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Linguist: Job Duties, Description and Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a linguist. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and other requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

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Working as a linguist can mean translating, interpreting, or analyzing in two or more languages. These professionals are employed in both the private and public sectors, and have often earned at least a bachelor's degree. Job growth and pay vary widely depending on the type and place of work.

Essential Information

A linguist, in the broad sense of the term, is someone who works with languages. Job opportunities for linguists vary widely and are found in fields such as interpreting, translating and forensic science, as well as in the military. Most linguists have at least a bachelor's degree and a high proficiency with languages.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Language proficiency
Projected Job Growth* -2% between 2014 and 2024 (social scientists and related workers, all other)
Median Salary (2015)* $76,380 (social scientists and related workers, all other)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Duties

The duties of a linguist depend on the company for which he or she works. One of these duties may be to act as an interpreter or translator. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an interpreter aids in communication between speakers of different languages by translating conversations from one language to another and back, bridging the cultural and language gaps between speakers (www.bls.gov). A linguist may also translate written material from one language to another, including medical and legal documents, contracts, literary works and brochures.

Forensic linguists assist various law enforcement agencies in the investigation and prevention of crimes. For instance, both the FBI and the CIA employ linguists to aid in the maintenance of national security. The duties of these linguists may include analyzing foreign language materials, translating reports and depositions, participating in interviews as an interpreter and acting as a cultural expert, according to job listings on the CIA website (www.cia.gov). Linguists employed by the CIA may also teach people who need to learn a language or about a culture for a foreign country assignment.

Linguists are also employed by the military. For example, the Army's Human Intelligence Collectors are linguists who conduct operations to gather information to aid in defense decisions. Linguists who serve in the Navy as World Languages Experts act as interpreters for visiting dignitaries and during interactions with foreign nationals. In addition they may also transcribe conversations and proceedings in another language or act as radio operators working with electronic listening devices, computers and other equipment that the military uses for communications, according to the U.S. Navy (www.navy.com). Linguists may also be employed by private companies, such as defense contractors providing support to the national government.

Job Description

In general, linguists are the bridge between peoples of different language backgrounds. Their job duties vary depending on where they work. They may work in courts, interpreting the proceedings between the court officials and people whose English skills are limited; in hospitals, interpreting between doctors and patients and translating vital forms and information; or even as tour guides, acting as language and cultural experts for visiting foreign nationals.

Linguists in the FBI and CIA can expect to use their skills in a foreign language to interpret, translate, analyze material and provide other support for operations in intelligence gathering and crimes investigation. Military linguists are a select group of soldiers and sailors who have learned or have honed their skills in a foreign language who analyze communications in that language and who assist in critical negotiations between heads of state and between peoples of different cultures.

Job Requirements

Although the requirements for linguists vary according to the duties they perform, two common requirements are having a bachelor's degree and knowledge of at least two languages. A military linguist, however, does not always need a college degree; a high school diploma is the highest education necessary. An FBI or CIA linguist typically needs to have a bachelor's degree and pass a battery of language proficiency tests; they also need to pass a background check and drug test, be a U. S. citizenship and be able to obtain a security clearance.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2015, various types of social scientists, including linguists, earned a median salary of $76,380. These professionals could expect a decline in job growth of 2% from 2014-2024, according to the BLS, which is notably slower than average. In that same decade, job growth for interpreters and translators, a related career, was expected to be much faster than average, at 29%, per the BLS. The median annual salary of interpreters and translators as of May 2015 was $44,190.

Linguists work for the CIA, military, or private companies on matters relating to language, often as acting as translators or interpreters. A bachelor's degree and the ability to speak two languages are often the minimum requirements to work as a linguist. The completion of background checks or language tests may also be needed for this field.

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