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Should a person list his/her (very basic) knowledge of a language spoken in a country he may be working in on an application for a position in that country, even if the language really isn't necessary for doing the job at all?

  1. The actual work will be published in English
  2. Everyone in the department/university/practically the country speaks English (cf. "Do PhD courses in engineering fields in European non-English speaking countries require knowledge of the native language?")
  3. The resources which are partial to the work are all in English
  4. It's a linguistic community small enough that knowing the language would probably raise more questions along the lines of: "How on Earth did you come to learn language?" than anything else
  5. My actual abilities, since anything you list on CV is fair game during an interview:
    • My abilities in said language are not good enough to hold a conversation of any kind.
    • My actual proficiency isn't in that language but rather in a ridiculous mixture of a few closely-related languages plus a large amount of creative interpretive abilities ("ah, x from language_a sounds a bit like y from language_b!"). On the bright side, this means that my passive abilities are better than "rudimentary".

The only reason I can come up with for listing said language is that it could pique someone's interest (see question 4 above) and that it may indicate a small tendency to be able to thrive while living in the country (or rather, more accurately, the probability of the person floundering in the country may be slightly lower); So do these "soft" benefits outweigh the lack of hard ones?

  • 2
    I’m not confident enough in this to make it an answer. But my expectation would be: so long as you don’t overstate your level competence, there is no risk or cost, and it could have a non-negligible benefit, so why not? Some readers might not care at all; others might see it as either as a slight practical advantage for coming to the country (even when everyone speaks English, not knowing the local language is still a real disadvantage), or just a good sign of initiative and interest. (But being honest + clear about your level of ability is important.) – PLL Apr 30 '16 at 9:41
  • For what it’s worth, I’m a postdoc in Sweden, and don’t yet speak much Swedish. For most PhD/postdoc-type positions in my department, Swedish proficiency is not required, and I don’t know if committees would ever take it into account in hiring for these, but at least informally, most of the faculty do like it when international arrivals have some or are willing to learn. – PLL Apr 30 '16 at 9:46
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    In general, I'd say that listing even minor language skills can never be a downside - even if they're completely disconnected from the languages you need at the moment, it can indicate an ability and willingness to learn. But as PLL says, being honest is good, and and if honestly stating your abilities would make it seem utterly trivial, it might feel best to skip it. – Andrew Apr 30 '16 at 10:31
  • Maybe you could instead list the closely-related languages you are proficient in? That looks less like CV-padding, and people may infer that you'll have a nonzero familiarity with the local language. – user37208 Apr 30 '16 at 18:31
  • @user37208: Listing the one which I'm good in is of course a no-brainer, but the other ones are just as rudimentary as the particular one I would add if I wasn't so unsure about it here... hence the posted question. – errantlinguist Apr 30 '16 at 18:51
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I think yes, you should list it with caveats at the end of CV, using something like

Languages:

English (fluent), Arabic (basic passive)

and it the country in question is in Europe, just use the EU proficiency levels: for example,

English (C2), Portugese (A1)

Frankly, I don't think it would help. It can't hurt and it maybe gives you some points for being keen, but the time you waste thinking on this might be better spent studying something. Maybe even the language in question.

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