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Linguistics icon

What is linguistics? At its simplest definition, linguistics is simply the study of language. Specifically, linguistics encompasses the rules that govern the structure of various languages. Linguists look for universal structures and explore the range of human language. And the human language is vast. Today, that means much more than trying to trace the origins or words or find traces of the “first human language.” It means finding ways to use and develop language for a new world. 

For instance, what is linguistics for computers? Linguists can also find jobs in technical fields as analysts and programmers for both human and machine languages. Linguists are key parts of artificial intelligence research and for applications like translation software. In a truly global economy, linguists are increasingly valuable to international business, homeland security, and technological development. 

In other words, a degree in linguistics is not just a boring, dusty research degree. It’s the first step in a fascinating and dynamic career in just about any field you can imagine. 

Quick Facts: Interpreters and Translators
2019 Median Pay$51,830 per year
$24.92 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationBachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 201977,400
Job Outlook, 2019-2920% (Much faster than average)
Employment Change, 2019-2915,500
Source: 2020 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2019-29 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

What Does a Linguist Do?

Linguists bring perspective and methodology to the wonder of human language. They study the structure of sound; the differences within language families, definitions and meaning across languages; and a number of other mechanics that help people understand how languages develop. Linguists are scientists who catalog observations, test theories and attempt to clarify new and existing theories. Linguistics often involves elements of anthropology, neurology, psychology and other sciences.


Professional linguists also work in the following fields:

  • Speech recognition
  • Artificial intelligence
  • Speech fusion
  • Innate language processing
  • Computer language education

Examples of Linguist Jobs

  • Linguists develop educational materials for learners at colleges and universities. A linguistics background is ideal for those who wish to translate, interpret or teach English as a second language.
  • Linguists document, analyze and preserve at-risk languages. This research can help launch literacy programs to prevent languages from fading away.
  • Linguist worked as writers, forensic linguists in law and medicine, at educational institutions. The government hires linguists for agencies such as the CIA, Homeland Security, NSA, and the FBI.
  • Linguists even find jobs in Hollywood.

Linguist Job Descriptions

The specific duties of linguists vary depending on their employer and location. There are several typical tasks that appear in linguistic job descriptions such as the following:

  • Interpret Spoken Language. Linguists simultaneously translate spoken languages for two separate people speaking different languages. Venues include business meetings, courtrooms and government agencies.
  • Translate Written Language. Linguists also translate written documents. They may compare an original document to a translated document to ensure the meaning is the same.
  • Translate Audio Records. Some linguists specialize in creating written documents from audio records. This includes listening to the audio repeatedly to ensure the context translates to the written document accurately.
  • Train Junior Linguists. Linguists with more experience often train new linguists in the procedures preferred by their employer. This might include coaching junior linguists on protocols for translating between two parties.
  • Report to Supervisors. Linguists Often create reports for their supervisors explaining the context of the situation and unspoken or cultural implications of the exchange.  

How Do I Become a Linguist?

Learn how to become a linguist in six steps.

Step 1: Choose a Career

How do you become a linguist? First you have to decide on a career path. Interpreters can work for federal agencies without a degree if they have excellent English and native fluency in one or more languages. Although it’s possible to get a job without a degree, many successful candidates have some level of formal education in linguistics or languages.

Those who teach English as a second language or work for businesses, tech companies or government agencies often have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in linguistics.

If you want to teach linguistics or advanced language courses, you will need a PhD as well as the ability to speak fluently in one or more languages. Undergraduate and master’s degrees in linguistics also require mastery of one or more foreign languages.

Step 2: Get an Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree

While a four-year degree is preferable, some people start with an associate’s degree in linguistics. Some interpreting and translating jobs do not require a formal degree. However, if you want to have a long-

Linguistics majors typically study semantics, phonology grammar and foreign language teaching skills. You can combine linguistics with other fields such as psychology and anthropology to enhance your chances of reaching your academic and career goals. Many universities take an interdisciplinary approach and require either a minor or dual major for linguistics majors. This will increase your marketability upon graduation.

Computational linguistics merges linguistics and computer science. With a degree or concentration in computational linguistics, you can help develop voice recognition software and other applications related to machine or human languages.

Study abroad programs are a great way to immerse yourself in a foreign language and get credit for doing it. Time spent overseas also helps you understand the culture of the countries that speak the language you are studying.

Step 3: Get Some Experience

How to become a linguist includes gaining practical experience while still in college or University. How do you become a linguist without a degree? You can volunteer or intern to build up your portfolio. Consult with the Red Cross or American Translators Association for sources where you can make a difference while gaining experience.

Step 4: Get Certified

Find out what certifications apply to your specialization. For example, if you want to become a translator you can obtain certification through the American Translators Association. There are many specialized certifications available through the government or non-profit agencies. For example, you can become certified by the American Sign Language Teachers Association.

Step 5: Get a Master’s Degree

With a master’s degree in linguistics, you can achieve professional as well as academic verification of your skills. Credentials in practical areas such as computer linguistics or sociolinguistics are available online and can be completed in 1-2 years. Many masters programs include opportunities for networking, job placement and career support.

Employers seeking computational linguists or language researchers will typically require a graduate degree in linguistics, education or computer science. Graduate programs offer a Master of arts or master of science degree depending on your focus and career goals. These programs typically take around two years to complete.

Conference interpreters provide services for international businesses and government agencies at diplomatic or business gatherings. Successful candidates often have a master’s or higher degree. Courses may include public speaking, computer-assisted translation and project management.

Step 6: Get a Doctoral Degree

A PhD is the terminal degree for linguistics students. Students often receive their master’s and PhD consecutively, and the process sometimes takes up to 8 years. For the first two to three years of a doctoral program, students typically cover information needed for qualifying exams. Most programs require both verbal and reading proficiency and one or more non-native languages.

Doctoral candidates also spend a number of years researching and writing their dissertation. They must produce a book length work highlighting and interpreting original research. This is done under the guidance of a faculty member and doctoral candidates often go on to teach at the university level or accept postdoctoral research positions. They also sometimes work for private or government entities.

What Can You Do with a Linguistics Degree?

Degree in linguistics jobs include translation and teaching and many other practical applications of students’ skills. Getting jobs with a degree in linguistics is easier if you gain experience through clubs, study abroad programs and strategic internships. Some jobs for a linguistics degree grow directly out of these opportunities.

Jobs with a linguistic degree include human and machine language. Computational linguistic degree jobs involve working with computer languages, while other jobs with a linguistics degree may require deeper understanding of the cultural and social context of languages.

What can I do with a degree in linguistics? You can become an English teacher in a foreign country or become a foreign language instructor in school, colleges and universities.

What can I do with a linguistics degree if I want to work in business? You can translate for global corporations or teach languages to traveling coworkers. What can you do with a degree in linguistics if you love working with kids? Consider becoming a foreign language instructor working with children. What can you do with a linguistics degree and mastery of several languages? You can find jobs analyzing the evolution of languages and other jobs for a linguistics degree.

What you can do with a linguistics degree at the bachelor’s level? Degree in linguistics jobs at the bachelor’s level include entry-level translation services for businesses and government agencies. If you’re interested in politics or government services, consider jobs with a degree in linguistics that can help you make the right connections.

What can I do with a degree in linguistics at the master’s level? Many jobs with a linguistic degree prefer master’s degrees, so you will stand out among other candidates. Linguistic degree jobs often involve travel. So, if you are familiar with the areas of the world where your languages are spoken, you will also stand out.

What can I do with a linguistics degree if I get a PhD? You can get teaching jobs with a linguistics degree at the doctoral level. What can you do with a degree in linguistics? The key lies in defining your career goals and matching your education to the requirements in that particular field.

What can you do with a linguistics degree? Consider these fields:

  • Foreign Language Instructor
  • Language Assessor
  • Linguistic Anthropologist
  • Lexicographer
  • Linguist
  • Speech Therapist
  • Philologist
  • Research Assistant
  • Translator
  • Speech-Language Pathologist
  • University Professor

Degree Types: Associates, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctoral

Associate’s  

An online associate’s degree in linguistics is a great beginning for those looking for careers as language instructors or translators. While it may be difficult to find an online associate’s degree in linguistics, an associate’s can help students master the mechanics of their target language and give them a base to build on for future study.

Bachelor’s 

Online linguistics degrees are difficult to find. Linguistics degrees online at the bachelor’s level Provide an overview of many popular languages. A degree in linguistics online Can help you understand how languages develop overtime. An online degree in linguistics can include the following courses:

  • Computational
  • World languages
  • Communication disorders
  • Second languages
  • Sociolinguistics

Online linguistics bachelor degree programs make it convenient to pursue your education from home. With online linguistics degrees, you can study at your own pace. Linguistics degrees online at the bachelor’s level help you prepare for a master’s and doctoral degrees.

Somes of the best universities offering a degree in linguistics online include:

  • University of Texas of the Permian Basin
  • Western New Mexico University
  • Louisiana State University-Alexandria
  • University of Maine at Presque Isle
  • Granite State College    
  • Clarion University of Pennsylvania

Pursuing an online degree in linguistics lets students choose the best university, regardless of where they live. Consider an online linguistics bachelor degree to prepare for your master’s in linguistics.

Master’s 

A masters in linguistics online prepares studies for jobs in government agencies, schools or businesses. Many foreign institutions will offer an international master program focusing on linguistics or philosophy and cognition. This master of linguistics online focuses on the study of language. The university online linguistics masters places an emphasis on cognitive studies and the art of language.

The master of linguistics online is great preparation for a doctoral degree. Plus, many employers prefer an online linguistics master’s over a bachelor’s degree alone. Consider a master’s in linguistics online to continue your mastery of languages.

Doctoral 

A PhD in linguistics online is difficult to find. If you attend an in-person PhD program, however, you may be able to take some online PhD in linguistics courses. Online linguistics PhD courses can help you finish some of your studies from the comfort of home.

The linguistics PhD online offered by the University of Birmingham in England is one possible consideration. Students from all over the world have access to this PhD in linguistics online.  The school’s online phd in linguistics requires an 80,000-word thesis. Faculty consultants guide students from the thesis topic for their online linguistics PhD and help them come up with a plan to complete the theses to obtain their linguistics PhD online.

Accreditation for Linguistics Programs

An accredited online linguistics degree is much more valuable to employers than a non-accredited one. If you plan to get a higher degree, you will need a bachelor’s from an accredited online linguistics degree. You can find accredited schools or check the accreditation at the Department of Education site: https://www.ed.gov/accreditation.

Certifications/Licensure

A linguistic certification is available at the bachelor’s and post-doctoral levels. There are many options for a certificate in linguistics, including the ones already discussed. Choosing a linguistics certification involves some research into which certifications are valued by potential employers.

A linguistics certificate includes language, translation and interpreting courses in some programs, while other options for a linguistic certificate focus on teaching.

Here is an example of a certificate in linguistics online, offered by Georgia Tech. It offers a linguistic certification that takes 12 credit hours to complete. With a certificate in linguistics, students learn about the mental and cultural factors of human language. This linguistics certification includes social and psychological factors of language. People in this linguistics certificate program use it to complement studies in a foreign language, computer science, psychology or similar fields.

A linguistic certificate isn’t as valuable as a degree but can help those looking to switch careers bridge the gap. With a bachelor’s or master’s in a related field, a certificate in linguistics online becomes more valued by employers.

Scholarships for Linguistics Students

Apply for scholarships for linguistics majors that help you meet your goals. There are scholarships for linguistics students at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels, so you can find one that meets your needs.

Top linguistics scholarships include:

  • Augustana College Fryxell Scholarship
  • Austro American Association of Greater Boston Scholarship
  • Boren Fellowships
  • Charles L. Hebner Memorial Scholarship
  • Hanover College Crowe Scholars Award
  • Horizon Scholarship

Scholarships for linguistics majors make school more affordable, and scholarships for linguistics students help alleviate education debt.

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