For many people, there is little difference between studying languages and linguistics. After all, the Latin word lingua from which the word linguistics is derived means language, right?
Well, it’s not that similar. In fact, these disciplines are very different and we will explain why.
First of all, hardly anyone says they have a degree in languages. They will more likely tell you they have a degree in English, French, Japanese, etc. or any combination thereof. When you study a language at university, you study its literature, film, people’s history, and, gasp, linguistics. You may also do some translation courses, depending on whether you study it as your first language or not. By the end of your studies, you will become an expert in that language and its culture(s).
On the other hand, when you study linguistics, you study language structures in general. This means that you will learn about practically all languages although you won’t be required to speak them. You will focus on their morphology (structure of words), syntax (structure of sentences), semantics (meaning), phonetics (sounds), phonology (how sounds are put together to create a meaning), history, socio-linguistics (attitudes to languages, multilingualism, dialects) and so forth.
Some people may study more specific linguistic degrees, for example, English linguistics. This follows the same structure as a general linguistics course, but it focuses on English only. In such courses, you probably won’t learn much about Shakespeare, but you will learn about the history of the English language, its dialects and structures.
Which degree is therefore more useful? That entirely depends on your interests. Language degrees are more suited to those who are interested in specific languages as well as their cultures. Linguistics is a degree that is more scientific in its content and requires a Rennaissance approach, so to speak, because it entails disciplines allied to various sciences, such as sociology, psychology, computer science, mathematics, etc.
Some people like both subjects and decide to study both. This can be beneficial, because it gives them knowledge of a specific language as well as knowledge of language structures in general. This doesn’t mean their workload is doubled though; they spend perhaps 50% of their time on the study of a language and the remaining 50% on the study of linguistics. Others decide to study one discipline for their Bachelor’s degree and the other for their Master’s degree, so that they fully concentrate on one discipline at a time.
In conclusion, although both subjects deal with languages, their contents are different, but they complement each other nicely.