Career Development

Just Say the Word: How Language Certifications Expand Your Voice

The article hopes to illuminate the existence of language certifications and provide useful information and perspectives to the readership.

Say Hi
Hello in twenty different languages.
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Certifications have long been used to demonstrate proficiency in technical skills for the purposes of job seeking or regulatory compliance. In this article, we provide an overview of language proficiency certifications (reading, writing, and speaking) and their relationship to career opportunities and personal enrichment. While we cannot provide an exhaustive list of all languages, we hope to illuminate the existence of language certifications and provide useful information and perspectives to the readership.


Individuals proudly share hard-earned certifications on a spectrum of technical and nontechnical topics (e.g., block chain, cloud computing, lean manufacturing, and crisis management) on professional networking sites and during job seeking, which assists them in networking and in some cases even in landing a job.

In addition to technical and relational “languages,” spoken language itself should not be overlooked in the upskilling discussion. Proficiency in the local working language is an implicit requirement for many job postings. Depending on the particular needs, a university degree may attest to language proficiency. An alternative demonstration of proficiency is the use of third-party certification exams supplemented by real-time interactions during interviews. In Table 1, we provide a starting point for international language proficiency tests.

Table 1: Example Language Proficiency Tests

LanguageProficiency TestWebsite 
Indonesian UKBI 
Norwegian Bergenstest 

*Note:  There is no standardized Hindi exam to the best of our knowledge.  The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign proficiency test is provided as an example. Links to language proficiency testing agencies and/or test prep organizations do not constitute endorsement. They are provided as illustrative examples only. 

Why Obtain Language Certification?

Competitive Factors. Language certifications (or formal language degrees from an academic institution) provide a tangible, well-understood metric to prove proficiency in a language. This de-risks personnel selection because it avoids self-reported assessments (native, near-fluent, intermediate, beginner, etc.), which may be prone to inaccuracy due to inflated or overly conservative rankings. Even if the working language is English, having proficiency in the local language would lower transition stress when acclimating to a new location. Therefore, demonstrating language proficiency makes an individual’s candidacy more compelling.

In addition to private industry, institutions of higher learning such as graduate schools may require a particular language proficiency as a condition of attendance. For example, US institutions in the require a minimum TOEFL [Test of English as Foreign Language] score as a condition of admission to graduate school. On the other hand, IELTS [International English Language Testing System] testing is mandatory to get admission in high-ranking European and Australian universities for international students.

Personal Benefits. Aside from career opportunities, studying a new language provides insights into how other cultures experience life and view the world. This is particularly valuable because it kindles a greater appreciation for one’s own native language and the rich diversity of thought present in the world.

Technical proficiency and interpersonal skills are foundational aspects for successful knowledge workers. Therefore, we encourage development of foreign language skills in tandem with technical ones.