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.
- Teaching English as a second language (TESOL, TESL, TEFL, ESL). Many linguistics graduates teach English to the large immigrant population of California. Others teach English abroad.
- Foreign language teaching. For bilinguals, studying linguistics builds the understanding of language structure needed for language teaching, including bilingual education.
- Computational linguistics. Linguists with strong computer programming skills 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. Linguists create and publish 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 employ many language specialists. You don’t have to already speak a language (or have finished your degree) to qualify for training at the Defense Language Institute. Not all military jobs require enlistment; some are through the Army Civilian Service.
- 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, L-3, etc.
- Peace Corps. Some universities count Peace Corps service towards a Masters’ degree in Linguistics or TESOL. Peace Corps volunteers often build language skills, which can lead to a career as a language specialist. Three of our faculty (Dr.s Fender, Kumpf and Lord) have Peace Corps experience.
- Law. Linguistics is an excellent preparation for law school. Legal cases often turn on the exact interpretation of language in statutes or contracts. Some linguists (especially those have authored a grammar textbook or similar) are consulted as expert witnesses on legal language issues. There is also a small field of forensic linguists who use linguistic investigative techniques (for example, authorship attribution for anonymous communications).
- Localization (L10N). Linguists help develop and test country-specific versions of software. For example, Blizzard Entertainment in Irvine hires linguists with strong gaming skills as language testers for their video games. Localization work requires strong foreign language skills, cultural knowledge, and computer skills. Browse specialized job boards for details.
- Marketing. Companies such as Lexicon Branding, Strategic Name Development, 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 here. Linguists can also work on market research 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.
- 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 this interview. (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 preparatory program in Speech Therapy.
- 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?
Throughout this website (and this one) 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.