Linguist Skills: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 9, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Linguistics is a broad professional field with a variety of career paths to choose from. To build a successful career as a linguist, it's important to obtain the relevant skills. Understanding the skills required by a linguist can help you seek the right training and find a suitable specialization in the field. In this article, we discuss what linguist skills are, examine some of these skills, explore tips for developing them, and discover how to emphasize them at interviews and on your resume and cover letter.

What are linguist skills?

Linguist skills are those skills demonstrated by linguists working in the industry. They may include the hard and soft skills obtained during training. Hard skills are the technical abilities that linguists apply when performing their duties, such as foreign language fluency and translation. Conversely, soft skills are transferrable and typically involve interpersonal skills that aid linguists in performing their jobs. Both soft and hard skills are important because they complement each other. For example, an interpreter may require fluency in multiple languages and patience to build a successful career.

Related: 17 Jobs in French to Consider (With Salaries and FAQs)

Examples of linguist skills

These are some of the common skills required by linguists:

Foreign language fluency

Linguists typically study multiple languages, including those not native to them. They can speak certain languages fluently or translate from one language to another. Linguists may also study the histories of certain cultures, regions, and influences to understand the change and evolution of a language. For example, the English language contains different words and phrases from various cultures due to British imperialism, conquest, and cultural influence. Linguists may also seek to understand certain nuances of language, such as:

  • Impact of geography on dialects

  • Translation of certain words and phrases in different languages

  • Reading and writing in certain languages

  • Differences in words and phrases between different dialects

  • Speaking full sentences at speed

  • The effects of culture on languages

Interpretation or translation

Some linguists choose to specialize in either language translation or interpretation. Both disciplines require fluency in foreign languages and attention to detail. The major difference between a translator and an interpreter is that they work towards different goals. Typically, translators work with documents and reproduce the information in another language in written media, such as articles and books. In contrast, interpreters are oral translators who verbally convey words, ideas, or phrases from one language to another.

As a linguist, you may decide to study either or both concepts to improve your skill set and set yourself apart from other employees. For example, a linguist who can work as an interpreter and a translator may have greater employment prospects because they can perform two different jobs. Both career paths have different educational requirements that may determine the roles you can obtain in the linguistics field.

Related: What You Can Do With a Linguistics Degree (13 Example Jobs)

Verbal and non-verbal communication

The role of a linguist involves explaining and dictating concepts. Therefore, it's beneficial to have excellent verbal communication skills. Interpreters also use these verbal communication skills to transfer information from one person to another. Additionally, it's important for both translators and interpreters to understand non-verbal communication cues and how they interact with verbal communication. A linguist can perform their role better if they understand how people use their body language to support their statements or differences between body language across different cultures. For example, a head shake may not necessarily indicate "yes" or "no" in some cultures.

As a linguist, it's important that you use body language correctly to convey the right message and adhere to cultural norms. Effective verbal communication can also help you build functional professional relationships with others in the industry and help you make requests, provide updates, and set boundaries in the workplace.

Read more: Guide to Verbal Communication Skills

Active listening

Active listening is an important part of communication. It involves listening carefully and paying attention to non-verbal cues to help you identify relevant details and connect ideas. It's an important skill in the field of linguistics. You can improve your active listening skills by taking relevant courses, attending training and seminars, and practising with colleagues and friends. Good listening skills can also help you build good working relationships with colleagues.

Attention to detail

Attention to minor details, like intonation and voice modulation, is valuable for understanding any language. Much of language interpretation and translation involves studying the details of a language, such as how some words may not directly translate into other dialects. These details help linguists clearly understand the meaning of words and phrases and the context in which to use them. You can sharpen these skills through relevant coursework and practical experience.

Tips for developing linguist skills

Developing the necessary skills to become a linguist may lead to more job opportunities, a better salary, and allow you to build a positive reputation in the industry. Here are some tips for developing relevant linguistic skills:

1. Study continuously

To build a successful career in linguistics, it's important to continue developing your qualifications and skills in your area of specialism. For example, if you're a French translator or interpreter, you can learn about the French dialects, culture, and laws to help you get a better understanding of the country and its people. Further study may help you grasp certain language nuances and cultural influences more effectively. Continuous learning also helps you reinforce the concepts you already know and exposes you to newer concepts that may set you apart from the competition.

2. Prioritize listening

Listening skills are important to linguists because they often listen to phrases or sentences first before deciphering their meaning. Prioritizing listening before speaking can help you find the correct meaning of a conversation and make you a better linguist. Focus on allowing others to finish what they're saying before you respond, even if you have a strong opinion on something they've said. When you respond, ensure you make them feel heard by addressing what they said and connecting your own ideas to theirs.

3. Ask questions

Asking questions can help you to clarify ideas, phrases, and words and improve communication between different people and cultures. It's important to ask direct, simple, and specific questions that address particular issues. For example, if a word in the language you're learning doesn't have a direct translation, you can ask a language expert or an indigenous speaker for clarification.

Emphasizing your skills for a linguist role

Highlighting your key skills as a linguist may help your application get a positive reception from hiring managers. Here are some tips to help you emphasize your language skills in a cover letter, resume, and job interview:

Highlighting your skills on a resume

Use a bulleted skills list that features the most relevant skills for the role. Highlighting your skills with bullet points can make them easy to find and read. It also helps you summarize and state the relationship between your skills, work experience, and the role you're applying for. It's advisable to select skills relevant to your industry experience and transferable soft skills that make you stand out from other candidates. Some examples could include:

  • Fluency in French and German

  • Strong communication skills

  • Efficient interpretation skills

  • Passion for language

  • Patience

Read more: Highlighting Your Skills Using Resume Bullet Points

Emphasizing your skills in a cover letter

A cover letter provides an overview of your resume and details some of your key qualifications and skills. It's important to keep your cover letter short, direct, and relevant to the role you're applying for. You can include details about your present and past work experience and how it can help you in the new role. You can also express your motivation for applying and give concrete examples of how you apply your skills.

Read more: What Is a Cover Letter? (With Tips, Template, and Example)

Demonstrating your skills during a job interview

A job interview typically determines whether you're the right fit for the job. As a result, it's important to reinforce and expand on the skills on your resume and cover letter. Suppose the interviewer asks about your language fluency. You can explain how you obtained these skills, scenarios where you've applied them, and how they can benefit the company. For example:

"I have an extensive background in French and German, with a bachelor's degree in the history and culture of both languages. As an interpreter, I successfully conducted a multi-national billion-dollar negotiation between a German and a French company in my previous job. I sincerely believe my skills can be a great asset to the company because I know how to apply these skills to business practices."

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