Careers in Linguistics

The majority of undergraduate linguistics majors pursue graduate degrees in linguistics or a related discipline, then find employment in education, industry and research, publishing and translation, consultation or a host of other interesting career fields. 

Education

Teach at the university level: Students who pursue linguistics study at the graduate level often seek teaching positions within university departments such as Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, Speech/Communication Sciences, Anthropology, English or departments focused on specific foreign languages.

Teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in the United States or abroad: In some cases, only an undergraduate degree is required to teach English overseas. These opportunities may be in traditional K-12 classrooms or private conversation schools. To teach ESL in the U.S., it may be necessary to complete additional teaching credentials (e.g. TESOL) or pedagogical training.

Teach a foreign language: Linguists who are proficient in a foreign language offer students the additional benefit of a complex understanding of language structure. Similar to teaching ESL, it may be necessary to complete additional training.

Develop education materials and training systems: Many applied linguists are involved in teacher education and educational research. Linguists may develop materials for different learning populations, train instructors, find effective ways to teach language-related topics in specific communities or use the language of a community effectively in instruction. Linguists also help prepare and evaluate standardized exams and conduct research on assessment issues.

Industry and Research

Work in industry: Linguistics study can equip individuals to work on speech recognition, text-to-speech synthesis, artificial intelligence, natural language processing, user research and computer-mediated language learning, among many other areas.

Work in a laboratory: Research centers and laboratories often require linguists who specialize in neuro-linguistics and psycholinguistics and work to uncover how speech and language is acquired and how certain patients lose these language abilities. Linguists with an interest in computers and programming may work as computational linguists, helping to develop and improve cutting-edge computer software.

Work on language documentation or conduct fieldwork: Some agencies and institutes seek linguists to work with language consultants in order to document, analyze and revitalize languages (many of which are endangered). Some organizations engage in language-related fieldwork by conducting language surveys, establishing literacy programs and translating documents of cultural heritage.

Publishing and Translation

Work as a translator or interpreter: Skilled translators and interpreters are needed everywhere, from government to hospitals to courts of law. For this line of work, a high level of proficiency in the relevant language(s) is necessary, and additional specialized training may be required.

Work in the publishing industry, as a technical writer or as a journalist: The verbal skills that linguists develop are ideal for positions in editing, publishing and writing.

Work with dictionaries (lexicography): The development of good dictionaries requires the help of qualified linguistic consultants. Knowledge of phonology, morphology, historical linguistics, dialectology and sociolinguistics is key to becoming a lexicographer.

Consultation

Become a consultant on language in professions such as law or medicine: The subfield of forensic linguistics involves studying the language of legal texts, linguistic aspects of evidence, issues of voice identification and so on. Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and police departments, law firms and the courts hire linguists for these purposes.

Work for the government: The federal government hires linguists for the Foreign Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency (NSA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Department of Defense and the Department of Education, among other agencies. Similar opportunities may exist at the state level.

Work for an advertising or branding company: Companies that specialize in advertising often do extensive linguistic research on the associations that people make with particular sounds and classes of sounds and the kind of wording that would appeal to potential consumers.

Career Resources