What can I do with a degree in linguistics?

What opportunities will I have with a linguistics degree?

Students who major in linguistics acquire valuable intellectual skills, such as analytical reasoning, critical thinking, argumentation, and clarity of expression. This means making insightful observations, formulating clear, testable hypotheses, generating predictions, making arguments and drawing conclusions, and communicating findings to a wider community. Linguistics majors are therefore well equipped for a variety of graduate-level and professional programs and careers. Some may require additional training or skills, but not all do.

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Graduate Studies and Professional Programs

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  • MA and PhD programs in fields such as linguistics, cognitive science, psychology, computer science, anthropology, philosophy, communication sciences, education, English, cognitive neuroscience, and the study of particular language(s)
  • TESOL and applied linguistics programs focused on teaching English to non-native speakers
  • Professional programs such as law school, speech pathology, audiology, communication sciences and disorders, or library/information science

Career Opportunities

People gathered around a laptop in a workplace

Work in the tech industry:

Training in linguistics can equip you 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.

Middle school classroom, teacher is sitting in the front pointing to a student.

Work in education:

People with a background in linguistics and education can develop materials for different populations, train teachers, design assessments, find effective ways to teach language-related topics in specific communities, or use the language of a community effectively in instruction. Many linguists are involved in teacher education and educational research.

Classroom of students raising their hands in front of a teacher

Teach English as a Second Language (ESL) in the United States or abroad:

If you want to teach ESL in the US, you will probably need additional training in language pedagogy, such as credentials in Teaching English as a Second or Other Language (TESOL). Many teaching positions abroad require only an undergraduate degree, but at least some specialized training in the subject will make you a much more effective teacher. Linguistics can give you a valuable cross-language perspective.

Professor teaching at a university

Teach at the university level:

If you go on to get a graduate degree in linguistics you might teach in departments such as Linguistics, Philosophy, Psychology, Speech/Communication Sciences, Anthropology, English, and departments focused on specific foreign languages.

Business people working together

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.

French language teacher pointing to whiteboard

Teach a language:

Your students will benefit from your knowledge of language structure and your ability to make certain aspects of the language especially clear. You will need to be very proficient in the relevant language, and you may need additional training in language pedagogy.

Dr. Shaw Gynan doing fieldwork in Paraguay

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, conducting language surveys, establishing literacy programs, and translating documents of cultural heritage.

Person editing a hardcopy word document at a desk.

Work in the publishing industry, as a technical writer, or as a journalist:

The skills that linguists develop are ideal for positions in editing, publishing, and writing.

Students doing a test with a pencil.

Work for a testing agency:

Linguists help prepare and evaluate standardized exams and conduct research on assessment issues.

Person reading a book.

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.

People collaborating in a legal environment

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.

Two colleagues planning on board with sticky notes

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.

Business people working in an office

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, the Department of Education, and so on. Similar opportunities may exist at the state level.

Actor and director working on set

Become an actor or train actors:

Actors need training in pronunciation, intonation, and different elements of grammar in order to sound like real speakers of a language or dialect. They may even need to know how to make mistakes to sound like an authentic non-native speaker.

Students at Western Washington University

Do anything you enjoy:

The knowledge and skills you’ll acquire when you study linguistics are relevant to so many jobs and careers. Knowledge of language is a tool for advocacy and equality.