When you think about linguistics, do you automatically assume it’s specifically about learning a ton of languages? Well, while you may come across that in some parts of the career, linguistics isn’t strictly learning foreign languages. In fact, you’ll learn much more about the scientific aspect of languages, as opposed to how to speak them.
Growing up, we learn our native tongue—plus a second language if we’re exposed to it at home—without really trying. We naturally pick up all the quirks, slang, jokes, and idiosyncrasies of the language without knowing how we’re doing it. Linguistics takes you deep into studying the scientific factors that make up languages.
Aside from the fascinating subject, there are dozens of different career fields you can enter once you have a bachelor’s degree in linguistics. If a two-year associate degree toward a linguistics career is more up your alley, you can major in anthropology or English, where there is just a slight focus on linguistics. Realistically, though, a bachelor’s degree and beyond is the most travelled path for those heading into the trenches. The more degreed in linguistics you are, the more robust your career opportunities become.
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CAREER OPTIONS WITH A DEGREE IN LINGUISTICS
With a degree in linguistics, the world is pretty much open to you, as far as career options go. The following are just some of the things you can do with your knowledge and degree—this is not an exhaustive list, by any means. Some of the more popular careers are:
AMERICAN SIGN LANGUAGE (ASL)
ASL is a non-verbal and non-written way to communicate with the deaf community. Your career can center around helping or teaching.
- How to get into it: Find a school with an ASL program. Not all colleges and universities offer one, so if this is something you’re interested in pursuing, check your potential school’s list of majors to see if they have an ASL program. You’ll need to take beginning, intermediate, and advanced sign language. You will also have to take courses on the culture and history of the deaf community, translation, language development, and narrative and poetic styles of ASL. So, you can see how this field falls into linguistics since it’s heavily loaded with ASL linguistic courses.
- What you’ll do: With a degree in American Sign Language, you have a variety of career options. You can go the education route and teach deaf students in primary or postsecondary educational institutions. Or, you can be an interpreter for schools, the government, television, and more.
Audiologists work with patients experiencing various types of hearing loss, central auditory processing disorders, and balance disorders. You are trained to fit your patients for hearing aids and provide rehabilitation.
- How to get into it: To become an audiologist, you are required to have a doctorate in audiology (AudD). You can have your bachelor’s degree in really anything, though. The AudD takes an additional four years of graduate school. All states require audiologists to become licensed. The prerequisites for licensing is 300-375 hours of supervised clinicals, a passing score on the national exam, and nine months of postgrad clinicals.
- What you’ll do: You’ll work in the medical field in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office. You may also work for a school district or in a government agency. Audiologists usually work alongside a team of other medical professionals because of how much of a patient’s life is impacted by conditions and diseases of the ear. If you have a PhD, you may choose to leave the practice in order to focus heavily on research.
This may seem out of place in a list of linguistic careers, but actually, it fits right in. Computers have a language too. Computer and information research scientists use that to study and solve problems for multiple, if not all, industries—from technology to medical to business and more.
- How to get into it: Computer and information research scientists go to school for a long time, especially if they are going for their Ph.D. in Computer Sciences or other related fields. To work within the government, you may only need your bachelor’s, though. After you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, there will be an additional four to five years of schooling to obtain your doctorate. You’ll take computer science classes in your first two years, and then you’ll choose your specialty for the final two to three and work on your research project.
- What you’ll do: Computer and information research scientists are constantly inventing, designing, and innovating technology and the way it’s used. Maybe you’ll use your linguistic skills to invent a new computer language or develop new software, among a bunch of other possibilities.
CRYPTOLOGIC LINGUIST FOR THE MILITARY
A cryptologic linguist in the military uses signal equipment to identify various communications. You’d be instrumental in the defense of the U.S. The training you’ll receive through the military will equip you with skills that go beyond your years of service.
- How to get into it: If you decide to become a cryptologic linguist for the military, you’ll receive specialized, intense training in one of the many languages offered: Arabic, Chinese, French, Persian Afghan, Tagalog, Hebrew, Hindi, Russian, and Portuguese, among others. The languages are taught by fluent instructors from over 50 countries. You, however, don’t have to be fluent before you enlist. You will have 10 weeks of Basic Training and one year of Advanced Individual Training with on-the-job instruction through the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center with the Department of Defense. Expect to be in both a classroom and the field while you learn. By the end of training, you will know how to read and write your target language as though it was your native tongue. A cool reward if you’re the best is your class? You’ll be invited to an immersion program in the country of the language you’ve learned.
- What you’ll do: Once you’ve completed your language training, you’ll be deployed to one of the many stations worldwide. There, you’ll use your finely tuned linguist skills to translate documents and information for our military. You’ll either be assigned a tactical or strategic position. Tactical means you’ll probably be in the field, while strategic positions are usually in an office. The skills you learn in the army will carry forward to once you become a civilian where you’ll be highly qualified to find a linguist job with the government, an embassy, or in the business sector.
FOREIGN LANGUAGE COLLEGE PROFESSOR
You enjoy learning foreign languages, and you’re passionate about imparting your knowledge onto students in hopes of spreading your love of the language. Foreign language professors not only teach in the classroom, they may also take their students on trips to where the language is the native tongue.
- How to get into it: To become a foreign language professor, you’ll first need to complete a bachelor’s in Foreign Language Education. Most employers will require postsecondary teachers to have a master’s degree, minimally. When it comes to teaching a foreign language on the college level, it’s not uncommon for professors to have a doctorate in their chosen language. However, at the university level, it is expected that you’ll have completed graduate-level courses, not just in a language but in that culture and its literature, as well. You will need to pass your field exams and complete and defend your dissertation. If you’re a Spanish (or other foreign language) teacher, you’ll also need to be able to offer students classes in Spanish culture, the language history, and be fluent in both the language and culture.
- What you’ll do: Foreign language professors are highly educated. You’ll teach college students your language of expertise, along with literature, philosophy, culture, and other courses that give a deeper understanding of the language and literature. You will have office hours where you meet with your students, and you’ll spend quite a bit of time keeping up with what’s going on in the subject you teach, along with meeting up with coworkers and industry peers to discuss matters of the topic. Plus, you’ll do the typical teaching activities such as test giving, lectures, grading papers, advising students, and attending conferences.
This doctoral-level profession helps the FBI and the court system to determine the truthfulness and meaning behind different forms of communications. You will be both an interpreter and a translator, and your deeper understanding of languages allows you to see clues where the untrained eye or ear can’t.
- How to get into it: To have that competitive edge, you’ll need to get a Ph.D. in Linguistics. You’ll be completing classes in sociology, psychology, criminal law, computer sciences, and all the linguistic classes. There are specialty classes in forensic linguistic tools and techniques specific to the career as well.
- What you’ll do: You will be hired as a consultant to help solve crimes or deal with pressing matters the FBI, CIA, or other government bodies need your expertise on. With your language analysis skills, you’ll find patterns in written or verbal evidence. The corporate world may also use you as a consultant to look over its contracts, ensuring the verbiage is understandable for all parties involved.
Both interpreters and translators are able to take one language and convert it to another in different forms of communication, from verbal to sign language to writing. Whether it’s Mandarin Chinese to English or French to Portuguese, interpreters and translators are fluent in their skills.
- How to get into it: Most commonly, translators and interpreters have a bachelor’s degree, which essentially, can be in anything. You need to be fluent in English and at least one other language. There are formal programs available through colleges where you can be trained in translation and interpreting. There isn’t a certification available at this time, but you’ll have to pass a court interpreting exam in most of the states. In order to prove your language proficiency, there is a proficiency exam available in 27 languages, all of which involve English as one of the fluency points.
- What you’ll do: Although these careers are lumped together, interpreting and translating are two separate entities. Interpreters will translate verbal and sign languages, and translators work with written mediums such as letters, documents, books, websites, and so much more. As an interpreter or a translator, you will have to take one language and switch it to another, whether it’s verbal or written. Breaking it down even further, there are different paths each career can take.
- Simultaneous: You’ll watch the person speak or sign, get the gist of the tone and then interpret it into the target language for the audience. With simultaneous interpreting, you’d probably be working in pairs because of the high level of concentration needed to keep up.
- Consecutive: You only interpret after a group of sentences has been relayed. You may need to take notes in order to remember what had been said.
- Whisper: This type of interpreting has you sitting next to a person who needs the service, and you listening, then speaking quietly.
- Community Interpreter: You’ll work in community environments, on a one-to-one basis or for small groups such as parent-teacher conferences and immigration hearings.
- Conference: You’ll be available to non-English (or whatever the native language is) conference attendees to interpret for them.
- Health/medical: In the health and medical settings, you’ll be the one explaining information to patients who don’t speak the native language, along with translating other medical information from brochures or other documents.
- Liaison/escort: Travel may be required for this type of translation service. You will be required to aid foreign visitors in the U.S. or vice versa so there can be communication during the visit.
- Legal/judicial: A strong knowledge of legal verbiage is required, because you’ll be translating or interpreting within a court or legal setting.
- Literary: Books, journals, and other forms of the written languages need to be transferred from one language to another, to allow a broader international audience.
- Localizers: This interesting position also requires writing skills, because you will be need to take a product or service and make it appear as though it’s originally from the target country. Websites, documents, brochures, and other materials used to market the product all need to appeal to the intended market.
- Sign language: You will be the arranger allowing communication between the deaf and hard of hearing community and the hearing community. You’ll be fluent in ASL, but you may also have to mouth the speech for lip readers.
- Trilingual: Knowing three or more languages, including English and American Sign Language, makes you trilingual, and that much more valuable as a translator.
From local libraries to the Library of Congress, a highly trained librarian connects patrons to the materials they’re searching for. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, your librarian most likely can. As a librarian, you’re as comfortable with books as you are with people. You don’t turn your nose up at technology, either.
- How to get into it: Librarians are required to have master’s degrees—you’ll need to get your bachelor’s before heading off to the master’s in library science program. You’ll take classes teaching you about library materials selection, research methods, organization for librarians, Internet search methods, and other courses designed for the master’s program. If you want to work in a law library, you may need to go to law school. Medical libraries may require you to have a medical background. Public school librarians need a teacher certification. Online master’s programs for library sciences are also available.
- What you’ll do: Librarians have many items on their to-do lists. Not only do you help the patrons, but also you have duties to the actual library itself, from finding new books to planning programs to training other librarians and librarian assistants. You’ll have full and busy days ahead of you once you’re a librarian!
Everything about languages is fascinating—where they came from, where they’re going, and the effects they have on humanity. If you want to learn about the origins and uses of all languages, then a career as a linguistic anthropologist might be speaking to you.
- How to get into it: A bachelor’s degree may allow you an assistant or fieldworker position. But most anthropologists of any specialty continue on for a master’s and a doctorate. The master’s degree program takes an additional two years after graduating with a bachelor’s, and usually includes your lab research or fieldwork. Unlike other anthropology majors, linguistic anthropology students also need to focus on languages, both studying and learning them. Sociology, English, history, philosophy, and theology are just a few types of classes you’ll be taking throughout your postsecondary career if you choose to become a linguistic anthropologist.
- What you’ll do: Anthropologists do a lot of studying and researching. You may also spend some of your time teaching the subject to anthropology students. Linguistic anthropologists work in academia and the government, but they are finding more job opportunities in the private sector. Fieldwork may have you globetrotting to far off places, researching and reporting your findings on various cultures. When you aren’t traveling, you’ll most likely be behind a desk writing reports or academic articles and home in time for dinner.
Philologists study ancient languages and texts to get a deeper understanding of modern civilizations. Philology is the fusion of linguistics and history; the literal meaning of the word is “love of words,” and that’s exactly what you need to have when thinking about entering this career. The career’s origins date back to around 1822 during the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, which paved the way to decoding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. It’s continually evolved to what it is now, interpreting and understanding lost languages.
- How to get into it: The four years it will take you to get your bachelor’s degree need to be focused on the classics such as ancient Latin or Greek. You will also study ancient literature, philosophy, linguistics, and history. Your next step, after graduating with your bachelor’s, it to get your master’s degree in philology or the classics. These programs usually last between 2-3 years and will have you prepared for what comes next: a doctoral program or as a teacher of the classics. You choose. However, if you go on to get your doctorate in philology, you’ll be in school for another 2-3 years. You’ll attend lectures, have subject examinations, research, and defend theses. After your doctorate, you’ll head off to a fellowship or postdoctoral position in either the U.S. or abroad. You’ll be studying ancient texts from wherever you choose to land. These fellowships last two years but are renewable, so they can almost go on indefinitely. Once you have all that education under your proverbial belt, you are now ready to apply for a faculty position within a university’s classic department, where you’ll either focus on teaching and mentoring or research based publishing.
- What you’ll do: How did languages get here? What happened to lost languages? How have languages evolved, and why? How are languages related? That’s what philology uncovers: the structure, development, and relationship of languages stemming from ancient ones in relation to the modern verbal and written communications. Philologists are able to classify and identify languages based on the family and origin of words. You reconstruct languages by looking at ancient writings such as hieroglyphics or archeological remnants. You may also have to double as an etymologist: Etymology is the study of the historical origins of language, in particular, words and their evolution.
SPEECH PATHOLOGIST (SPEECH THERAPIST)
People with voice, speech, or language disorders are treated by speech pathologists. Many universities have this program in their linguistics department because the study of language will help others who are suffering with disorders and diseases affecting the way they speak. For example, you could declare a linguistics major with a concentration in speech-language science, and that would satisfy the requirements necessary to further education in this field.
- How to get into it: A master’s degree is the typical minimal requirement to practice as a speech and language pathologist. While you don’t necessary need your undergraduate studies completely focused on this particular major, there are definitely class requirements needed in order to gain admittance into a master’s program. Every university will be different, so it’s best to find out what classes you’ll need to take. Master-level program courses include subjects such as speech and language development, age-appropriate disorders, swallowing disorders, and alternative communication methods. You’ll also have clinicals, which give you hands-on experience. In order to obtain certification and state licensing, you MUST graduate from an accredited program. In many states, continuing education credits are required to keep your license active.
- What you’ll do: Strokes, brain injuries, developmental delays, autism—these are just some of the diseases and disorders that can affect speech. As a speech and language pathologist, you will evaluate your patient in order to identify the proper treatment or course of action. You may have to reteach a patient how to speak, or teach them an alternate way to communicate. You will also work with the patient’s family, giving them ways to cope, as well help their family member during this process. Many speech and language pathologists join organizations such as American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA), where they are able to keep up with emerging industry trends and stay on top of their CEUs.
- Dialect coach: Many actors and other professionals hire a dialect coach, and some actors even become one!
- Editing and publishing: Because they have such an in-depth grasp on languages, linguist majors make excellent writers and editors.
- Advertising: Advertising companies have to do serious linguistic research so they can understand their audience and the relationship to certain words and sounds.
- Lexicography: You love words? Then you can marry them by working as a lexicographer for a dictionary such as Merriam-Webster where you will edit and update words.
Learn all about getting financial aid to help you in your efforts toward one of the linguist careers.
There is such a wide range of careers that you can go into with either a bit of linguistic background, or a full linguistic degree. Once you research the careers and determine if you want to get a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate, you’ll be able to easily pinpoint the exact career that speaks your language.