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Say I'm applying for a job which has some global scope and in which foreign language skills might occasionally come in handy.

If I took 1 semester of Portuguese, 1 semester of Spanish, 1 semester of Italian, 1 semester of Japanese, but have an extremely basic ability to speak, understand, write, or read any of them, should I bother listing them at all (in my resume or CV)?

On the one hand I'd be suggesting that if necessary, I can do some very basic work in these languages, when the occasion arises. It might also suggest that I have some experience learning languages and I might be able to ramp up my level of proficiency very quickly, if the need arises.

On the other hand it sounds stupid - like listing the ability to use a web browser or Microsoft Word.

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    Leave them off. They aren't going to trust any meaningful language work to someone with such basic knowledge, so it doesn't really add value. A good rule is that if you wouldn't be comfortable talking about a skill for five minutes of the interview, leave it off the resume. (This is a comment and not an answer because I don't want to justify my opinions.) – Eric Wilson Dec 9 '14 at 15:32
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    Unless you're fluent enough to get off an airplane in a country where that language is native and effectively communicate with professionals there in that language, it's not a useful thing to put on a resume. It's the equivalent of listing "jogging" as a hobby. Don't do that either. – Joel Etherton Dec 9 '14 at 16:36
  • if you have basic conversational ability I would put it on. In other words, about an A2 on the CEFR system. – pi31415 Dec 10 '14 at 0:21
  • You can ramp up in Japanese very quickly? That's a shocker to me :) – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 10 '14 at 0:34
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The question to ask is, "does this add value to the resume?"

If you are applying for a job where you are expected to work with other cultures, it can be a positive. It shows you have exposure at least to different cultures.

If putting that on your resume causes you to leave other useful information off then don't put them on.

In your case:

Say I'm applying for a job which has some global scope and in which foreign language skills might occasionally come in handy.

I would definitely put it on your resume! It's experience which can be useful. Here's a great question with answers which are also helpful for how to do so.

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    I'd add that he should list only those languages that he knows enough so that he can buy something at a market stall. Otherwise it doesn't really add anything. – Formagella Dec 9 '14 at 18:26
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You already gave pretty good reasons to mention your basic language skills in your CV:

I can do some very basic work in these languages, when the occasion arises. It might also suggest that I have some experience learning languages and I might be able to ramp up my level of proficiency very quickly, if the need arises.

All of these are certainly valid in a job with a global scope.

Then again, most non-native speakers of English will likely have a better command of English than you do of their native language, so you will likely communicate in English most of the time. So I would say that the key point why you should mention your language skill is that they show a certain openness to foreign cultures on your part, which can be a very valuable "soft skill", indeed.

Of course, you should make sure to convey that your skills are pretty basic. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages is pretty much Europe-focused, but using some such classification scheme would be helpful in parsing your CV.

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It depends: are they relevant to the job?

For example, if the job is as a tourist guide or as a retail vendor in an area with many foreign visitors, knowing basic phrases such as “the bathroom is this way” and “the price is seventeen dollars” is a definite plus. You should list any language where you are able to express simple concepts. Of course, be honest about your abilities.

If the job involves traveling internationally and having significant interactions with local people, for example as a business-to-business salesperson or support engineer, then fluency is only relevant if you can hold a professional conversation in your field. One semester isn't worth mentioning.

If the job is located in an area where a specific language is relevant, mention your fluency in this language or lackthereof. For example, if the job is located in Brazil, indicate your fluency in Portuguese, even if it isn't a job requirement.

(Similarly, the ability to use Microsoft Word is relevant for some jobs and not for othes. For instance you should mention it for a secretary position, but not for a programming position.)

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Put it on carefully, but do put it on.

As in be careful not to over-state it too much, or to pretend to more knowledge than you have: this could bite you in the behind.

Think of it as adding value, but only a small amount of value: as long as you reflect that in how you include it, it will be exactly what it should be - a "soft" bonus on top of your "hard" skills and experience.

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