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How Do I Become a Linguist?

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  • Written By: Jami Yontz
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 29 July 2014
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To become a linguist, a person must be dedicated to learning languages, the history of languages, and sometimes the science behind how people understand and communicate through language. A person who would like to become a linguist must complete at least a bachelor's degree, and many times a master’s degree or doctorate is necessary for certain positions. Real-world experiences and internships are also important in the field of linguistics.

A linguist is either classified as a person who studies language or a person who is well-versed in many different languages and works as a translator or international business professional. Traditional linguists work as anthropological linguistics professionals, who study the structure of ancient languages and how a language has developed. Dialectologists study languages that transform and change depending on the region that the language is spoken in. Other professionals work to understand the relationship between language and how the brain receives and understands the spoken word. Linguists are able to research and understand the structure, sounds, and history of a language in order to use applied knowledge that shows how the language developed and how it is related to other similar languages.

Many universities and online degree programs offer linguistics courses that cover topics such as semantics, which is study of the meanings behind words and phrases, or syntax, which is the way in which sentences and paragraphs are created. Other courses are offered in language structure, phonics, and morphology. Courses in psychology, philosophy, logic, and language in culture are also available.

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During college, undergrads will be required to take core classes and can then round out a degree program with specialized courses that focus on the person’s area of interest. Master’s degree programs tend to become more specialized, requiring the student to choose an area of linguistic study, such as applied linguistics, theoretical linguistics, sociolinguists, computational linguistics, or psycholinguistics. To obtain a job after graduation from a university, a person who wants to become a linguist should complete internships and graduate with a satisfactory grade point average.

After graduation, a person can begin to search for linguist positions in a variety of fields. Many universities have language departments and English degree programs that need teachers with a specialty in the study of languages. Businesses that specialize in language technology, speech recognition applications, and translation applications also hire individuals who wish to become a linguist, but some jobs in computational linguistics require professionals to have knowledge of computer engineering software and scripting languages. Positions in teaching English as a second language (ESL) are in high demand, and many linguistics find positions available in this field.

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