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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:Ph.D. Minor

Faculty: Professors Bickner (Languages and Cultures of Asia), Chavez (German), Cravens (French and Italian), Davidson (Psychology), Derry (Educational Psychology), Ford (English), Hawkins (Curriculum and Instruction), James (German, Curriculum and Instruction), Macaulay (Linguistics), Maynard (Sociology), McGloin (East Asian Languages and Literature), Mori (East Asian Languages and Literature), Rafferty (Languages and Cultures of Asia), Saffran (Psychology), Schleicher (African Languages and Literature), Tochon (Curriculum and Instruction, French and Italian), Young (English), Zuengler (English); Associate Professors Evans-Romaine (Slavic Languages and Literature), Frantzen (Spanish and Portuguese), Geyer (East Asian Languages and Literature), Purnell (English), Schweber (Curriculum and Instruction), Stafford (Spanish and Portuguese), Zhang (East Asian Languages and Literature); Assistant Professors Allen (French and Italian), Kaushanskaya (Communicative Disorders), Lim (East Asian Languages and Literature), Pacheco (Curriculum and Instruction), Rao (Spanish and Portuguese), Yang (East Asian Languages and Literature)


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 coherent 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 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.

Students apply for admission to the SLA Ph.D. program within the Language Institute.

Financial Aid 

Students in the SLA program receive support through many departments and programs.. 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, SLA students receive University Fellowships (including the Advanced Opportunity Fellowship for incoming students) and the Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship, among others. 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. Students seeking admission to the program with a specific language concentration are required to demonstrate oral proficiency in that language. Upon entering the program, most students will have completed one graduate-level course in methods of teaching a foreign or second language, one graduate-level course in linguistics, and one course with a substantial research component. 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 5 years before your application to the SLA Doctoral Program.


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; olubiyi@wisc.edu; www.sla.wisc.edu