As you can see from the photo for this article, I have successfully gained some language certificates in the past. However, I’ve never really seen them as a goal for me personally as I’d rather focus on gaining practical language skills for communication on my travels around the world.
That said, I’ve rarely had a job where languages were not in some way important and that begs the question as to whether language certificates are advantageous when applying for a job or not.
In this article, I’ll examine 2 questions:
1. Do language certificates help you find a job?
2. Do language certificates help you learn languages?
Have language certificates helped me get a job?
So even though I do have some basic language certificates, I have never cited them on my CV. Instead I have always referred to my proficiency level in each language.
Some jobs do require proof of a language level (e.g. translators, interpreters) and in these cases the appropriate language certificate is indispensable, in a way similar way to medical degrees to doctors and law degrees to lawyers.
Similarly admission to many universities requires overseas students to furnish proof of their language competency in the language of instruction before assessing their candidacy. Here a language certificate is a rudimentary and cost-effective way to ensure that the prospective student will be able to complete the studies from a linguistic point of view.
In these cases, language certificates are essential even if they do not always accurately represent the linguistic ability of the certificate holder.
In general, my language competencies have been tested live during the interview, which has always gone well except for on one occasion when my Russian was still pretty basic. Here, a language certificate would have saved me as it would camouflaged my insufficient Russian. The better long-term solution I went for: I improved my Russian to the level that I could cope with a live interview situation.
So in summary, if you are not applying for a job where a language certificate is a prerequisite then it seems that the best case in which to hold one is where you are rusty in the language and it would be hard for you to demonstrate your level live in an interview. This is because a language certificate gives an approximation of your language skills at a particular moment in time only.
Have language certificates helped me learn languages?
When I first started out ‘studying’ languages, grades and certificates were my main focus – my grades in high school and later the basic language certificates that I gained.
Preparing for language exams certainly helped focus my mind and prioritize studying the language in the lead up to the exam.
And after the exam? Well, after the exam the incentive for me to keep ‘studying’ the language was missing so the skills that I had gained in the language at exam time quickly evaporated.
And this is the issue that I’ve personally had with language exams: they provide short term motivation only. Moreover, they focus on acquiring a grade on exam day and not ‘learning’ and using the language over the long term.
This explains in large part that although I was poor in languages in high school, I now speak many more of them and to a higher level than my super high achieving peers in language exams back in the day.
They excelled at ‘studying’ for the exam while over the last decade I have excelled at ‘learning’ the languages.
So in conclusion, although I find language certificates useful from an employer’s point of view (quick approximation of the candidate’s language level), I consider them to be a less effective indication than a few questions relevant to the work tasks in a live interview situation.
Moreover, certificates have not proven to be particularly helpful to me in learning languages over the long run.
So overall, I can say that language certificates have not helped me to personally either get a job or learn languages on the whole.
Have you ever studied or obtained a language certificate? Did it help you with learning a language or getting a job? I’d love to hear about your adventures and experiences. Write them in the comments section below this article!
Michael has been an avid language learner and traveler for many years. His goal with LanguageTsar is to discover the most fun and effective ways to learn a language. He is currently learning Japanese, French and Indonesian.