Undeclared: Exploring Careers in Linguistics

A major in Linguistics can lead to careers in Teaching ESL, Documentation, Speech Pathology, Language Forensics and more!

Many freshmen students start out college undeclared; they aren’t sure what they want to major in and hope to use their first year to find something they want to study. Unfortunately, many students take up to two years to decide on a major, and they may even switch majors several times up into their junior year. This wastes a lot of time and money, and can significantly delay graduation.

If you have no idea what you want to major in, one option you might consider is taking time off from or before college. But if taking a break isn’t an option for you, doing your research and finding a major you can be passionate about should be your number one priority; the sooner you declare a major that you want to stick with, the better you can focus on taking the classes you need to graduate, keeping you on track to graduate on time.

Here is the first of a series for discovering majors and what opportunities each can hold.


Because linguistics as a subject isn’t specifically studied in the average K-12 curriculum, many college students don’t know about it, and therefore don’t seek out classes to learn more about it or consider it as a major. Linguistics is a vast and interesting field with several different focuses, and students interested in other cultures, traveling, and languages can find something they can enjoy within the Linguistics realm. There are plenty of diverse job opportunities that can stem from a degree in linguistics that can apply to a number of different interests.

Teaching English as a Second Language

As the world becomes more globally minded and international relations between countries continue to flourish, many countries are looking to increase their English-speaking abilities, as English has become the unofficial lingua franca of the world. Countries like Japan, South Korea, and China have especially invested in their English programs in schools, and opportunities are always rising for native English speakers to move to their countries and teach. While the highest rate of English teaching job openings is in Asia, there are opportunities in nearly all countries where English is not the native language. A person with a linguistics degree is going to be a prime candidate for these positions as a degree in linguistics is going to give them a deeper understanding of grammar and second language acquisition than a plain English degree ever could. This is the perfect career path for someone who wants to travel the world and learn firsthand about other cultures, as the opportunities for employment are abundant.

Teaching English as a second language is a career that is also very viable right here in the United States. Immigrants and refugees of all ages who come to the US benefit greatly from English as a second language (ESL) programs that help them to integrate into daily life more smoothly. The most common ESL programs are in K-12 schools, where students from several diverse countries will all be in the same class at varying levels of English-speaking ability. It’s for this reason that a deep knowledge of second language acquisition theory and ESL pedagogy is vital. In addition to an English linguistics degree, teaching credentials and an endorsement or masters in ESL are required.

Language Documentation and Revitalization

According to Ethnologue.com, there are approximately 7,099 living languages today. Unfortunately, many of those languages are in danger of extinction. Due to the residual effects of colonialism and years of language biases, about one-third of all languages are endangered, with 1,000 or fewer speakers alive. It is vitally important that these languages be documented, and for revitalization efforts to be advocated for.

If you are interested in different languages, understanding other cultures, and fancy yourself a grammar nerd, getting into language documentation and revitalization is going to be right up your alley. There is a lot that goes into documenting a language, so there are plenty of aspects that could fit your interests.

If you watched the movie “Arrival,” it’s a great (if not a little extreme) example of what language documentation entails. You elicit vocabulary from native speakers and make connections based on context. By starting with single words and working towards increasingly difficult sentence structure over a long period of time, linguists and native speakers work together to create dictionaries, figure out and document grammar rules and structures, and translate any books or works currently available in the language. With all of this important work, linguists are helping to preserve languages and their cultures, as culture is intricately connected to one’s native language.

Speech Language Pathology

If you are interested in medical work and working with individuals with varying disabilities of all ages as well as have a strong interest in language, speech-language pathology may just be the career path for you. A speech-language pathologist works with those who suffer from a wide range of communication disorders, anyone from children with speech delays and impediments, to adults who have suffered brain trauma — such as strokes — that has affected their ability to communicate.

To become a speech-language pathologist, you must get a master’s in speech-language pathology. While a bachelor’s degree in linguistics isn’t inherently required, it’s going to give you a significant advantage and understanding into the intricacies of the career. There are a number of classes within the linguistics degree that are going to be crucial to a deep understanding of how language is produced and how brains process language, which will be vital when you are assessing patients and forming a plan on how to best work help them.

Forensic Linguistics

With all the crime shows like “Law and Order” and “CSI” continuing to fascinate viewers all over, many fans often wonder how they can get involved with fighting crime. Of course, many of those same people also don’t like the idea of being on the front lines — and who could blame them. But if you love the intricacies of human language, have a keen eye for detail, and also have an interest in criminology and law, you should be looking into forensic linguistics.

A career in forensic linguistics will have you working in nearly every area where language and law intertwine. Some aspects include language as evidence, such as speaker identification and voice comparison, dialectology and sociolinguistics (identifying where a speaker might be from based on how they speak), and being used as an expert witness when linguistic evidence is presented in cases (examples: phone recordings, recorded voices, written letters, etc). Linguistic evidence can make or break cases in some instances, so the work that forensic linguists do is important to the justice system.

This is just a handful of the careers you can look into when you get a degree in linguistics. With so many disciplines within the field, if you love language in any capacity, there is bound to be something that can ignite a passion in you. If anything here sounds interesting to you, be sure to take an intro to linguistics class next semester! You might just find your calling.


Mila Sanchez is a writer and recent graduate with a BA in English Linguistics. Her ambitions include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram!

Leave a Reply