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Recruiters Guide For Assessing Bilingual Language Skills

Lauren O'Donoghue
Lauren O'Donoghue March 10, 2023
recruiters guide for assessing bilingual language skills

With more and more companies working internationally and taking advantage of our global economy, having a bilingual speaker on your team can be incredibly valuable.

This article will help you prepare a recruitment process to find a competent bilingual speaker and ensure they have the required listening, reading, speaking, and writing skills to do the job effectively.

By using the right assessment tools as part of your recruitment process, you can save time, effort, and money, while also increasing the quality of your hires and ensuring they have the bilingual skills you need.

recruiters guide for assessing bilingual language skills

Key bilingual language skills in the workplace

Being bilingual is about so much more than just speaking two languages fluently. You will also need to ensure candidates are confident at writing, listening, and reading if they're to be considered fully bilingual.


Being able to articulate oneself clearly with teammates, clients, and customers is really important, especially for bilingual employees who may have to act as translators between different groups of people.

Speech must be to your required standard in both the languages you're asking someone to work in and appropriate for the formality of the conversations needed. For example, in some roles, you may need someone to converse formally, whereas other roles will only require a casual conversational style.


Listening to others and understanding the nuance and meaning of what they say is important in any role that requires communication. And this is especially true in jobs where employees need to listen in multiple languages.

If candidates cannot properly demonstrate listening skills, you may have concerns that they'll miss important details or misinterpret crucial words or phrases. Assessing this in the early stages of recruitment is therefore really important.


Writing skills are essential, especially if the role you're hiring for involves writing formal documents on behalf of the business.

An individual's written communication skills are often the first impression someone gets of them. A writing test can help ensure you're comfortable with how they structure sentences, their grasp of spelling and grammar, and that they're able to write in a friendly and professional manner.


Whether it's reading important documents, extracting important details from dense passages of text, or being able to interpret key details in emails and presentations, reading is a really important part of being bilingual.

All too often, the focus is placed on a candidate's speaking skills, so we highly recommend making sure reading is a part of your bilingual language skills assessment.

Which roles require bilingual language skills?

If you need to recruit a bilingual employee then there are a multitude of language tests you can use to ensure interested candidates are proficient in the language(s) listed on their resume. As well as spelling and grammar, the tests examine general skill comprehension and sentence structure.

You could even pair the relevant language test with a job test to put technical knowledge and skills to the test.

Many different roles may require the skills of someone who speaks more than one language. These could include jobs in the travel and hospitality sector or legal and financial services, as well as specialized roles such as translators and interpreters, to name but a few.

Levels of language proficiency

Using proficiency tests to assess language skills is important when looking to hire a bilingual employee, and both the Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR) and the Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale are internationally approved ways to do just this.

assessing bilingual language skills


The Common European Framework of Reference for Language (CEFR) is an internationally recognized standard for assessing language ability.

The CEFR test has been lauded as it allows you to test across different languages and contexts.

The CEFR scoring system places candidates across six different grading bands depending on how well they did on the test. Beginners who can ask basic questions or form simple sentences would be graded A1 or A2. Those with a greater level of understanding, who can demonstrate they can engage in more complex conversations or digest more elaborate passages of text might be scored B1 or B2. The C1 or C2 grade is given only to those who can easily speak and understand the language with minimal or no issues.

ILR scale

Developed by the American federal service, The Interagency Language Roundtable (ILR) scale measures language ability across four key areas: listening, reading, writing, and speaking.

Candidates will be graded on a scale of 0-5 for each of the different areas. A grade of 0 means 'no proficiency' in that area, 1 is 'elementary proficiency', 2 is 'limited working proficiency', 3 is 'professional working proficiency', 4 is 'full professional proficiency' and 5 is 'native or bilingual proficiency'.

Determining the benchmark in each communication area before you see candidates, will be important to ensure you know who to take forward to the next stage of the hiring process.

Assessing bilingual language skills

If you know you need a bilingual employee, it's really important to put the right testing framework in place to ensure the level of skill in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Before advertising the job, it's worth deciding on the minimum required skill level, and whether it's the same in each area. For example, you may need someone to speak French fluently, but it may be less essential for them to write French well so you might not have such high expectations in this area.

All applicants applying for the role will detail their skills and experience on their resume or application, but it's only through testing that you can see if their skills are up to scratch.

Many employers and recruiters will choose to use language proficiency tests very early on in the process, before even reviewing resumes, so they can focus their time and energy on interviewing the people who have demonstrated the required level of skill in the requisite language.

Examples of language proficiency tests

  • Speaking tests — an oral test will help you assess how confident your candidate is at speaking in a different language. This is particularly useful for a client or customer-facing roles.

  • Listening tests — listening is normally one of the first language skills to develop, but it's still essential to test for it. It will give you a clearer idea of how well a candidate understands the language, and how strong they are at extracting key details.

  • Writing tests — this test will be essential if the role requires correspondence in the form of letters or emails. It allows you to see if someone has the basics in place, including sentence structure, spelling, and grammar.

  • Reading tests — whether it's emails or contracts, it's likely to be important that your selected candidate can read well in the languages you've stated in the job advert. This test will help you assess this through basic comprehension-style questions.

  • Translation tests — asking candidates to translate a passage of text, or an oral recording is a great way to put their skills to the test and see how comfortable they are working in another language.

Are language proficiency tests effective?

Language proficiency tests can be an extremely effective addition to your recruitment process. They allow recruiters and employers to assess candidates against the level of skill and experience they've detailed on their resumes.

What are the benefits of assessing bilingual language skills?

One of the best things about the language proficiency test is that you'll be able to break down each individual's score and see how strong they are in the individual areas of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Which languages are typically used in business communication?

The top five 'business' languages are widely considered to be:

  1. English
  2. Mandarin
  3. Spanish
  4. Arabic
  5. German

What is the format of language proficiency tests?

This will depend on the specific test you're setting, but usually, language proficiency tests will have distinct sections that assess reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Lauren O'Donoghue
Lauren O'Donoghue March 10, 2023

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