Language is what binds people together—it is essential to human interaction. In today’s increasingly globalized and diverse world, understanding the art of communication and the intricacies of different languages has never been more important. That said, it comes as no surprise that the language services market, which includes jobs related to instruction, translation, and localization, has doubled over the last 10 years from $23.5 billion to $49.6 billion (Mazareanu, 2019). It is even set to reach $56.18 billion by 2021.
However, starting a career in linguistics can be quite overwhelming with the various job opportunities available in the field. This article aims to list down the different career paths available to linguistics majors. It will discuss the most popular linguistics jobs, their average salaries, and the required credentials for each career.
Furthermore, this article will also provide other job positions where a degree in linguistics may prove useful. In that regard, this should serve as a good resource for fresh graduates who are looking to start their careers. This may also provide some insights to students who are looking to figure out whether linguistics is a good fit for them.
Simply put, linguistics is the study of language structure, usage, and context (University of Arizona, n.d.). In a broader sense, it offers three kinds of knowledge pertaining to language, namely general ideas, theoretical models, and language system analyses (Hudson, 2004).
Another way to describe linguistics is that it looks at the nature of language as it is used in communication. Aside from studying how particular languages are properly spoken and written, linguists also identify elements and properties common among them. Moreover, linguistics involves looking at language variations and how they change over time. It also looks at the ways the brain processes and stores language, particularly among children.
Linguistics consists of these subareas:
Although many people are still unfamiliar with what linguistics intrinsically is, it is a continuously growing field. It has an increasing impact on various fields, including education, philosophy, psychology, sociology, artificial intelligence, and other areas of computer science. As such, students who are interested in linguistics can choose among different career paths, including the ones that will be discussed in this article.
In linguistics, students are taught how language evolves and how to analyze it based on how it is used. Linguists are trained to read between the lines, so to speak. Linguistic students learn efficient transcribing skills as they can contextually understand language as it is spoken. Additionally, linguists are capable of dissecting language and critiquing it based on related theories and ideas. Furthermore, linguists know of the different ways and formats of presenting linguistic data.
Linguistics students also learn the following skills that many employers would find valuable:
With these skills up their sleeves, linguistics graduates can qualify for various jobs and professions that require specialized language and communication applications.
Linguistics jobs are commonly available in fields such as education, communications, marketing, and public relations. Graduates of a linguistics course are likely to find great career opportunities from various employers, including the following:
In 2019, the global language services industry was valued at $49.6 billion (Mazareanu, 2019). It is not surprising that there are many linguistics careers available to graduates, most of which will have them exhibit their linguistics knowledge and skills directly. However, linguistics degree graduates can also qualify for jobs outside the language service industry per se, such as computer programming, depending on their individual aptitudes.
The most popular jobs directly related to a linguistics degree are as follows:
First on the list is the profession derived from linguistics itself. Applied linguists are expected to be adept at the application of linguistics not just in the area of language, but also sociology, philosophy, experimental design, and even computer programming (Wei, 2003).
As professionals who deal with languages, they are often expected to interpret, translate, and analyze materials and documents in at least two different languages. Linguists are employed in both the public and private sectors. Linguists may be required in the fields of translation, forensic science, and even the military.
To become a linguist, one needs to have at least a bachelor’s degree. They also need to showcase proficiency with the languages utilized in the job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary per year of linguists is $81,340.
Simply put, a lexicographer is a language professional who compiles dictionaries. As such, they have a natural fascination with words and their meanings. Lexicographers also document how the meanings of words change and develop over time. A lexicographer’s work involves writing, editing, and compiling dictionaries for both online and print publications.
To become a lexicographer, one should have at least a bachelor’s degree majoring in either linguistics or English language. Lexicographers who will compile dictionaries for learners may need to have an English language teaching (ELT) certification and experience. The median annual salary for lexicographers is $29,818.
The academe is a common destination for graduates exploring careers in linguistics. Professionals who teach at the university level typically join the departments of Linguistics, Communication, Speech Science, English, Philosophy, Literature, Anthropology, and various foreign language departments.
Linguistics professionals who want to teach at a university are often required to have a master’s degree or PhD. In some cases, a professional teaching certificate is also needed.
The salary of linguistics professors varies widely depending on years of experience and the type of institution where they teach. On average, junior lecturers can earn somewhere between $42,700 to $52,500 per year. Meanwhile, a senior professor can hope to get up to $135,000 annually.
As exciting as it is fulfilling, a forensic linguist job is necessary for helping solve certain crimes. Forensic linguists analyze emergency calls, threat communication, and even suicide letters. They are also involved in author identification and legal matters, such as trademark disputes. Forensic linguists can also work with agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to deal with matters of national security.
To become a forensic linguist, an applicant typically needs to have a bachelor’s, master’s, and PhD degree in linguistics. They should also possess sufficient legal knowledge. A forensic linguist in the U.S. can make somewhere between $40,000 and $100,000 annually.
Linguistics graduates who get a job as a technical writer typically work closely with software developers, graphic designers, user experience designers, and program testers, among other technical or digital positions. The primary role of technical writers is to collect information and plan and execute documentation. Technical writers produce anything from manuals, business communication materials, and whitepapers. The materials they create are meant to educate consumers about a software, product, or service.
Technical writer jobs are not exclusive to linguistics degree holders. Those who finished a bachelor’s program in communications, journalism, English language, computer science, or information technology (IT) who have writing knowledge and skills can also qualify for such a job. Technical writers are also expected to know how to use office Microsoft Office and Adobe applications. Their salaries range from $40,000 to $86,000 per year.
Another job for linguists in the tech industry, this combines natural language modeling and analysis with computational processes. Computational linguists bridge the gap between machine and language. They can help solve issues in areas such as document processing, computer-assisted language learning, artificial intelligence, and natural language interface.
Before one can become a computational linguist, they will be required to finish a master’s degree in computational linguistics or another related course, such as computer science. Sufficient programming knowledge is also often required.
Computational linguists are hired by software brands, blue-chip companies, and other institutions in the tech arena. They can earn an average annual salary of $75,519.
Also called dialect coaches, accent coaches are essentially acting coaches who focus on teaching actors a particular accent. They may also work with filmmakers, producers, and actors to design a totally new accent, which is derived from a made-up dialect.
Linguistics graduates often do well as accent coaches as the job requires more than simply teaching how to speak with a specific accent. It also involves breaking down speech patterns and replicating them. Thus, language analysis is also at play. Furthermore, accent coaches can also teach people outside of the entertainment industry who simply wish to learn (or unlearn) an accent.
Aside from a degree in linguistics, teaching experience and acting skills may be required before one becomes an accent coach. The average compensation ranges from $15 to $350 per hour.
Source: QS Top Universities
With additional knowledge and training, linguistics graduates and professionals can also find success in other potential careers, such as follows:
Some may think that linguists are people who can speak different languages and commonly work as interpreters for important people and organizations. However, the more accurate term for them is polyglots. Indeed, some linguists may be polyglots, but linguistics goes beyond learning to speak different languages.
Linguists who are also polyglots can become successful translators or interpreters. They are needed everywhere, from government and non-government agencies to private companies.
Aside from having a linguistics degree, translators and interpreters often need to have sufficient knowledge of the business or industry they will get involved in. Naturally, they need to be fluent in the languages they will translate and interpret. The average salary range for translators is $23,000 to $51,000 per annum.
Copywriters produce content for a wide variety of industries and media, such as websites and advertising materials. The materials need to be engaging for readers and should motivate them to do an action, either to buy a product or support a cause, for instance. Linguists can function well as copywriters as they are more aware of the proper wording and structure to use in a copy.
Copywriter jobs are often open to everyone who have a sufficient understanding and knowledge of copywriting, but prior experience and related education may help with a candidate’s application. According to Glassdoor, the national average annual salary for a copywriter post is $58,465.
Linguistics graduates understand the proper structure and nuances of language. As a result, they tend to have a keen eye for errors in documents and other people’s writing. They can start by taking an editorial assistant position, then become a senior editor. They can find editorial jobs in publishing companies and media organizations.
Editors can be graduates of linguistics, English language, or journalism. The average salary of editors in the U.S. ranges from $52,000 to $70,000 per year.
As linguists are adept at languages and how they should be spoken, they may qualify for speech or language therapist jobs. However, this job may require that a candidate has some degree of healthcare education and background.
In the U.S., for instance, speech pathologists need to take a Speech-Language Pathology master’s degree, aside from being bachelor’s degree holders. They are also required to pass the licensure requirements and examination. In some cases, a teaching certification is also needed. The average annual salary of speech-language therapists or pathologists is $76,610.
English is the most widely spoken language in the world, counting both native and non-native speakers (Ethnologue, n.d.). This is why there are a lot of English language teaching opportunities in and out of the U.S. In fact, as of 2018, the English language learning market revenue was $8.99 billion. Students who learn English as a foreign language are also distributed all over the world, with the United Kingdom having the biggest share in 2018.
Linguistics graduates have an edge if they want to teach English as a foreign or second language, but they may still be required to take additional teaching training and certification. Among the credentials to secure is the Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL) certification. The national average salary for (English as a Second Language) ESL teachers in the U.S. is $45,544 per year.
As established by the availability of a wide range of career opportunities for linguistics graduates and professionals, it is easy to say that the field of linguistics is indeed diverse. There are various resources where one can find high-quality linguistics career opportunities, some of which are as follows:
University bulletins and websites may also recommend job opportunities for their graduates. Professional social media sites, such as LinkedIn.com, may also be a reliable source of job openings.
Anyone hoping to pursue a career in linguistics should first acquire a linguistics degree. Different institutions have different admission requirements. However, in general, a high school diploma is required to apply for entrance in an undergraduate linguistics program. Furthermore, as this course largely deals with language, an applicant may be asked to submit a writing sample. Proofs of passing language proficiency examinations are also typically required
For instance, the University of Washington Department of Linguistics prefers that linguistics major applicants present a cumulative GPA of at least 2.50. However, it will also accept students who meet minimum requirements, including:
Standards for passing a linguistics course also vary from one institution to another. It will also depend on whether a student chooses linguistics as a major or minor. For reference, take for example the University of Iowa Bachelor of Arts degree in linguistics. The program requires that a student completes a course in an old language or language history, as well as the following coursework:
Students who are considering pursuing a career in linguistics would want to know which institutions specialize in the discipline. Unsurprisingly, based on the latest QS World University Rankings for Linguistics, the majority of the top institutions for the subject are located in English-speaking countries: the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia.
The ranking is led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the U.S., MIT offers both undergraduate and graduate linguistics courses. For the undergraduate program, students can choose linguistics as a major or minor. They can also go for a (humanities, arts, and social sciences) HASS concentration.
Next on the ranking is the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Also located in Massachusetts, UMASS offers both undergraduate and graduate linguistics programs as well. They also provide certificate programs, such as Certificate in TESOL and Certificate in American English Linguistics.
Third on the list is the U.K.’s University of Edinburgh. The university offers undergraduate, masters, and postgraduate research programs for linguistics and the English language.
Source: QS World University Rankings
Source: QS World University Rankings
Students who choose to study linguistics obtain valuable skills that give them a competitive edge in the job market, whether they apply for jobs directly associated with the course or not. Linguistics trains students to think critically and apply analytical reasoning, which can be useful in various job positions in many industries.
If you have an innate fascination with language, and honing and capitalizing your interest sounds attractive to you, then linguistics is likely to prove to be a viable career path.