How Do I Become an FBI Linguist?

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  • Written By: Jessica F. Black
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 01 July 2019
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There are several steps that you will need to become an FBI linguist and a bachelor's degree can significantly increase your chances to enter this field. Many universities offer a bachelor's degree program in linguistics and you are generally able to choose a specific focus area within this degree program. Aside from a formal education, there are highly specific criminal background requirements that you will need to pass to become an FBI linguist. Based on your experience, education, and chosen languages, positions for those choosing to become an FBI linguist may include that of contract tester, contract language monitor, special agent linguist, and contract linguist.

A degree that focuses on linguistics may take up to four years to complete and you may need to maintain a certain grade point average (GPA) to advance in coursework. Some of the fundamental courses that you may need to take include introduction to language and linguistics, language and culture, elements of linguistics, and applied linguistics. Most of these courses are designed to prepare you for advanced coursework including phonology, language analysis, and semantics. In addition to these core courses, you should complete several levels of the target languages that you intend to use in your career. It may be easier to become an FBI linguist if you are at least trilingual and can pass the series of tests that the agency administers.


Once you have completed your degree program, you should fill out the applications needed to become an FBI linguist. This application is generally filed until the FBI is in need of a specialist in your target languages whereupon they may contact you and invite you to test. Most of these tests are divided into three sections and you are generally required to pass all three. Translation testing typically requests that you translate various paragraphs from your specialty language to English with precision. You will also need to answer questions in English in response to written and spoken foreign conversations.

The final test to become an FBI linguist is the verbal testing which generally involves extensive conversations with various natives of the languages that you specialize in. Upon successful completion of these tests, you will need to wait for your background check to come back. Wait times may vary depending on the agency but they usually contact you with the final decision and if there are any discrepancies, you may be provided the opportunity to contest the final decision.


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