bilingual languageBy Jaymie Pompeo, Career Coach

Growing up, my entire family instilled the value of a second language. My parents are native speakers and placed heavy emphasis on using Spanish at home while my English developed through the help of Sesame Street and elementary school. From there, summer vacations to Ecuador became an immersion program where my Abuelita greeted me with workbooks – and lots of tough love – to provide a true understanding of proper Spanish.

Not only was her goal to do away with my gringa accent, but she was the one that taught me to read, write, and understand the grammar behind this language.  While at the time I considered it a pain to do “homework”, the hard work paid off and I can honestly say that I am fluent in Spanish. It’s been a useful skill in many areas of my life, including when I market myself professionally.

As a Career Coach, I’ve noticed trends where language skills are either incorrectly classified or overstated. Sometimes, the terms to define language abilities are pretty vague and used loosely, which may cause a misrepresentation of how skilled you are in a foreign language. Imagine the embarrassment of having to demonstrate this skill during an interview if you’ve overstated your abilities on your resume.

While it may seem nit-picky, understanding your language proficiency is crucial to avoid false impressions. The Accredited Language Services provided some clarity on common labels which are included in the summary below:

  • Basic: The knowledge of vocabulary words, ability to speak simple phrases or sentences; elementary reading and writing skills.
  • Conversant: An intermediate level of language where you may be skilled in carrying through conversations, but there is greater formality and less familiarity compared to a native and fluent speaker; reading and writing skills may or may not be at the same level.
  • Fluent: The ability to speak the language near perfect (almost like a native), but may require more concentration to communicate thoughts, idioms, and slang; advanced reading and writing skills.
  • Native Speaker: This applies to the first language you learned; the one that dominated your youth, and therefore the language you primarily choose to think, read, and write in.
  • Bilingual: The ability to use two languages with equal fluency; often times this term is misused as you may be a native speaker of one language and only fluent or conversant in the second.

Having advanced skill and fluency in foreign languages is a valuable asset to market in this global economy. Remember to accurately state your proficiency and demonstrate how you can use that foreign language in your desired opportunity – it will always help set you apart from other candidates.

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