Maybe you have a yearning to travel or live in a country that speaks a different language from your native tongue. Maybe you have always had a passion for reading, and it’s instilled in you a desire to study the history of words, how a particular language was formed and has transformed. These are but two of countless reasons one might choose to study languages and linguistics in the US.
Languages and linguistics are two areas of study that go hand-in-hand. One must know a language to study its linguistics. While studying languages is self-explanatory, studying linguistics is taking the study of a language and putting it through a microscope – breaking down its individual components into tiny pieces to understand how they get put back together to form the bigger picture. It gives us insight into topics such as why we speak the way we do, how people communicate with one another, how languages relate to and differ from each other, and how they change over time.
Learning a new language or studying linguistics opens the door to a number of career opportunities for which a deep understanding of language is extremely beneficial. You could be a copywriter for an advertising agency, due to your deepened knowledge of how people react to language. You could be a courtroom interpreter, helping to ensure the full understanding of a foreign plaintiff or defendant. You could be a foreign correspondent for a newspaper, magazine or televised news program, allowing you to use both your native tongue and second language every day as you develop and report or write your stories.
These career options are merely the tip of the iceberg. A heightened knowledge and understanding of language is crucial to everyday communication – with our friends, family, and strangers – but this skill holds tremendous value to an employer, in any possible career you can imagine. That’s why we say let your imagination run wild with the potential your future holds after studying languages and linguistics in the US.
Choosing a school
When choosing a school at which to study languages and linguistics in the US, it may be helpful to have an idea of what career path you hope to go down upon completion of your degree. Your decision on what university you wish to attend may vary drastically depending on what you want to do with your degree.
For example, if you’d like to become a copywriter, you may want to look for universities in cities where major US advertising firms have their headquarters, such as New York City, New York (Grey Advertising); Portland, Oregon (Wieden+Kennedy); and Sausalito, California (Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners). If you’d like to be a courtroom interpreter, you may want to look into universities in cities with higher population statistics of immigrants from other countries. As a courtroom interpreter for Spanish speakers, for example, universities in the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas would place you in regions of the US with the highest concentrations of Spanish-speaking residents.
By rank, however, the best schools to study languages and linguistics in the US include Harvard University, Princeton University, the University of California-Berkeley (UCB), the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Chicago, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). These potential schools are respectively based all across the country, from the East Coast to the West Coast and in between, giving you access to whatever city or region may best suit your career goals in languages and linguistics.
The course structure for languages programs may vary slightly based on the language you’re studying and your level of proficiency in the language, as well as if a specific concentration must be selected within that language. Before beginning a major in a languages program, there will be a number of introductory courses that you must take to form a basic level of understanding of the language.
Upon basic acquisition of the language, you can generally expect courses in:
- Advanced Writing and Reading
- Advanced Speaking and Listening
- Introduction to (the given language’s) Linguistics
- Introduction to Translation (from the given language to English
- Introduction to Literary Analysis (in the given language)
- A series of Surveys of Literature and Civilization
Once these courses are completed you will take a final seminar course of your choosing, which typically satisfies a capstone or research requirement, in the realm of Advanced Translation or a subgenre of Literature (though this can vary by university).
In linguistics programs, there will also typically be both a general option and an applied option in the major, depending on how you choose to guide your course of study in the field. However, a general major in linguistics may include the following courses:
- Introduction to Linguistics
- Introduction to Phonetics and Phonology
- Introduction to Syntax (or Syntactic Theory)
- Introduction to Semantics and Pragmatics (other options may be available at this level)
- Sounds and Sound Systems
- Word and Sentence Structure
- First Language Acquisition
- Introduction to Second Language Acquisition
- Language and Society
- Historical Linguistics
- Language Typology
- Advanced Phonology
- Advanced Syntax
The applied option in linguistics programs typically is geared towards students who wish to pursue a career in English as a Second/Foreign Language (ESL), thus the required courses may be entirely different than the aforementioned courses listed above. The ESL applied option may include:
- Linguistics and Grammar in ESL Education
- Urban Dialects
- Introduction to Adult/University-Level TESOL
- Materials for ESL Instruction