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A Guide to Language Assessment in Recruitment

Language Assessment In Recruitment

There are a variety of customer-facing roles where candidates must boast first-rate language skills such as contact center positions in customer support, tech support, and sales.

Suppose this is something you require from your recruits. In that case, you might be pondering the question: How can I ensure my shortlist of applicants have the necessary language proficiency?

The answer: Conduct a language assessment in your recruitment process.

So, in this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about language assessments in recruitment. What they are, how language is assessed, the benefits of conducting this kind of test, and, of course, some best practices.

There’s lots to cover, so let’s jump in!

What’s in?

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our new whitepaper on the digital transformation of contact center recruitment processes. Learn about:

  • The biggest challenges in contact center recruitment today and how to overcome them.
  • The 4 pillars of Digital Transformation
  • Sitel’s journey towards a digitally transformed recruitment procest

What’s language assessment in recruitment?

The aim of a language assessment in recruitment is to test the candidate’s ability to communicate in the language they’ll typically use to converse with colleagues, and more importantly, customers, and do so in a standardized way. Language assessments are often used in the pre-selection process to recruit for various customer support and inbound sales roles. In fact, it’s worth using language assessments if you’re hiring for any job where clear and efficient communication, whether spoken or written, is essential.

These assessments are usually conducted online in a format of an internally created or externally provided test. Even though interview also remains a popular method of evaluating language proficiency, it might lack the accuracy of a standardized test.

It’s no secret that today’s labor market is increasingly globalized. And as such, many companies now employ workers from countries with different language backgrounds. This is beneficial in some roles, especially if you’re looking for candidates who can speak more than one language, or you are offshoring part of your operations.

However, if language proficiency isn’t evaluated during the recruitment process, you’re priming yourself for issues later down the line.

But don’t just take our word for it. As many as 37% of companies believe customer service suffers from miscommunication and a lack of team collaboration due to language barriers.

Customer service quickly becomes a frustrating experience when a lack of language proficiency results in:

  • Customer service agents misunderstanding the callers’ questions
  • Customers being frequently asked to repeat themselves
  • Consumers struggling to understand the customer service agent
  • Agents failing to grasp the nuance of a problem
  • The customer service rep providing answers that don’t match the issue they’re presented with.

This is where conducting language assessments are worth their weight in gold. When done well, you’ll avoid the pitfalls listed above and make sure that you have the necessary ingredient to provided first-class customer service.

Of course, depending on the role’s scope, you may also want to evaluate your applicants’ competency of a second language. Needless to say, the number of languages you test for is entirely up to you.

Booking.com Call Center Languages

A global online travel agency Booking.com offers support in more than 40 languages. It’s essential to assess their agents’ language proficiency in the recruitment process to make sure that they can excel at their job.

There are a variety of language tests, all of which reflect different functions and goals. For instance:

  • Diagnostic tests: These tests gauge the candidate’s current language level, areas needing improvement, and their strengths.
  • Aptitude tests: These determine the individual’s capability of learning a new language. So, this kind of test comes in handy if candidates are expected to learn a language on the job or improve their language level.
  • Proficiency tests: These evaluate how well a candidate uses language within a practical setting.

As you’ve probably gathered, proficiency tests are best suited for evaluating whether candidates are competent enough to excel in the workplace, and are most often used for recruitment purposes.

In light of that, we’ll focus on this kind of language assessment for the rest of the article.

The benefits of assessing language in the recruitment process

We’ve already touched on some of the perks of using language assessment in recruitment but there are more benefits to it:


One of the best things about language assessments is that you can filter candidates from the get-go. It’s much easier to spot high-quality talent very early on so that there’s no need to spend further resources and time on applicants with insufficient language proficiency.


The sad fact is that with the right practice and research, anyone can blag an interview. However, when you set an objective test like a language assessment, you’re able to accurately determine a candidate’s proficiency.


If you’re looking to standardize your interview process, then using a language assessment is an excellent idea.

Namely, because you can set a baseline figure and then easily compare the results of your candidates. With just a glance, you can see which applicants stand out where language proficiency is concerned.

Not only that, but standardized recruitment methods are also the fairest way to make new hires and defend your hiring decisions. You remove any subjectivity from the evaluation – all candidates are measured against the same criteria and are objectively graded.

Top Tip: To ramp up the fairness, anonymize candidates’ results when making your shortlist. That way, you won’t filter out anyone based on assumed capabilities.

Improve the interview process

Once you’ve already tested for language proficiency, the interview process will run far more smoothly. For one, you don’t need to focus on assessing the candidates’ language skills, which frees up your time to discuss and evaluate their other skills, competencies, and experiences. 

Ensure job success

Selecting language-proficient individuals for roles where this is a must-have is conducive to their success. You’ll avoid throwing candidates into situations where they struggle or feel uncomfortable.

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our white paper on contact center volume hiring in 2021. Learn about:

The 2021 Guide to Contact Center Volume Hiring

Methods of language assessment in recruitment

There are many aspects to language proficiency, so it’s wise to use a variety of assessments to get a clearer picture of whether candidates boast the skills to do the job justice.

Reading, grammar and vocabulary proficiency

A certified language test highlights the candidate’s grammar, vocabulary, and reading comprehension levels. This assessment often includes multiple-choice questions. Here, candidates have to pick the right grammatical structure, spelling, and/or definition of a word.

Language Assessment Harver

A timed test is a simple way to assess a candidate’s level of reading, grammar and vocabulary proficiency.

Written tests

A recent study shows that from a sample of 100 agents across India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines, only 40% of strong bilingual speakers were also strong writers. That means well over half of customer support agents struggled to write in high-quality English.

This is why setting writing tests are a surefire way. You can assess your applicant’s writing skills by asking candidates to respond to a prompt with a written answer. You can then check their response for grammatical proficiency, vocabulary, and formulation.

Written tests are especially important if the prospective role involves answering customers in writing. For example, if there’s a heavy focus on email communication, or if you’re hiring live chat agents.

Speaking and listening skills assessment

Evaluating candidates for their speaking and listening skills is also imperative. As you’ve probably guessed, this kind of assessment measures the candidate’s ability to orally communicate, listen with comprehension, and follow instructions in whichever language you’re assessing for.

Presenting the applicant with a scenario they’ll experience while they’re on the job is the easiest way of achieving this. 

Say, for example, you’re looking to hire a customer service rep for a contact center. A listening task might involve playing the candidate a snippet of a conversation. The applicant then has to pick the right response/reaction from a list of options. An alternative listening assessment might involve the candidate having to confirm what they heard in the message.

When designing this type of job simulation assessment, make sure that it represents typical on-the-job situations in an accurate way. For instance, if your agents need to communicate with customers with a specific accent, include that in your simulation.

Spoken language assessment might involve recording the applicant repeating commonly used phrases. For example: “Thank you for calling. We are glad to assist you.” Or, asking them to respond to one of the many frequently asked questions that customers query with your support team. You can use a certified language assessment tool to automatically examine the fluency of a candidate, picking up on things like word choice, grammar, pronunciation, cadence, pitch, etc. 

Spoken Language Assessment Example

An online spoken language assessment helps you evaluate different aspects of spoken language early in the recruitment process.

Translation assessment

Translation assessments are crucial if you’re looking to hire an employee that uses their bilingual skills. For example, if the job involves translating reports or communications into or from English. In situations like this, candidates not only need grammar and vocabulary skills, but they also need to grasp the meaning in both languages.

Best practices for language assessment in recruitment

There are a few best practices to keep in mind to get the most out of your language assessments.

Make language assessments part of your pre-employment testing

The phrase sooner rather than later couldn’t be more accurate here. Suppose language proficiency is integral to the role. In that case, it needs to be assessed during the very first stages of your recruitment process. That way, you can focus on the applicants that meet or even surpass your expectations.

The exception: If language isn’t a crucial skill for the role.

In this case, it makes sense to test for language proficiency later in your selection process, to further distinguish between candidates that are already meeting all of the core requirements. In a scenario like this, you could treat linguistic ability as one of your final deciding factors that place one candidate over another. 

Assess language holistically

Language is a complex skill, and we often take the intricacies of our native tongue for granted. When these innate rules are ignored, we immediately notice the difference.

So, when you assess language, it’s important to take cultural differences and nuances into consideration. This is imperative for ensuring contact center reps can effectively and meaningfully connect with your consumers.

Measure language skills in a context 

Try to make the language assessment as relevant to the specific role as possible. It will help you evaluate if the candidate can actually use the language in the context you need them to. For example, great pronunciation might not be as important for a live chat agent as it is for a phone customer support agent, but good grammar and writing skills are essential.

In your recruitment process, evaluate different aspects of language proficiency and give more weight to the most important skills for the respective role.

Importance of Reading Skills

This is followed by speaking (35%), listening (14%) and writing (12%). However, your skills prioritization should depend on the job you’re hiring for.

A wide vocabulary is crucial

Generally speaking, it’s more important for a candidate to boast a more comprehensive vocab and a better grasp of colloquialisms than to be 100% accurate all the time. The applicant must have a strong enough command over the language to control whatever communication they’re having. 

Consider using an assessor

One of the major perks of using a live assessor is that you aren’t limited. You can dig a little deeper into the candidate’s capabilities to get a clear understanding of the applicant’s full breadth of talent.  

You’ll also get an insight into their interpersonal and intercultural adaptability. Namely, because with an in-person assessor, you can challenge the candidate by discussing more complex topics and scenarios.

This could be especially useful for roles like (online) language instructors and interpreters.

Are you ready to start using language assessments in your recruitment process?

We hope having read this blog post, you can see that language assessment in recruitment doesn’t have to be problematic and complicated. With the right tools in place, you can shortlist candidates with the right degree of language proficiency more effectively, and in a cost-efficient way.

Having employees who literally speak the language of your customers will help elevate your customer experience to a whole new level.

Before you continue!

Don’t forget to grab your free copy of our new whitepaper on the digital transformation of contact center recruitment processes. Learn about:

  • The biggest challenges in contact center recruitment today and how to overcome them.
  • The 4 pillars of Digital Transformation
  • Sitel’s journey towards a digitally transformed recruitment procest


Rosie Greaves is a professional content strategist who specializes in all things digital marketing, HR, and B2B. In addition to Harver, you can also find her published on Reader's Digest, E-commerce Platforms, and Judicious Inc. Check out her website https://blogwithrosie.com/ for more information.

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