Linguistics and Cultural Studies: Cultural knowledge for a digital world

In areas that involve dealing with text and information, linguists and cultural studies graduates are in demand as experts in the advertising sector and in international cooperation, or for search engine optimisation. In a global, knowledge-based labour market, their skills are becoming increasingly important. Important to know: at German universities, you are required to work on your own initiative in the humanities.

by the Editors

International students in the library © Lichtenscheidt/DAAD
International students in the library . © Lichtenscheidt/DAAD

The term humanities covers programmes in linguistics and cultural studies. Around 2,750 humanities courses are available at German universities. What they all have in common is that they deal with human cultural output with regard to languages, literature, philosophy and history. An initial distinction is made between general and applied linguistics or individual languages such as English. The subject group also includes the fields of library science, anthropology, journalism and history, as well as foreign language didactics, such as German as a foreign language (GFL, Deutsch als Fremdsprache DaF).

Organisation: planning your own timetable

You should definitely have a love of reading and a keen feel for languages. You should also be good at organising yourself, as a humanities degree course in Germany has a more open structure than in other countries. You have a lot of freedom to choose and combine learning content and courses in linguistics and cultural studies subjects. You’ll spend a lot of time working in the library or in study groups and on the independent preparation of seminar and research papers. This requires discipline and first-year students often take a while to get used to this.

On bilingual degree courses, good German language skills are also a prerequisite. Around 120 degree courses are offered in the area of linguistics and cultural studies. This means you can study for an international double degree at German universities. From applied linguistics to Franco-German cultural studies, you’ll find attractive combinations, of various cultures and languages for Bachelor’s and Master’s courses.

Range of courses: single-subject Bachelor’s degree or individual combination?

If you decide to study the humanities in Germany, you can choose: either to focus on one subject and study for a single honours (Monobachelor) degree or to combine subjects. A two-subject Bachelor’s degree gives you the possibility of selecting another subject that matches your individual interests and establishes an additional focus in addition to the main linguistics or cultural studies subject. This subject can be from the humanities, but it can also be a minor subject from a completely different area, such as economics. The combinations available are dependent on the courses offered at the various universities.

Interdisciplinary subjects which are part of the digital humanities, such as computer linguistics, are becoming increasingly popular. On the interface between linguistics and computer science, as part of the course, you investigate how texts and linguistic information can be processed using algorithms. The benefit of automatic language processing has long been self-evident in daily life. For example, using search engines for research or using speech to control navigation devices. It is also used for the continuing development of computer translation. The digital knowledge economy is opening up new opportunities for humanities scholars.

Career prospects: a wealth of jobs for humanities scholars

It’s a good time to be a humanities scholar: strong knowledge management and cross-cultural skills are increasingly valued in a wide range of economic sectors. The media and communications sector, educational institutions and publishers are the traditional areas of employment. In Germany, around half of graduates now work in areas with rather less direct relationships to the humanities, e.g. the manufacturing industry, commerce or healthcare, and increasingly also in IT.

Entering the job mark can be difficult: only a few jobs explicitly target linguists and cultural scientists, which doesn’t make the search easy. So in these areas, it is particularly important that you discover your orientation as early as possible during your studies and specialise in terms of course content. Having a clear profile and initial practical experience will enable you to make a good impression when looking for a job. Don't wait too long and ask for support if you need it: many universities offer modules that provide key qualifications and reinforce practical skills.