Linguist Job Description
Linguists work with languages in a variety of different capacities and across a broad swath of industries. They work as researchers, translators, interpreters, and more. Linguists are detail oriented and value communication over most other talents. This is a skilled position that requires specific training and education in the linguist’s preferred language. The settings where linguists work can vary depending on their specific job responsibilities. For example, an interpreter may work in a court room, while a translator may work in an office. Many linguists are self-employed, in which case they only report to themselves and their clients. Those employed by corporations typically report to linguist supervisors or project managers.
Linguist Duties and Responsibilities
Specific job duties for linguists vary based on their employer and location. However, there are several core tasks common to all linguists, such as:
Interpret Spoken Language
Linguists who act as interpreters are primarily responsible for translating spoken language in real time between two separate parties. This can be carried out in a variety of different situations, such as courtroom hearings, business meetings, and more.
Translate Written Language
Linguist who act as translators are often responsible for translating written documents. This includes reading the original document and ensuring the translated document contains the same information.
Translate Audio Records to Written Documents
Some linguists are responsible for listening to audio records and translating them to written form. This typically includes listening to the recording several times to ensure they understand its full context and can translate the recording accurately.
Train Junior Linguists
Linguists may be responsible for training new or junior linguists in the proper processes and procedures used by their current employer. This training might include introducing junior linguists to the context behind translation activities.
Report to Supervisors
After translating documents or spoken words, linguists may be responsible for creating reports and presentations for their direct supervisors. These reports usually require the linguist to explain the full context behind the situation and include any pertinent cultural or unspoken implications contained within the original situation.
Linguist Skills and Qualifications
Linguists are natural-born communicators and enjoy taking the time to make sure everyone’s voice is heard. They think quickly and can analyze several things simultaneously. Employers tend to value experience over education, but a degree in the secondary language is helpful in gaining employment as a linguist. Employers also prefer to hire those with the following skills and qualifications:
- Language fluency – linguists are required to be fluent in at least one language other than their first language. However, many linguists are fluent in more than one foreign language, and some employers require them to be. Check job postings for language requirements
- Translating and interpreting experience – most employers tend to value previous experience over education. Linguists know how to interpret in real time and know how to recognize context and language intricacies
- Active listening skills – linguists employ active listening skills to understand the full context of the situation. Active listening helps linguists understand the underlying context, tone, and inflections to the spoken word that influence overall meaning
- Communication skills – linguists are skilled communicators in both spoken and written language. They know how to convey an idea appropriately and efficiently so everyone clearly understands it
- Organization skills – linguists are highly organized and know how to keep track of all the moving parts of the translation and interpretation process
Tools of the Trade
Linguists use a variety of tools as part of their daily job function. These tools often include:
- Translation software (Babylon, OnePlanet, Straker)
- Language dictionaries
- Microsoft Office Suite (especially Word)
Linguist Education and Training
Most linguists need to be trained in at least two foreign languages and must demonstrate their ability to communicate proficiently in those languages. Many linguists possess bachelor’s degrees in those languages, but this isn’t always required. Instead, employers look for candidates with a degree in linguistics. Many employers also give candidates interviews in the foreign languages to gauge their experience and skill.
Linguists typically don’t receive any on-the-job training except for standard onboarding procedures, like getting set up for payroll and benefits.
Linguist Salary and Outlook
According to PayScale, linguists can expect to make an average salary of around $65,000 per year. Those with more experience and education can make up to $100,000 per year, while those just starting out earn around $40,000 per year. Most linguists are eligible for health benefits, paid time off, performance-based bonuses, and retirement benefits.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) anticipates a strong growth outlook for linguists due to the growing diversity of the US workforce. Over the course of the next decade, this field can expect to experience up to 18 percent growth.
Read through some of these helpful resources to learn more about linguists and what they do:
MIT Linguistics – MIT is one of the most well-respected universities in the world, and its Linguistics Department is constantly researching new topics in the linguistics world. Visit this website to see the current industry trends and discoveries
Language Log – this blog is dedicated to everything linguistics. It’s updated regularly by multiple authors and touches on things like poor use of language in media and new research findings in the linguistics world
The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language – if you want to know how language ended up like it is today, you need to know your history. This book covers a comprehensive history of language, and the author posits that language is a “living, dynamic entity” that is constantly changing. This book is good for new and experienced linguists alike
Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages – this book is another look into the history of language. The text focuses on topics like the history of color names and various linguistic theories. This is another good read to learn about the foundation of linguistics and language
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