Debunking Stereotypes of English Major


It is time for a family gathering. Suddenly you are asked about your college life. When you say "I am majoring in English language and literature", they would likely just slide it away and move on to other topics. Is English really an insignificant major after all? In the worst case, we are often attacked with the common stereotypes of English major. Let's debunk the stereotypes of English major students that we do not want to hear anymore.

  • A walking dictionary

The so-called "kamus berjalan" has been a normal label for English major students as we are highly expected to know the meaning of all English words. People often get disappointed when we cannot completely recall the meaning of a word. "You are an English student, how come you don't even know this word's meaning?" It is not that simple. Sometimes it is confusing to find one word that semantically matches with the context of a sentence. One English word could lead to more than one meaning in other languages. Language is not a mathematical equation.

Ironically, it is impossible for anyone to have a perfect semantic memory of vocabulary. Learning language is more complex than memorizing vocabulary since it involves cultural and social comprehension. There is also a normal phenomenon where we know the exact words but cannot spell it correctly: Tip of the tongue! Under the branch of psycholinguistics, tip of the tongue is common in retrieving words due to the lack of use of a word and cognitive aging (James et al., 2018).

  • A grammar police

Some people have an unimaginable expectation that we have perfect native-like English proficiency. They are afraid that we would compulsively judge them for making grammatical mistakes. Nope. Besides, it is nearly impossible for us to reach the native-like fluency considering that we were not born and grew up in English speaking countries.

It is surely our responsibility to correct each other's grammatical errors in academic context, since grammar is indeed the backbone of language. However, in daily communication, correcting someone's grammar is insignificant because the message is more important than fluency. Having good English proficiency is nice, but being able to use language based on social context is wisdom, and that's what we are taught for.

  • Can give translation service for free

"Hey, can you translate this abstract for me? I bet it's just a cinch for you since you're majoring in English!"

"This one is quite difficult, I need more time and possibly a charge for this."

"Are you kidding?"

Human translation is always far better than machine translation, and yet translation skill is often underappreciated. It is difficult to find a machine translation with human-like language competence. Translating requires careful research and in-depth cultural knowledge. Translation also heavily depends on the field of text; is it medical, academic, technical, or commercial text? Different texts have different language styles, and it costs us a long time to conduct research on terminological terms and cultural context.

  • Our only career prospects are English teacher and translator 

The plot twist of this stereotype is that English students actually have a wide range of career prospects. It is because when we combine language, literature, and culture altogether, we can generate various skills beyond that.

Here is the list of possible careers for English major students and graduates:

- Journalism industry: news article or magazine journalist, news editor, reporter, 

- Creative media: creative writer (content and copywriting), freelance writer, technical writer, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) writer, social media optimization

- Literature: script writer, literary critics, author or editorial assistant of literary works in book publishing company

- Business: public relation, secretary, interpreter

- International affairs: diplomat, staff of international embassies

- Linguistics: computational linguist, forensic linguist, lexicographer

There are many more career prospects for English students in various industries. To put it simply, we can say that we are generalists, or "jack of all trades, master of none". Therefore, it would be a long journey to narrow down our interest and master one specific field. Enjoy the journey and never stop learning. Let's debunk the ongoing stereotypes of English major by simply being good at it!


James, L. E., et al. (2018). Tip of the tongue states increase under evaluative observation. Journal of psycholinguistic research, 47(1), 169-178.

Writer: Maychaella Novita

Editor: Andrea Zelina