Linguistics: Student Testimonials

Irene Delicano

Majors: Linguistics Co-op & French

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

I first heard the word ‘Linguistics’ from my mom when I was still in elementary school. As a current Linguistics student at university, looking back I’m not quite sure if she knew exactly what Linguistics was, but she sensed very early on that I would be interested in languages and the word ‘Linguistics’ seemed to have something to do with that field. Academically speaking, my strengths have always leaned more towards English and French, and I just loved learning about different languages in general. So when it came time to choose courses for first year university, the Introduction to Linguistics course was definitely one of my first picks. Since Linguistics is not a subject that’s directly studied in high school, unlike biology or chemistry, I didn’t know what to expect from my Linguistics classes. But after the first few classes, I was hooked. It completely fascinated me. I’d always thought of languages as strictly an arts and humanities thing, but here I was learning about the anatomy of the vocal apparatus, how sounds are formed, basic theoretical processes of speech production, and how words are represented in our minds. The first year course definitely cemented my interest and provided me with a new definition of Linguistics as an interdisciplinary study of the science of languages. In addition, I chose the Co-op option for Linguistics in order to become exposed to the “real-world” work that would allow me to access potential opportunities that are open to Linguistics degree-holders. And as someone who has studied (and enjoyed) French through all four years of high school, continuing my studies through a French major seemed like a no-brainer!

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

The Linguistics program at UTSC is quite small and fairly tight-knit. That means it is really easy to get to know your other classmates and professors, who are always willing to help you out with assignments or even give you advice on future career options in the field. As I mentioned earlier, the interdisciplinary nature of Linguistics allows you to develop a comprehensive skill set, such as analytical thinking skills when analyzing speech data and patterns, written communication skills, and interpersonal skills, especially when dealing with experiments that require collecting data from research participants. Unlike other humanities fields, there isn’t a huge emphasis on essay writing; rather, the focus is on the application of the concepts and theories you learn. In addition to Linguistics, you can also focus more specifically on a subfield called Psycholinguistics, which studies how language and psychology are intertwined in areas such as language acquisition. At UTSC, you are also able to choose the Linguistics/Psycholinguistics Co-op option. In general, the Co-op option is great because you learn some really applicable tips on how to write resumes and cover letters, how to interview well, networking skills, etc. Although searching for a Linguistics-specific job is a bit challenging, you’d be surprised by how many different kinds of positions and workplaces require the abilities and skills that Linguistics students acquire through their studies!

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

1. Be open-minded. The thing about Linguistics is that it is just an umbrella term for a whole bunch of diverse subfields, such as Phonetics, Phonology, Morphology, Syntax, Semantics, Language Acquisition, Psycholinguistics, Computational linguistics, Sociolinguistics, Historical linguistics, and more. Find out what really interests you and what you want to focus on through attending conferences and networking events and doing research (either your own or with a professor). At UTSC, the Work-Study program often has Research Assistant positions available to students and this is a really great stepping stone to getting experience within the program. Just explore as much as you can because Linguistics is such a burgeoning field and there is still so much unexplored territory.

2. Get to know your professors and TAs. The Linguistics faculty and TAs are an invaluable resource when it comes to homework/project help or even for just discussing your path within the degree. Since it is a small program with a comparatively smaller number of students than life science courses, Linguistics students have a really great opportunity to make themselves stand out to their professors. In many cases, when professors are looking for research assistants, they reach out to students they know first, before making positions available to the wider Linguistics student body. Plus, getting to know your professor’s or TA’s academic journey also allows you to decide where you want to go with your degree, especially if they’re doing research or work that interests you. You get to ask them questions and really get some insights into their own experiences.

3. Get a really solid foundation during the first two years of your degree. Just like other programs, the first two years of the degree are often dedicated to the core foundation courses. It is highly important to get a solid grasp of the material in these core courses, because every course afterwards relies on the assumption that you are already up to speed with what has been taught. Everything accumulates and it is wise to review notes that you made in these courses (on that note: don’t throw away your first and second year course notes; you never know when they might come in handy again!). For example, in first year and second year Linguistics, you learn about the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). Pretty much everything in Linguistics depends on your knowledge of this system and you always refer back to it, no matter what sub-discipline you eventually end up in.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation?
 

Linguistics ties into so many other programs - languages, psychology, biology, neuroscience, and even statistics and computer science. Since it can be paired up with such a variety of different programs, Linguistics has a way of finding applications in many facets of society, such as education, law, the sciences and medicine, computer technologies, etc. A popular option for many Linguistics/Psycholinguistics graduates is the Master of Health Science program that afterwards, allows you to become eligible to be certified as a Speech-Language Pathologist. In addition, many Linguistics students are also well-suited to become psychologists, counsellors, and social workers, especially when it comes to working with children with speech disorders. Since I am doing a double major in Linguistics and French, I do hope to utilize my French language knowledge to go into translation and/or interpretation, as well as possibly education as a French-as-a-Second-Language (FSL) teacher.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

 
During my first year, I took Introduction to Linguistics at the St. George Campus in downtown Toronto, which focused on broadly introducing students to the core concepts of Linguistics as well as some of the sub-disciplines such as phonetics, syntax, morphology, and psycholinguistics. During my second year, I had transferred to the Scarborough campus because it is the only University of Toronto campus that offers Co-op as a program option, and that appealed to me. During this year, some of the core concepts learned in the introductory Linguistics course were studied more in-depth, such as learning about sounds that exist in various languages, not just English or French. I also began my Navigating the World of Work Co-op classes that would prepare me for creating job applications and the job-hunting process. In third year, I embarked upon my first Co-op Work term. Upon returning in the Winter semester, I continued to complete requirements for both my Linguistics and French majors. During this year, Linguistics courses became more specific in terms of their focus within a particular sub-discipline or enhancing analytical skills beneficial to Linguistics research, such as: Quantitative methods in Linguistics, Speech Perception, and Sociolinguistics. Fourth year will be dedicated to finishing up my degree requirements and doing research on masters or graduate programs, diplomas, or certifications. Although it is very important to be academically successful in fourth year, I think it is also worthwhile to begin or continue volunteering or working at places that provide you practical experience that goes along with your studies. Getting out there and finding these placements also helps with widening your network with people who already have connections in the field. 

Janessa Tam

Majors: Psychology and Linguistics

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Before I entered university, I was already very interested in developmental psychology and therefore I decided to major in Psychology for sure. I took LINA01 as a breath requirement in first year and I ended up really liking linguistics. This was a field that I was never exposed to and I was glad that I decided to give it a try. This is why I chose Psychology and Linguistics as my majors.
 
Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 

A double major in Psychology and Linguistics is a pretty unique combination as I am in both Science and Arts. For Psychology program, it is a larger class setting and more individual work is required, such as a research proposal. On the other hand, the Linguistics program is a relatively much smaller department, thus I get to know professors and other students better. I really enjoy the friendly and encouraging environment. Also, it is very applicable to real life situations and more group work is involved.
 
What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 

1) Do not procrastinate and try to cramp everything at the last minute.
2) Don't hesitate to ask for help when needed. There are many resources on campus and students should make use of them.
3) Don’t be afraid to talk to your professors. This does not only help your academic study, it is also a great opportunity to get to know your professor.
 
What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)
 

I plan on pursuing a masters degree in speech-language pathology and becoming a speech language pathologist. Double majors in Psychology and Linguistics will allow me to fulfill most of the prerequisites. I am very interested in language disorders and developmental psychology. Also, I work with people very well and I think this would be very suitable for me.
 
What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

 
First year coming into university, I was both excited and nervous. Everything seemed to be overwhelming. Balancing academics and social life were hard at the beginning. Throughout first year, I became more and more comfortable in this new environment and developed better time management. Thanks to my mentor, that I met at the first year experience program, she walked me through this process and I had an amazing first year. Second year was a little tough as all my classes were based on my majors and I wasn’t used to this heavy work load. But then, I approached professors for help and made use of campus resources, such as writing center. I became even more involved in school and joined the Linguistics Student Association as a lower year representative. Throughout my second year, I expanded my friend circle and was more comfortable approaching professors. Third year seemed easier as I have already been through all the processes. I have stepped out of my comfort zone. I am now more confident and responsible. I also have a group of friends who always support me. I even started my own research and I am very excited to conduct my experiment. I’m glad to see all these transitions throughout my university life.

Sharmigaa Ragunathan

Majors: Psychology and Linguistics

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?

Psychology: When I applied to UTSC, I was unsure of what program to study. My interests were both Management and Psychology since I enjoyed taking these courses during high school. I took the introductory courses for both Management and Psychology during first year. I really enjoyed the Psychology introductory courses. It was fascinating to learn various subfields of Psychology such as Social Psychology, Development Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Behavior and Modification, Personality Psychology, and Memory and Cognition. The introductory courses provided me a deeper understanding of Psychology. When I took the upper year courses, I really enjoyed them because the Psychology professors taught valuable lessons and knowledge in depth. The Psychology textbooks were really interesting because they clearly describe concepts and provide connections to real life. These valuable lectures and readings are useful tools for Professional schools such as Graduate and Medical schools. Linguistics: I took the Linguistics introductory courses as electives. When I took the first part of the introductory course, I really enjoyed learning the structures that make up a language (i.e. sound patterns, what structures make up of a word, and sentence structure). This course made me learn about “language” at another level. When I took the second part of the introductory course, I enjoyed learning about Child Language Acquisition, Language and Brain, and Sociolinguistics. These topics have a connection to Psychology. The interest in Linguistics and its connection with Psychology has led me to do a Linguistics Major.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?

Being part of the Psychology program helped me develop critical thinking skills in order to make connections to the real world situations and strengthen my research skills that will be relevant to my other classes and Graduate school. An important highlight to the Psychology program is that Facilitated Study Group Programs (FSGs)—weekly group study sessions that help students review the course materials discussed at lectures—are offered for Psychology courses such as the Psychology introductory courses and Statistics (a required course for the Psychology major). The FSGs really helped the students practice and remember the course materials when they are reviewing for their exams. Many students who went to FSGs said it helped them do well on their courses. Being part of the Linguistics program provided us hands on experience by applying the Linguistics knowledge we learned in the course to real life language data. By viewing these data, it allowed us to see a bigger picture of various language processes. Linguistics also taught us about real life issues such as language and speech disorders and different group of speakers have different characteristics of language use (e.g. gender or age differences in language use), processes involved in reading, and formation of words. An advantage of the Linguistics program is that upper year Linguistics courses are small and there are approximately 30 students in the class. In most of the Linguistics classes, you will encounter the same group of people. This helps you get to know your fellow peers and professors better. By getting to know your peers, you can form study groups with them when studying for exams and quizzes. Another advantage of the Linguistics program is that it offers FSGs for Linguistics courses such as the introductory Linguistics courses, Phonetics and Phonology. The FSGs allow the students to review the course materials and do practice questions. As a result, it helps the students do well on the courses.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?

Bird courses: When it is time for course selection, we tend to ask our friends and/or acquaintances a list of easy and/or interesting courses to take during the semester and the feedback about the courses. However, the list of easy/interesting courses and the feedbacks are based on their own experiences and interests. Each and one of us have own interests that can be different from our peers. Thus, you can’t always rely on your peers’ feedback on certain courses. There might be some courses your friends enjoyed but you might not like it. At the same time, your friends might find a course boring or challenging but you end up enjoying it. You need to immerse yourself into different courses, especially if you need to take electives, in order to discover if these courses are for you. If you really enjoy the course, you are more likely to take the time and effort to learn the course materials, and find the enjoyment behind the course, even though others perceive it to be “challenging”. If I didn’t take Linguistics because my peers said it was difficult, I would have not majored in Linguistics and discovered that Linguistics is for me. If you don’t enjoy the courses suggested by your friends, then these courses might not be for you and it is better if you take a different course that you will most likely enjoy. In other words, passion is the key to learning and enjoyment of courses.
Time Management: As university students, we are responsible for doing our readings, watch lectures online (some courses have Weboption lectures), study for exams, and work on our assignments on time. At the same time, we need to balance our school life with work, volunteering or spending time with family and friends. Sometimes everything seems to come at once or procrastination hits us (readings pile up, watching one lecture this weekend becomes watching five lectures a few weekends later, and the all-nighter assignment party happens). In order to avoid such situations, use a calendar on your laptop or cellphone as a visual schedule to plan out what you will do throughout the day. It will help you stay on track of everything and make sure you finish your schoolwork before you do other commitments. We are prone to study or work on our assignments last minute. Review you lecture notes and readings every weekend so you will have the learned materials in your mind. When you are studying for your exam, it will feel more like a review session. Right after the assignment instructions and due dates are posted online, work on each section of your assignment each day. By starting early, you can ask your Professors if you have any issues with the assignment beforehand or get feedback on your assignment from peers or professor in order to do well on it. Experience: It is really crucial to start gaining experiences as early as possible, especially in the field you want to pursue in the future. These opportunities include work-study positions, co-op placements, clubs (Student Associations), FSG facilitator, Get Started Coach, volunteer positions, and being a Teaching Assistant for a course. When you are in fourth year, I encourage you to attend Jobs for Grads Orientation hosted by AA&CC. It provides access to full time job positions and internships for U of T students as they graduate. It is beneficial if you look into jobs or volunteer positions outside of campus, such as clinics, hospitals, daycare centers, banks or elementary schools. By gaining experiences in your related field, you will be benefitted in two ways. First, it helps you to build networks with professors, employers, faculty, and future colleagues. They can help you connect to future employment. Second, the experiences will provide you with hands-on experience related to your field. It will help you gain the skills, knowledge and expertise required for your future studies and jobs. A balance between grades and experiences will step up your game when you go to Professional schools.

What will you do with your degree after graduation?

As a person who is passionate about working with children, I want to become a Child Psychologist. The Psychology-Linguistics Double major has taught me valuable lessons relevant to this field, such as first language acquisition, temperament styles, the effects of attachment styles on a child’s life, reading development and processes, communication disorders and children’s behavioral, cognitive and emotional development. In order to become a Child Psychologist, you need to pursue a Masters and Doctorate degree at Graduate school. U of T provides a variety of Graduate programs for the Child Psychology field. These programs include Child Study & Education, Developmental Psychology & Education, and School & Clinical Psychology. It can be beneficial to attend college in order to get hands on experience relating to Child Psychology. It is often helpful to go for programs that have Co-op opportunities at college. Co-op programs will help you learn the practical and experiential aspect of Child Psychology, such as the duties of Child Psychologists, the methods and strategies they use to work with children, and diagnostics and therapies they use while they work with children. If you were to pair your theoretical knowledge gained during your undergraduate journey and the practical skills gained at college, it could build up your expertise and credentials for applying to graduate school and your occupation.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

During the first academic year, you will take introductory courses in Psychology and Linguistics. You will learn the basics of Psychology and Linguistics, and be introduced to different sub-disciplines in Psychology—such as Social Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Abnormal Psychology and Personality Psychology—and Linguistics, such as Phonetics, Syntax, Phonology, Morphology, Sociolinguistics, Brain and Language, Child Acquisition, and Animal Communication. First year is the time when you transition from high school to university. You are getting to know the life of university, from midterms to weekly readings, from Portal to ACORN/ROSI, from building networks to being responsible. It will take some time to adjust to university. You will get the hang of it by the first few weeks of first semester. In the second academic year, you learn about the various sub-disciplines of Psychology and Linguistics in depth. Second year will help you discover the sub-disciplines you are most interested. These courses will guide your course selection for the third and fourth academic year. The third and fourth year courses are more specialized and focused on specific topics (e.g. Psychology and Emotions, Developmental Psychobiology, Socialization Processes, Psychology and Prejudice, Speech Physiology, Language and Gender, Psycholinguistics of Reading and Speech Disorders in Children). The third year courses are designed to develop critical thinking skills by questioning the course materials and research papers and making connections to real life situations. These are the internal prerequisites to fourth year courses. The fourth year courses are more seminar-based which prepares you for professional schools and jobs by developing presentation, research and discussion skills.

Elanna Clayton

Major: English and Linguistics

What factors contributed to you choosing your program(s)?
 

I love English literature and have always loved reading and writing and English was my strongest subject in high school. I decided I didn't want to limit myself to just English, so I read all the course descriptions and decided that Linguistics would be an interesting thing to major in since it was so closely related to English as a study - it's the study of the language (as well as other languages) that I love so much.

Can you describe your program(s)? What is it actually like?
 
The English program is a lot of reading and writing. Basically we are assigned books, poems, articles that we read and have to close read and analyze. The courses are very specific in a theme and we have to always be mindful to relate our opinions on the texts we are reading to that specific theme. We also get to hear many different opinions from the professor and other scholars as well as the other students. All of these different opinions help to shape what you will write about in your essays and journals. The Linguistics program is a more "science-adjacent" program. I was awful with science and math in high school but still do relatively well in Linguistics. There are many different aspects to Linguistics like Sociology (the study of how people actually use language). In that course we talk about the use of slang, or stereotypes on how people use language. But there's also the more technical side to linguistics in courses like syntax where we literally draw trees that model the structure of a sentence. Courses like these are more "mathematical" in the way that you are kind of following a formula, but you can still do well at this without being good at math. In linguistics you also talk about communication, for example, we learn about how bees communicate by dancing. It's very interesting, but it is more challenging than the English degree in my opinion.

What tips/advice can you provide to students just starting or considering this program(s)?
 
Be very focused and hard-working in the Introduction to Linguistics course. This very narrowly talks about all the different areas in linguistics, but every single one is very different and very important. If you fall behind in this course or don't understand anything in this course, you will fall behind as each course in the future builds of all of this and only gets more complicated. This course is very important. Go to tutorials, go to office hours, understand as much as you can. Do not fall behind. Do the readings and pay attention in lectures. In the English program, really work with your professors and TA's and the writing centre to shape and re-format your writing. You can't evolve your writing without their feedback.

What will you do with your degree after graduation? (Future plans?)

Right now I want to go into Publishing, however this may change later. I also want to be a published writer one day.

What has your academic journey during your time been like as you progress toward graduation?

First year was a bit of a shock to me. It's always a little unnerving when you go from getting consistent 80s and 90s in high school to getting grades in the 60s and 70s from putting in the same amount of carefree attitude. And then of course it was all a guessing game as to figuring out the marking systems of the professors and ways to get higher grades. In all honesty, my largest downfall was not doing the assigned readings from the textbooks. In second year, it hit me that to succeed, I had to do ALL the readings. Once I did that my grades increased and I started getting grades in the 70s and 80s which I felt a lot more comfortable with. Some days I was rushing straight home from school to get home where I found myself reading all night until I had to go to bed to get all the readings done since professors often assign a lot of readings in the English program. There were less readings to do in Linguistics, but in that program there was a huge requirement to go over the lectures to make sure I understood and memorized the important terminology and components. Going into third year was the first time I actually felt comfortable academically. The thought of failing a class was almost never in my head because I felt I understood what was expected of me, and I felt I understood how best to earn all my grades and be successful. Going into fourth year now, I feel the same. I have a lot of work to do this year, but it's all work I know I can handle.