Am I fluent or what?
August 18, 2009 10:37 AM   Subscribe

Can I say that I'm fluent in Spanish on my resume? Details and whatnot inside.

I'm very tempted to say that I'm fluent in Spanish on my resume. Right now I have the phrase "proficient in Spanish," because I'm afraid of getting called out by a prospective employer if s/he thinks my language skills are not up to snuff.

My Spanish experience is as follows: I've been taking classes in it since 7th grade, did a study-abroad term for three months in Buenos Aires in college, where I spoke a ton of Spanish, and worked one summer in a legal aid clinic in which I counseled clients in Spanish about their legal problems. That summer, I would have said that I was fluent. However, its been a year since then, and I've gotten a little rusty, although I can still speak quickly and smoothly (I don't often stumble looking for conjugations or vocab words) and the other day I drafted an error-free letter in spanish for work without thinking too hard about it. I think that if I were using Spanish regularly as part of my job my comfort with the language would rise to fluency pretty quickly.

Basically, my questions are: Can I put "fluent in Spanish" in my resume?

If I do, and an employer is disappointed in my performance or abilities, would that keep me from getting a job?

Also, what would be a good way to explain in an interview that my claim to fluency might have a few caveats?
posted by Aizkolari to Work & Money (22 answers total)
 
How about "strong command" or "near-fluent" instead? I think that's got a little more ooomph that "proficient" but leaves you some wiggle room if you are caught on the spot with a bilingual interviewer. (Which has happened to me, by the way.)
posted by ambrosia at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2009


If you can use the Spanish relatively effortlessly in the contexts the employer will need you to then your are indeed still fluent.

Being rusty is OK IMO as long as you can fluently explain that in Spanish.
posted by @troy at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Most of the time, 'fluency' in a language is being able to carry on a conversation about the subject matter the company is concerned with. If you picked up a phone and talked to the HR rep of the company, and he/she spoke Spanish, would you be able to talk with them smoothly and with few verbal pauses?

You're fluent. If no, your description of your experience certainly qualifies as 'highly proficient.'

If you say fluent and you're not, you probably wouldn't get a job. If they didn't check you in the interview process and later find out you're not, you could (and likely would) be fired.

I suggest that instead of adding caveats to a claim of fluency, you add strengths to a claim of proficiency. Honesty's usually the best bet.
posted by Pragmatica at 10:44 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can still speak quickly and smoothly (I don't often stumble looking for conjugations or vocab words)

That is exactly what "fluent" means. It flows, fluidly.

You can even make mistakes and still be fluent. I notice a lot of English mistakes on the subway, and on message boards, from people who I would still definitely call fluent in English.

Fluent is not perfect. Use "fluent".
posted by rokusan at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


...in a legal aid clinic in which I counseled clients in Spanish about their legal problems...
and the other day I drafted an error-free letter in spanish for work without thinking too hard about it...


That sounds like the definition of fluent to me - you are able to communicate with others who speak (only) that language. They understand you. You understand them. You can also write in that language.
posted by vacapinta at 10:52 AM on August 18, 2009


Whatever word choice you use, make sure you explain the experience at your prior job! You're definitely telling the truth, and you're giving even more detail about your level of comfort than
"fluent" gives. Example:

Legal Aid Clinic
123 Whatever Street
Whatever City, USA
1-666-666-6666
Counselor, Summer-End of Summer

-Counseled Spanish-speaking clients about their native language about their legal problems
-Overthought plates of beans
-Etc
posted by Juliet Banana at 10:57 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you're worried about "fluent," you might instead mention specific job duties that you've performed in Spanish. Lots of people have college Spanish — and even college study-abroad trips. Lots of people have some paper certification indicating "fluency." But giving precise and complicated legal advice in the language is a much, much better test of your skill, and the fact that you've done it successfully gives you a leg up over all those classroom-only Spanish speakers, fluent though they may be.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why hello there Ms. Banana! Great minds etc. Shoulda previewed.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2009


Wow you hit upon a pet peeve of mine. So many people claim to be fluent in a language, and when you talk to them, they really aren't. I commend you heartily for your honesty.

I think the best way you can judge whether you are fluent or not is to talk to a native Spanish speaker for a few minutes (and maybe have them check out your written Spanish too). If they say you are fluent you are; if they see some problems, stick with 'highly proficient'.
posted by thread_makimaki at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2009


You can put whatever you want on a resume. You'll also have to defend it. Do you feel up to the task?
posted by torquemaniac at 11:11 AM on August 18, 2009


if they see some problems, stick with 'highly proficient'.

No, that's the difference between fluency and native-level.
posted by @troy at 11:12 AM on August 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


If making the odd conjugation or pronunciation error, or forgetting vocabulary, means one isn't "fluent," then I, a native speaker, am not fluent in English.

For resume purposes, I think if you can work with Spanish-speaking clients, understanding them and making yourself understood in Spanish conversation, then you're fluent.
posted by Meg_Murry at 11:25 AM on August 18, 2009


Banana has the right mix: (1) call it fluent and (2) qualify it in a POSITIVE way ("counseled clients about legal problems" etc) rather than stumbling around in an apologetic way trying to water down your own ability.

Un-selling yourself is not the route to take on a resume.
posted by rokusan at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2009


No, that's the difference between fluency and native-level.

Well to me, fluent means almost as good as native level. I guess there's a difference of opinion here. It's not really like these definitions are well defined or official, after all.
posted by thread_makimaki at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2009


If you can hold your own in a Spanish conversation, then list on resume as "bilingual (Spanish)."
posted by bunny hugger at 11:56 AM on August 18, 2009


To bring it back on topic: Back in my corporate days, I used to have to pre-screen job applicants for a Japanese company operating in NY. More than once we would get a resumé that said "fluent in Japanese" with several semesters of Japanese courses or whatever, and I'd talk to them and barely understand a word they were saying. I'm not talking native level or even proficient, I'm talking unusable in the real world.

So yeah, if you claim a certain ability, you better be sure you can demonstrate that ability as you describe it.
posted by thread_makimaki at 12:00 PM on August 18, 2009


fluent means almost as good as native level.

Sure. "Fluent" is basically native level with some occasional problems.

I've got "Intermediate-Advanced Japanese" on my resume; back in the day I was near-fluent (able to work offsite in Nagoya without adult supervision) but I was far, far from "near-native".
posted by @troy at 12:45 PM on August 18, 2009


I define fluent as "able to work in an office where all other people are native speakers of that language and not native speakers of yours". Specialised vocab is irrelevant, you can pick that up in a day, but just being able to talk about ordinary office stuff is crucial. Bear in mind that in a higher-stress situation like an interview, they will forgive a bit more flubbing than usual. Fluency is usually defined more on speaking, hearing and reading than writing.
posted by jeather at 1:06 PM on August 18, 2009


The European Union has a self-assessment rating system to deal with this issue. I forget if it's based on a scale of 5 or 10. If it's 10, a rating of 10/10 is your mother tongue. 9/10 sounds like what this student has. Someone who has "college Spanish" is usually a 5/10 or maybe a 6/10. The standards are on the Internet, you could make reference to your skills in a cv this way:

LANGUAGES:

English 10/10 (native speaker), Spanish 9/10, French 3
posted by tesseract420 at 3:12 PM on August 18, 2009


When I was a language teacher, we differentiated between fluency and accuracy: fluency meant the speaker/writer could express him/herself smoothly and without hesitation; accurate meant the speaker/writer made very few errors.

From your description, I'd classify you as fluent in Spanish.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:23 PM on August 18, 2009


Well, I'm going to give you an analogy as to why I think you should leave it as "proficient."

A couple of years ago I was hired into an office with "MS Excel Expert" on my resume. I made it clear during the interview that I had learned on Office XP, and not Office 2007, which they had.

On my 2nd day the lady who hired me asked me to do a spreadsheet. She came in and out of the office and I knew she was looking over my shoulder from afar. I had no experience with the Ribbon interface and I asked her where MS had moved a certain command to.

The next day, first thing, she fired me, saying I had lied on my resume and was certainly not an expert, and she didn't have time to teach me Excel. I said that during the interview I had told her I'd learned on Office XP and had not used 2007, and she was unfazed.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:42 PM on August 19, 2009


In other words, terms like "expert" and "fluent" are sometimes subject to interpretation, and not everyone interprets them the same way.
posted by IndigoRain at 5:18 PM on August 19, 2009


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