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Resume Critique January 15, 2007

Posted by Edwin in French, Motivation, Spanish.

Unless I know a language well enough that I can communicate in it, I cannot claim to know the language.

A few months ago, my company’s human resource department ran a resume critique session for funding-raising purposes. I decided to dust off my years-old resume and give them a shot. After giving out a few suggestions here and there, the HR guy was near the end of the resume. “No offensive here”, he said, “but I would remove the line concerning French and Spanish”.

He was referring to the lines I put under the language session:

  • Fluent in English and Chinese
  • Rudimental French and Spanish

He went on to explain his opinion, “if I don’t know a language enough that I can communicate in it, I would remove its reference. It does not mean anything to the hirers” So I removed it. Not a big deal to me.

Afterwards, I thought about what he said and it was indeed very true. It does not matter if I am very interested in French and Spanish, got good grades in my high school exams, know how to count, say some basic greetings, or even understand some articles in those languages, if I cannot perform basic communications, I cannot claim to know the languages. “I know a bit of the language” basically means nothing. Nada! Rien du tout!

From then on, I have made up my mind. Some time in the future, I am going to put that line back into my resume, be it 3 years, 5 years, or even 10 years. In fact, I will combine it with the previous line:

  • Fluent in English, Chinese, French and Spanish


1. 米蘭 - January 15, 2007

I agree. I used to think the employer would be quite impressed even if I knew a basic level of a language. But basics of a language really mean nothing in a business sense or a real world situation.

I don’t think nowadays language skills are that important. Unless the job description/requirements have outlined the need for the language, I would not bother with it.

If the companies only deal locally, I can’t see the need. If you were in Australia applying for computer programmer job with the Tax Department; I can’t see any value in saying you can speak English, Chinese, Spanish etc, it would simply chew up valuable space on the resume. You would already have assumed fluency in English by default.

However, in Hong Kong many job ads state that the applicant should be fluent in English, Chinese and Putonghua. Where I think Chinese refers to Chinese reading/writing ability and Cantonese, or the Cantonese is assumed.

2. edwinlaw - January 15, 2007

Milan, thanks for your comment again.

I would think it depends on the job nature. Language skills would be important for those customer-facing jobs, such as sales and tourist guides.

Of course, it also depends on the location. Like Hong Kong, the Chinese businesses here in Toronto usually prefer to hire trilingual (English, Cantonese, Mandarin) people.

3. Steve Kaufmann - January 18, 2007


I agree that it is not useful to indicate some basic level of acquaintance with a language. Language is like any other skill. Can you perform or not? That is the question. I hope that once we have The Linguist going for French and Spanish tu viendras te joindre a nous para amejorar tu nivel en los dos idiomas.

4. edwinlaw - January 18, 2007

Steve, thanks for dropping by. What an Honour!

Yes, I have been waiting for the next version of the Linguist. It has been a while. As the Chinese would say, “My neck is getting longer and longer”.

I always want to know how the Linguist word library would handle conjugations. English conjugations are simple, and it is easy to figure out the same verb. How about other European languages?

5. Jamison Kelly - February 1, 2007

I agree with your point.

But I have this question: how do you personally define fluency? I ask that because years ago I considered myself fluent in Spanish. But the better I got, the less likely I would use that word. Now, I would be hesitant to say I am fluent. I write technical articles in Spanish for an industrial company, do speaking engagements in front of Spanish-speaking audiences, and even respond to adverse questioning. My experience tells me that the well is very deep. There is so much idiomatic nuance out there that my Spanish does not fully capture. The more I know, the more I know that I do not know, or something like that.

So instead of using the word rudimental or rudimentary, why not qualify it with what you can do? For example, can you read an email in Spanish and reply to it accurately? The put “Can read and write Spanish effectively”. There are jobs out there that might need just that.

6. edwinlaw - February 2, 2007

Jamison, you have raised an interesting question. It is indeed a controversial one. In fact, I have been thinking about it for a while. I will probably need a separate post for it.

But in brief, I would think that if you can communicate in your daily life using the language with confidence, and the receiving ends understand your messages, then you are fluent in that language. This standard is probably lower than other people would expect.

Thanks for the suggestion of specifying in the resume what you can do with the language. It sounds like a good idea.

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