Linguistics Majors Guide

Table of Contents

What Does it Mean to Study Linguistics?

Linguistics is the methodical and systematic study of human languages. Professionals with a degree in linguistics have a comprehensive understanding of language theory, are capable of language analysis, and are skilled in analysis of sound systems such as phonics. Experienced linguists can discern grammar patterns and application without actually knowing the actual language they hear.

Graduates with a degree in linguistics usually find career opportunities in teaching, literary analysis, psychology, anthropology, neurology, speech recognition and recreation, communications, philosophy, and artificial intelligence.

Types of Linguistics Degrees

The Internet has revolutionized the study of linguistics. Students once had to travel around the world, or base their studies at colleges and universities with vast libraries of sound recordings. Today, linguistics scholars can access limitless archives of texts and recordings with only a few mouse clicks.

Social Sciences

Because the business community has developed a keen appreciation for the work of linguistics graduates, many companies encourage executives in training to participate in part-time linguistics programs. Many schools and universities now allow students to participate in lectures via webcasts or pre-recorded videos. Students often interact with faculty and other students through online bulletin boards, mailing lists, and chat sessions. Linguistics majors can submit their research and presentations online, or they can participate in on-campus residencies or conferences.

Diplomas, Certificates, and Associate Degrees in Linguistics

Most certificate programs in linguistics are designed for students who want to teach English as a second language. Course requirements average twenty credit hours, and qualified candidates must meet the prerequisites of the administering institution. Course completion requirements and completion time vary depending on the educational institution, transferable credits, and the learning pace of the student.

Bachelor's Degrees in Linguistics

A bachelor's degree in linguistics develops many core skills that future professionals will use to study language and communication. A degree in linguistics will require degree specific classes such as teaching English as a second language, general linguistics, phonics, and computational linguistics.

In addition, most social science degree programs expose students to a wide array of courses in the arts and humanities. Those courses may include mathematics, literature, science, fine arts and a variety of electives. Therefore, colleges and universities graduate students who cannot only understand multiple languages, but can enjoy conversations of substance. These well-rounded individuals can take their role in any number of professional settings.

The required time to obtain an online degree in linguistics varies depending on the educational institution, transferable credits, and the learning pace set by the student. Many linguistics majors complete their bachelor's degree in about four years.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Linguistics?

Employment opportunities in linguistics are found in such fields as program administration, international affairs, consultation, research, technology, education, and translation. Positions for people with linguistics degrees are available in both the private and public sectors.


Many anthropologists develop strong linguistic skills to aid their study of human cultures. Anthropologists with linguistics degrees can quickly decode writing and other artifacts from ancient cultures. They can also discern the distinctions between regional dialects when studying modern societies.


A linguist may choose a career as a consultant to a variety of industries, such as government agencies, companies who deal with international affairs or have a world wide marketing presence. Technology companies rely on consulting linguists to help refine user interfaces and speech recognition modules. Law firms retain linguistic consultants on international cases and even to help lawyers speak with clients more effectively.


Linguistics specialists help doctors and therapists work with patients who have suffered strokes or who exhibit signs of communications disorders. Many of these patients suffer needlessly when their injuries or illnesses prevent them from speaking clearly, although the rest of their mental processes remain intact. By examining the unique speech patterns of these patients, linguists can decode malformed language to provide vital links to patients as they learn to communicate more effectively.

Teaching English as a Second Language

Many people who hold a degree in linguistics pursue careers in teaching. The burgeoning market for teachers of English as a second language provides opportunities for linguistics majors to apply many of their skills. Not only must they help students understand the language and the customs of English-speaking countries, they must be able to relate to students in their own languages and mannerisms in order for lessons to be absorbed. Many linguistics professionals enjoy opportunities to travel around the world, teaching English to professionals in foreign law firms, manufacturing facilities, and customer service centers.

Linguistics Professor

Many linguistics majors still pursue the traditional tenure track of university teaching and research. Linguists often continue the research and development they started with their undergraduate or their graduate degrees, with the support of departmental peers and new generations of linguistics students. Though faculty positions tend to grow less rapidly than other job opportunities for linguists, professionals that distinguish themselves by publishing innovative findings can create demand for their work.

Technology Development

Our society's reliance on computers has created many exciting new job opportunities for linguistics majors. Graduates can find themselves working with development teams on projects that improve speech recognition for customer service systems or even home computers. Linguistics specialists also work on revisions to spell checking and grammar checking software applications, helping businesspeople to express themselves through clear communication. Some linguists even help program new artificial intelligence systems that learn to aid humans by learning their specific speech patterns.

Dialect Coaching

Some up-and-coming business executives hit a glass ceiling in their careers when partners, peers, or clients cannot fully understand them. Sometimes, managers who grew up in rural areas might find themselves discriminated against when competing for jobs or contracts in urban areas. Repeated studies have shown that professionals who effectively mirror the language and behavior of their target often close more sales or earn more promotions. Linguistics professionals help their clients overcome these obstacles by teaching them how to adjust their language and mannerisms to fit professional situations.

Career Outlook for Linguistics Professionals

According to an article in The Wall Street Journal, professionals with linguistics degrees are in high demand by technology companies. Linguists who design and implement products for international use, such as general software, voice recognition software, and web design, will enjoy strong job prospects over the next decade. Linguists who seek employment in the technology field generally receive compensation that is two to three times higher than linguists in other fields.

Linguistics Certification and Licensure

Linguistics majors who teach English as a foreign language often face fewer certification and licensure requirements when teaching overseas than they do when teaching here in the United States. Overseas teachers often must complete simple background checks and pass certification examinations before leading their first classes. Many colleges and universities prepare students to pass these examinations as part of their degree programs.

Graduates who intend to teach classes within the United States do not always have to complete the same rigorous certification examinations that general educators undergo, but they must meet some specific requirements. Though requirements vary from state to state, most certification boards require teachers to hold a bachelor's degree in their specialty and to complete a supervised teaching internship before completing a general certification examination. Usually, colleges and universities integrate state requirements into their degree programs.

International linguistics professionals who want to work for government agencies must pass a different type of certification process. Job applicants at federal agencies must first pass a complex entry exam. The highest scoring applicants receive invitations to participate in a series of interviews and role playing exercises with experienced field agents. Meanwhile, prospective civil servants must pass a rigorous background check. Although previous criminal activity or connections to felons or foreign agents do not automatically rule out a career in the federal government, applicants should be forthcoming with their interviewers about any potential skeletons in their closets.

Upon passing the background check, substance abuse tests, and intake process, professional linguists gradually earn security clearances depending on the kind of tasks they perform and the specific language skills they possess. Many linguists tend to earn higher security clearances faster than other government agents to help their colleagues decipher sensitive materials.

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