Graduate Programs in Languages & Languages Grad Schools

Language graduate programs help prepare students like you to help a more globalized world communicate. These programs may be offered online or on campus across the country and around the world. Students may earn a masters, doctorate, and certificate, while focusing on hundreds of different languages, language families, and applications. Whether you’re interested in using your expertise to translate, teach others to communicate, or to facilitate business or diplomacy, there’s no question that an in-depth fluency with languages and how they work could help you thrive.

Types of Language Graduate Programs

With around 350 languages spoken in the United States alone, and more than six thousand living languages around the world (that is, languages that are currently spoken for day-to-day communication), it’s not exactly a shock to find that language graduate programs are part of a complex and diverse field. As such, you’re unlikely to find a graduate program focused on languages in general, unless you’re focused on linguistics.

Language graduate programs may be offered in a few different ways. Many programs focus on developing fluency in a single language or a family of related languages. Many others concentrate on how to use one’s own fluency to teach others to speak and read. Then there are translation-specific programs, and programs focused on using specific languages in certain settings (e.g. in healthcare, the sciences, international business, or political settings).

Another important factor is the perspective. Does the program you’re looking at teach that language from the perspective of the communities who use it every day, or from the perspective of non-native foreign speakers? This could have a significant impact on the type of material covered and how they approach it.

The point is, if you have specific goals and interests, you might direct your search for a graduate program accordingly. Three major categories of language graduate programs are as follows.

Linguistics Graduate Programs

Linguistics graduate programs, at their core, focus on the construction of language in and of itself. This includes things like grammar, phonetics, word construction, slang, and the evolution of languages over time, rather than building fluency. In many cases, linguistics programs may also examine the way languages are influenced by social and political upheaval or through interaction with foreign languages. Some courses may even take unconventional approaches to the material, such as by discussing constructed languages or conlangs. (Think Tolkien’s Elvish, Klingon, or Dothraki, for example!)

While some programs may look at all of this broadly, across many different languages and communities, that’s not always the case. Many linguistics programs instead focus narrowly on a single language or language family. For example, one program might examine English linguistics, how the English language evolved historically from Anglo Saxon to the modern British, Indian, and American varieties we know today. Similar programs might study Spanish linguistics, German, or even Japanese, just to name a few.

Romance Languages

Romance language graduate programs are one somewhat common category within the broader language programs umbrella. Some universities may even have departments focused specifically on romance languages! In most cases, the programs offered in such departments would center on a single language. However, that may depend on the school, how they designed their programs, and the level of the degree in question.

The term “romance languages” refers specifically to a sub-category of Indo-European languages found in Western Europe, which are derived from or heavily influenced by Latin. They’re called “romance” languages, not because of how romantic they are, but because they’re each rooted in the spoken language in Ancient Rome and throughout the Western Roman Empire. Today, the label refers not to Vulgar Latin, but rather to modern Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Catalan.

Foreign Languages

Foreign Language Graduate Programs, in this context, refers specifically to programs focused on language families other than romance. That’s a pretty broad classification. In Europe alone, that includes language families as diverse as Germanic, Slavic, and Indo-Aryan language groups. And that doesn’t even include Asian examples like Sino-Tibetan, which includes several Chinese languages, or the many different African language families, the largest of which being Afro-Asiatic and Niger-Congo.

All that said, if that sounds complicated, don’t worry. In most cases, foreign language graduate programs would focus on the individual language rather than its broader classification. That means you might study Mandarin or Cantonese rather than “Sino-Tibetan,” or Japanese, for example. And most students beginning their graduate program search probably already know what language they’re looking for anyway.

Language Graduate Program Formats

Language graduate programs may be offered in a variety of unique formats, to accommodate different types of students, learning styles, and other needs. Each program may have unique scheduling concerns, technical requirements, advantages, and resources to support building language fluency. These can typically be sorted into two basic categories.

  • Online Language Graduate Programs may be a useful option for many students, as they offer additional flexibility for scheduling, without limiting students to programs only within a certain geographic radius. Studying language, this could be a particular advantage. For one, you could choose a program offering exactly what you want, regardless of where it is, without needing to relocate—something that could be key if you want to study a language that isn’t frequently offered. And with digital technology like real-time video chatting, you may not have to miss out on conversational language practice like you’d ordinarily find in the classroom.
  • Campus-Based Language Graduate Schools offer the face-to-face learning many students are familiar with. Attending a program in your community could afford the flexibility you need to balance your degree requirements with work and personal obligations. However, some students may instead prefer to attend full time, devoting their entire attention to their studies. Choosing to study language in a graduate school setting has the additional potential advantage of location. Some students may even choose programs located in communities around the world that speak their targeted language, which could provide real-world experience to enhance the academics.

Not sure which format you prefer? Some programs may instead blend the two, offering students the freedom to choose both online and campus-based courses as suit their needs, with access to the advantages and resources inherent in both.

Types of Language Graduate Degrees

Language graduate degrees and certificates may be offered from masters through doctorate, with an array of unique approaches. A few examples of the types of language degree programs you might find at every level include the following.

  • Teaching-oriented language programs: Students interested in pursuing roles in language education may choose to earn graduate degrees in that vein. This could include TESOL programs, as well as programs for current professional language teachers, and ones aimed at teachers in adult education programs for professionals. In addition to building fluency in the language in question, these programs may touch on pedagogy, language acquisition research, and instructional techniques.
  • Academic or research-oriented language programs: Programs like this may have more in common with linguistics programs than other varieties. These programs might focus on the language itself, how it works, its cultural context and works of literature, how the language is evolving, and other related topics. However, they’re not as likely to have a focus geared toward a specific application, such as for a classroom teacher or a particular industry.
  • Practice-based or industry-related language programs: These types of language programs tend to focus on where and how people might use the language in question. For example, some programs might focus on learning Spanish for use in healthcare settings or in business. Other programs might be designed to encourage the necessary skills for roles in written translation and oral interpretation.

Language Masters Programs

In most cases, language masters programs are likely to award either a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS). The differences between these two degrees is often nominal, dependent mostly on the preferences of the school issuing the degree. These degree types in themselves also don’t typically reflect a particular career path or type of role. As such, masters programs are more likely to differentiate based on the subject area they focus on, their approach to the material (such as the examples listed above) and the prerequisites. That said, some specific programs may confer masters degrees unique to other fields, such as a master of education in language instruction.

The prerequisites for language-oriented masters programs may vary greatly. However, in most cases, they’re likely to expect either an undergraduate degree in that language, or another demonstration of competence, such as through a language proficiency test (whichever is standard for that particular language) or the GRE, or written and verbal samples. The specific level of proficiency required may also vary.

Language Doctoral Programs

The majority of language doctoral programs are likely to issue a PhD to successful candidates who finish the program. However, as with masters programs, some schools may have additional options, particularly if that particular degree is associated with another field like education. At the doctoral level, the majority of program would require a relevant master’s program and demonstration of a certain level of competence in speaking and writing in that language.

Many language PhD programs, rather than building fluency, instead apply language skills in related areas to increase contextual understanding. For example, one might pursue a doctorate in applied linguistics, or Spanish Language and Literature, or study the application of a given language in a sociopolitical context.

Language Graduate Certificate Programs

Whether you’ve already earned a graduate degree or not, language graduate certificate programs offer a somewhat more concise alternative for graduate language education. These programs could typically be completed in less time than a masters or doctorate degree. While they may have fewer courses, they also enable students to focus narrowly on their areas of interest, building up specific skills, and even getting a taste of what graduate school is like. While individual programs may vary, this category typically includes language masters certificates, which are made up of courses at the masters level and require a bachelors degree, and post-masters certificates, which require a masters degree and are usually made up of courses at the post-masters or doctorate level.

Example Language Careers

Language-related careers potentially open to those with a graduate degree or certificate are many and varied. This could depend on the language or languages spoken, additional experience in other fields, location, minimum level of education, certifications held, and other factors. In many cases, the minimum requirement is a bachelors degree, though holding a masters or doctorate may still be an advantage.

A few examples of the types of careers language graduates might pursue include the following.

  • High School Language Teacher: 2016 Median Pay $58,030i
  • Language Professor: 2016 Median Pay $63,500ii
  • Interpreter and Translator: 2016 Median Pay $46,120iii
  • Adult Literacy & Language Teacher: 2016 Median Pay $50,650iv

Find Language Graduate Programs & Schools

Search for language graduate programs today, and take the first step toward earning your graduate language degree! A variety of programs may be offered in the languages you’re interested in, at your level. To narrow down your options, use the menu and select your preferred program level, specialty, and format! Then read more and review the sponsored program listings. Click on the ones you’re interested in to find out more and request information. Then schedule your visit or meeting and start your application.


[i] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/high-school-teachers.htm

[ii] bls.gov/oes/current/oes251124.htm

[iii] bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/interpreters-and-translators.htm

[iv] bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/adult-literacy-and-ged-teachers.htm

Find Schools