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How to Become a Linguist in the US

Language is an essential part of day-to-day life in as much as it allows people to interact with each other, and is an identity factor for many communities around the world. Linguistics is the scientific study of languages, and it canvasses various aspects including origin and evolution of language, impact on language on thought process, variation between languages and etymology. Erroneously people think linguists are people who speak different languages. Ideally linguists are multilingual, but their work delves into the nuances of languages.

What Does a Linguist Do?

The job description of a linguist includes:

  • Research on the different aspects of languages including phonetics, syntax and semantics.
  • Determine how people learned languages and its evolution
  • Investigate the relationship between language, human behaviour and cognitive processes.
  • Research on the variation of languages depending on geographic location, situation, society and culture
  • Technologically modify language, for example, development of speech recognition software
  • Transcribe and interpret languages contained in various documents
  • Facilitate communication or language learning, for example, translators, interpreters and language teachers


The qualifications for a job as a linguist vary with the specifications of the job and the field of specialization. Basic qualifications include:

  • A bachelor’s degree in linguistics or a related field for example, anthropology, cognitive neuroscience, psychology, or computer science. Coursework includes foreign language studies, phonology, and semantics. For a career in research, employers require advanced degrees including master and doctoral degrees
  • Work experience. This is especially essential for interpreters and translators. The American Translators Association and the Red Cross are useful avenues to volunteer in this capacity
  • State certification. Although this is not mandatory, it is a useful addition to your CV.

Diploma, certificate and associate degree programs are available for people who want to teach language.


There are certain skills essential to a linguist including:

  • Keen listening skills in order to identify the nuances of languages and properly translate, or transcribe them
  • Good communication skills
  • Attention to detail so as to determine the particularities of different languages
  • Good research skills are essential when investigating origins and evolution of languages


Salaries of linguists vary with place of employment. The highest earners in this field specialize in Farsi Language and Data Analysis.

Entry Level



Mid Career



Senior level



Source: PayScale

Los Angeles and Washington is the most lucrative market for linguists.

Work Environment

Linguists work in various settings including academic and research institutions, publishing companies, government, courts and computer industry. They usually work regular hours but you may be called for overtime or work during weekends depending on the needs of the employer. The use of internet-based sources for research has transformed the field of linguistics and reduced the need for excess travels.

Career Prospects

The computer and technology industry is forecasted as a lucrative market for linguists. Linguists with training in computer science will be in high demand for services such as, web design, development of speech recognition software and online grammar checkers. For interpreters and translators the projected employment growth between 2012 and 2022 is set at 46%. This relatively fast growth rate is spurred by globalization. The most popular languages in need of translators and interpreters are French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.

If you are thrilled by the science of language and enjoy being a medium of communication between speakers of different languages, this is the career path for you.


Image Source: HR ANP

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