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Second Language Acquisition

Administrative Unit:Language Institute
College/School: College of Letters & Science
Admitting Plans:Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Doctoral Minor

Faculty: Professors Chavez (German), Evans-Romaine (Slavic Languages and Literature), Frantzen (Spanish and Portuguese), Hawkins (Curriculum and Instruction), Mori (East Asian Languages and Literature), Tochon (Curriculum and Instruction), Young (English); Associate Professors Geyer (East Asian Languages and Literature), Stafford (Spanish and Portuguese), Pacheco (Curriculum and Instruction), Thompson (African Languages and Literature); Assistant Professor Allen; Associate Director Murphy (Language Institute)


Second language acquisition or SLA is the systematic study of learning, using, and sometimes losing any form of language beyond the mother tongue. Research in SLA is a burgeoning field because today there are more people who use at least two languages than there are monolinguals. For individual learners and for every community in diaspora, second language acquisition is an experience that challenges their knowledge of language, their understanding of different cultures, and their personal identity. These challenges are studied by SLA researchers, scholars whose training is in a variety of fields—linguistics, psychology, sociology, education, anthropology, and communication arts—a variety that makes the study of SLA richly interdisciplinary.

The Ph.D. program in second language acquisition at the University of Wisconsin–Madison is a rigorous and coherently interdisciplinary academic program in a field that embodies the university’s mission to foster the study of globally important issues. In their course work, students in the program learn from the experiences of a distinguished faculty in many departments and, in their dissertation research, students share with faculty the discovery of new knowledge. Students develop a thorough understanding of the many facets of SLA, including language pedagogy, the study of multilingualism, language acquisition and loss, and multilingual language use in contexts of education, the workplace, and the family. Through the program, students develop skills in research in the sociology and psychology of knowing two or more languages and in the linguistics of languages in contact. A Ph.D. in SLA opens the door to scholarly and professional careers as university faculty, directors of foreign language programs, educational policy makers, and multilingual specialists.

Financial Aid 

Students in the SLA program, depending on their qualifications, may receive financial support through several departments, programs, and institutes. Many students who minor in a foreign language or ESL work as graduate teaching assistants for the department in which that language is taught. Other students work as graduate project assistants for the Language Institute or other units on campus. In addition to these TA and PA positions, select SLA students receive university fellowships (including the Advanced Opportunity Fellowships) upon entry into the program or when working on their dissertations. If they meet the specific eligibility criteria, students may also compete, with the program’s support, in other grant and fellowship competitions, such as Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowships. Additional funding opportunities are included in the information for current students on the SLA website.


The SLA doctoral program requires a master's degree in a foreign language, English, applied linguistics, linguistics, or education. The SLA program requires GRE scores as they may play a role in decisions of financial support, particularly university fellowships. The GRE examination must be taken within five years before your application to the SLA doctoral program. Please refer to the program website for application deadlines, required application materials, and required modes of submitting these materials. In addition, general requirements for admission, stipulated by the graduate school (e.g., evidence of English proficiency for certain international students) apply.


For detailed information about course requirements, students should consult the SLA Student Handbook.

For more information: Second Language Acquisition, 1322 Van Hise Hall, 1220 Linden Drive, Madison, WI 53706; contact@sla.wisc.eduwww.sla.wisc.edu