How to Become a Linguist

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Linguistics is the study of language and language development, so you might think of linguists as language scientists. The government and military hire linguists as translators and cryptographers. Schools hire linguists to teach or develop learning programs. Software designers need linguists to help develop speech-recognition technologies. Position titles are as varied as professions, and a linguistics degree isn't the only way to get started.

Military Translation and Cryptography

To become a linguist without paying for a college degree, consider joining the U.S. Army or Navy. Both branches of service train enlisted personnel as strategic linguists, who work in office locations, and tactical linguists, who work in the field. Recruits who pass security clearances and language learning aptitude tests are taught foreign languages, such as Arabic, Mandarin or Farsi, then put to work analyzing foreign communications or performing transcriptions and translations. Some Navy recruits undergo additional technical training to work with sophisticated communication equipment aboard aircraft, ships and submarines. Recruits must be U.S. citizens with high school diplomas or GEDs, and must be able to pass physical and aptitude tests.

Teaching ESL

A study of linguistics provides a great starting point for those interested in teaching English to students for whom English is their second language, or ESL. Most schools and companies expect ESL teachers to hold credentials in this specialty, in addition to bachelor's of arts or science degrees. Because public school teaching requirements vary by state for ESL professionals, explore the requirements in your area to determine the specific credentials needed. Common credentials include ESL endorsements and Teaching English as a Second or Other Language -- or TESOL -- certification. Many colleges and universities provide training programs for both.

Linguists in the FBI

A bachelor's degree and language proficiency in both English and at least one other language can lead to a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI needs linguists to translate, transcribe, report and analyze communications and other written materials of importance to national security. FBI linguists are involved in investigations linked with terrorism, counterintelligence, organized crime and other illegal activities. Foreign language proficiency must be at the professional level for writing and reading, as well as listening and speaking. Applicants must pass language proficiency examinations and are subject to extensive background investigations and credit checks. Apply online at the FBI's website.

Computational Linguists

Computational linguists work in the field of natural language processing, or NLP. They help develop computer programs and systems that enable speech synthesis and speech recognition. Examples of these technologies are prevalent in software that enables smart phones and tablets to respond to spoken commands. Other work includes developing programs that perform grammar checks and data mining. To get started in this field, obtain a bachelor's degree in linguistics with coursework or a major in computer science or computational linguistics. Work with your college's placement office to discover internship and permanent job opportunities, or explore websites for companies working in NLP for direct-hire position openings.