most likely grew up speaking the language or have used the language for so long, you would be considered fluent in the language. It would be written as “Native Spanish” or “Bilingual French / English”.

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American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) guidelines “are a description of what individuals can do with language in terms of speaking, writing, listening, and reading in real-world situations in a spontaneous and non-rehearsed context.“ Like IRL, it has five main levels: novice, intermediate, advanced, superior, and distinguished. Where it differs is that the first three levels are divided into low, mid, and high.

What exams can you take to demonstrate your language fluency?

The ACTFL and CEFR each have respective exams that you can take to demonstrate your ability in a language. The ACTFL exam evaluates your reading, writing, listening, and speaking. It is available for Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Thai, and English as a second language.

CEFR Exams include:

Other exams you can take include:

  • HSK Exam for Mandarin Chinese
  • JLPT Exam for Japanese
  • TOPIK Exam for Korean
  • TELC Exam for German
  • TCF Exam for French
  • TORFL for Russian
  • SOPI for Spanish 
  • TOEFL for English

Exams you can take online are:

What does it mean to be proficient in a language?

What is language proficiency? If you are proficient in a language, you have some working or communication capacity, usually at an advanced level. The term “proficient” tends to be overused and lower language capacities are often brought into the use of this term.

What language level am I? 

Wondering what language level you are at? You can read the descriptions of the different proficiency levels and determine where you sit on the scale according to what you are able to do. If you need something more official, or if you would like to take an online test, you can refer to the list of exams above.

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When are you considered fluent in a language?

There are many different ways fluency is defined. You could be fully fluent, conversationally fluent, have a fluent reading ability or you can be fluent in specific subjects. 

According to Luca Lampariello, fluency is: “The linguistic ability, combined with cultural awareness, to smoothly and confidently interact with native speakers in a meaningful way.” 

Donovan Nagel of Mezzofanti Guild defines it as the ability “to use their target language to learn more target language.”

An article on Clozemaster shares that fluency could be defined as “simply displaying competence in the language relevant to the domains in which you regularly interact.”

There are many different ways one might define fluency, but it all comes down to the ability to use the language to understand and communicate in a meaningful way.

How do you list your language fluency levels on your résumé?

If you speak a language at a level that you would like to list on your résumé, you would include it in the section where you list your skills. You would list your level as such:

  • Full Professional Japanese
  • C1 French 

You can also add a short description following your language skill levels. So, for example, you could write:

  • Full Professional Japanese: Ability to discuss about business subjects including marketing, sales, and product management.

Together, multiple languages may be:

  • Languages: native English, Full Professional Japanese

Ways to Improve Your Proficiency in Any Language

Want to boost your proficiency in a new language? Here are some tips to help you improve your level in another language. 

1. Learn lots of new vocabulary

One of the skills that has the ability to hold you back from reaching fluency or proficiency in a language is a lack of vocabulary. It is important to build a strong vocabulary in a language on the topics that are most relevant to you as well as on common subjects that come up in regular conversations.

This is one of the key reasons why Drops focuses on vocabulary. Words are an important part of building a strong foundation in a new language, and by having a wide vocabulary, you can communicate with greater ease. 

2. Spend time building each of the four core skills

In language learning, there are four core skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. To improve your proficiency in a language, you need to spend time building each of these skills.

3. Get exposure to native language materials

This step is one of the most enjoyable parts of the language learning process! To improve your proficiency, it’s important to hear the language as it’s spoken and read the language as it’s written for native speakers (not just for language learners). Listen to music in your new language, watch tv series, enjoy movies, read books, or listen to the radio.

4. Don’t settle

When we reach a comfortable level in a language and are able to communicate in the majority of situations, we often settle and stop working to make significant gains in the language. Even at an advanced level, it’s important to continue to look for ways to continue to improve your language ability. Put yourself in unfamiliar situations and practice topics you’re not used to discussing.

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