Linguistics job and career overview
What can I do with a Linguistics degree?
Linguistic knowledge and skills are an asset in many jobs. Some jobs require additional training or skills, so discuss your career plans with our graduate or undergraduate advisors. All Things Linguistic has good general career advice on linguistics-related careers, and Superlinguo has a series of interviews with linguists in a variety of fields.
- Teaching English as a second language (TESOL, TESL, TEFL, ESL), either in the U.S. or abroad.
- Foreign language teaching: For bilinguals, studying linguistics builds the understanding of language structure needed for language teaching, including bilingual education.
- Computational linguistics: create computer systems that deal with human language, such as voice recognition systems, search engines, or translation software.
- Translation / interpreting: Linguists study structural and stylistic differences between languages, which is helpful in developing translation skills.
- Creating language resources: language textbooks, videos, dictionaries, and tests.
- Corporate language consulting: Language consultant groups offer businesses services such as translation, transcription, editing, language training, and cultural awareness training. A few examples: DSi, World Language Consultants, ALC.
- Military: The U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force train linguists at the Defense Language Institute.
- Government and national security work: The FBI, CIA, NSA, and State Department hire speakers of strategically important languages, as well as computational linguists. So do defense contractors such as SAIC, MEP, Booz Allen, L-3, etc.
- Peace Corps: Volunteers for the Peace Corps often build language skills, which can lead to a career as a language specialist. Two of our faculty, (Dr. Fender and professor emeritus Dr. Lord) are returned Peace Corps volunteers.
- Law: Linguistics is an excellent preparation for law school. Legal cases often turn on the exact interpretation of language in statutes or contracts. Forensic linguists analyze language in crime cases (for example, anonymous communications).
- Localization (L10N): developing and testing country-specific versions of software for companies like Blizzard Entertainment. Localization work requires strong foreign language skills, cultural knowledge, and computer skills. Browse specialized job boards such as GALA, MultiLingual, and Lion People for details.
- Marketing: Companies such as Lexicon Branding, Nomen, and Igor use linguistics to create brand or product names, and test how these work across different languages. You can read a description of the process from Nancy Friedman. Linguists can also work on market research, international marketing, and other aspects of corporate communications.
- Religious organizations: Faith-based groups such as SIL International, Wycliffe, and others employ linguists to work on translation, orthography development, and language surveys. The role of linguists in missionary organizations is controversial; the September 2009 issue of Language has essays on this topic.
- Research: Linguistic research occurs in universities, corporations (especially in the tech sector) as well as nonprofits such as the Educational Testing Service and LENA Foundation.
- Technical writing or copy editing: Linguists often have strong writing and editing skills, which are used by companies such as Eloquenti.
- Language revitalization: Linguists work with indigenous communities to document endangered languages, create pedagogical materials, and teach the languages to a new generation.
- Linguistic voice coaching: Linguists with a theater background may do voice coaching in the entertainment industry, helping actors with the phonetics of particular languages, dialects, and foreign accents. Others may offer accent reduction lessons for professionals. For more information, see the Voice and Speech Trainers Association site, or the interview by dialect coach Pamela Vanderway. (A few linguists even create whole new languages for entertainment.)
- Nonprofits: Some nonprofits specialize wholly or partly in linguistic issues, such as the Center for Applied Linguistics, the Living Tongues Institute, the Endangered Language Fund, Language Hunters, Cultural Survival, the Indigenous Language Institute, the Long Now Foundation (Rosetta Project), and the Institute for Language and Education Policy.
- Speech therapy: Generally, aspiring speech therapists should major in Communicative Disorders. But if this is not possible, Linguistics is a good background for CSULB’s Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology.
- Enter the general educated workforce: Liberal arts majors can take entry-level jobs in a variety of businesses and organizations, and work their way up. As a sales rep or lobbyist or fundraiser or social worker (for example), you probably won’t use your knowledge of allophones and isoglosses, but hopefully your academic work will have made you a better writer, reader, speaker, and thinker, with an ability to adapt and learn new things. If you are not sure what direction your career may go, it never hurts to supplement your major with courses on specific practical skills, such as web design, business, video production, writing, graphic design, or a foreign language.
Where can I find linguistics jobs?
Regularly check the job pages at Linguist List, as well as specialized job boards such as Dave’s ESL Cafe or ProZ (for translators). Browse through multiple sites such as the following to see what types of jobs are available and where they are offered:
Throughout this website (and sites like Swarthmore) are links to companies that employ linguists. Browse even those you don’t think you’re interested in. Often a single company hires linguists in multiple roles. For example, a company listed under Computational Linguistics might also be looking for translators, or a translation company may also offer language courses or accent reduction services.
Finally, network. The job market is very relational, and often jobs are found through word of mouth rather than formal job postings. You can network through attending conferences, socializing at departmental events, being active in the Linguistics Student Association and other campus groups, volunteering, interning, and anything else where you meet people and have a chance to discuss what they do for a living.