Applied Linguistics Jobs: Career & Salary Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in applied linguistics. Read on to learn more about career options along with education and salary information. Schools offering Communications degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What is an Applied Linguist?

Applied linguistics is a specialty area within linguistics, which is the science of language. Careers in applied linguistics likely will involve research and/or teaching, and a common focus area is on language acquisition (how people learn a language). You may be working with adults or children in helping them learn English, or possibly another language depending on your abilities. The table below offers a brief overview of career options, education requirements and earning potential.

Professor ESL Teacher
(kindergarten and elementary schools)
ESL Teacher (adult education)
Degree Required Doctoral degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree; master's degree recommended
Education Field of Study Linguistics;
foreign languages;
bilingual education;
Adult education;
bilingual education;
foreign language of choice
Licensure/Certification None State teaching license State teaching license recommended
Key Responsibilities Teach graduate and undergraduate courses; design curricula; conduct research; publish scholarly articles Provide individual and classroom instruction; design curricula; grade student work; assess student progress; work with parents and other teachers Plan curricula geared toward adult learners; evaluate student progress; provide classroom and one-on-one instruction
Job Growth (2014-2024)* 13% (for all postsecondary teachers) 6% (for all kindergarten and elementary teachers) 7% (adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers)
Median Salary (2015)* $61,990 (postsecondary English language and literature teachers) $54,890 (elementary school teachers except special ed) $50,280 (adult basic and secondary education and literacy teachers and instructors)

Source: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Career Options in Applied Linguistics?

Applied linguistics is a research and teaching-oriented specialty area of the much broader field of linguistics, which studies the interaction between human societies and the languages spoken within them. Applied linguistics uses the general study of linguistics to analyze, operate and improve language acquisition programs. These may include literacy education, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) programs.

Applied linguistics can encompass research in addition to teaching and learning. An online industry information guide states that many applied linguists study language acquisition itself, using sociolinguistic studies and theories to determine how language acquisition education programs can be improved ( As with many social sciences, applied linguistics research often takes place at postsecondary institutions. You can also teach applied linguistics or foreign languages at the college level. As of January 2017, many of the postings listed on the American Association for Applied Linguistics' online job bank were for professor or assistant professor positions (

What Education Do I Need?

You'll generally need an advanced degree for employment in the applied linguistics professional areas described above. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree is required for most higher education faculty members, which includes both professors and researchers. A career as a TESOL or adult literacy teacher may also require a master's degree, while public school ESL teachers only need a bachelor's degree and state teaching licensure ( As an undergraduate student, you may major in linguistics, bilingual education or a related area; aspiring ESL teachers may need to take specific education courses. You can earn your master's or doctoral degree in applied linguistics, TESOL or second language acquisition.

What Will I Learn in Linguistics Degree Programs?

Bachelor's degree programs will teach you foundational concepts either in the study of linguistics or the principles of teaching English to native speakers of other languages, depending on your major. In a linguistics program, your courses may address topics like phonetics, language acquisition, syntax, sociolinguistics, morphology and speech science. If you're studying bilingual education or a similar area, you'll learn relevant teaching methods for ESL students, such as curriculum planning, instructional Spanish, literacy instruction, psycholinguistics and cognitive language acquisition.

You can earn your applied linguistics master's degree in about two years or your doctoral degree in four or five. Both program types generally require completion of applied and theoretical courses, a teaching internship and a thesis or dissertation; the length and intensity of these requirements increases for doctoral students.

Commonly covered course topics may include second language pedagogy, cross-cultural linguistics, discourse analysis and applied linguistic research design. You'll also take courses in second language instruction; these may be geared specifically towards teaching child or adult students, or focus on bilingual education program analysis. Topics covered in these areas include second language reading, writing and pronunciation, ESL or TESOL teaching methods, language assessment, educational technology and linguistic education research.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You may be interested in other careers in linguistics, like research. As a linguistic researcher, you may work to understand various intricacies of specific languages and how people learn to acquire them. You could also pursue a job in interpreting or translation and may be employed by a government agency, where linguists are often sought after.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

  • 1. Degree Options:
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