How can one neutrally and concisely express that someone is able to converse in a particular language clearly, confidently and more or less in a grammatically-correct fashion? — I need to post an advert to find volunteers for a project who really can use spoken English "effectively" but I'm not fussed if they e.g. have an unusual accent or maybe mix up a few words or make non-native mistakes (I mean, a lot of native speakers have "unusual" accents and mix up words as well). However, I can't make use of people who have only basic skills in English and/or take a significant amount of time/effort to express themselves.

The alternatives I've come up with thus far are:

  1. You must be fluent in English — I reckon this would put off a lot of potential volunteers because "fluent" is often taken to mean "perfect".
  2. You must have a strong command of English — Those who speak English "well" but are not confident in their ability to do so might be put off by this one.
  3. You must have good English skills — This one looks to be more appropriately inclusive than the above two, but "good" might also include those whose English is only "good enough" (which, in this case, is actually not good enough).
  4. You must be able to speak English clearly — This also seems good, but it seems to suggest that they will only be actually "speaking", e.g. that this is a casting for a voice actor or something like that.

How can I formulate this as an inclusive, positive requirement ("you must ..." instead of "you cannot...") which effectively filters out those whose English is "less than good" and does so in a socially-acceptable manner?

  • You could always conduct a telephone interview, in English, that will tell you how competent their English is. If you specify this in your advertisement, e.g. interviews will be conducted over the phone that should dissuade the time wasters
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:20
  • Volunteers should have a functional command of English. In other words, people should be able to function in English. In my experience, most people know whether they can function in English or not. // If you find you don't get reliable self-sorting, then you can give them a short web form screening. Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


You are looking for someone conversant in English.

Conversant * adjective* [predicative] Familiar with or knowledgeable about something. ‘But he has shown in a matter of weeks that his determination to succeed on the field is matched by his willingness to integrate, which means being conversant in English.’

Depending on the level of proficiency you want your volunteers to demonstrate, it may be useful to spell out what you mean, using some of the wording you provided in your question.

  • 1
    Actually, just (understanding of) the word conversant might be enough of a filter in itself! Commented Feb 24, 2017 at 10:44

Instead of must, which is slightly intimidating and authoritarian, use the modal can which strongly hints that the person has the ability. For emphasis, you could use CAPS

The Cambridge English Language website, has the following description for (Association of Language Testers in Europe) ALTE level 4

  • CAN keep up conversations of a casual nature for an extended period of time and discuss abstract/cultural topics with a good degree of fluency and range of expression.

A simplified version might be:

  • Candidates can maintain conversation for an extended period with very little hesitation.

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