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Second Language Acquisition Ph.D.

The Ph.D. program in SLA at the University of Maryland, College Park, has a strong cognitive and psycholinguistic research focus and is designed for students working in the domain of adult second language acquisition.

The program prepares its graduates to work in the academia, the education sector, government and non-profit organizations, and industry. The research agenda centers on English as a foreign language, as well as commonly and less commonly taught languages (LCTLs), including East-Asian, Middle-Eastern, and modern European languages. The program draws upon the expertise of a distinguished cadre of faculty in the SLA program and the School of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, and in affiliate departments, such as Linguistics; Measurement, Statistics, and Evaluation; Hearing and Speech; Psychology; Curriculum and Instruction; and Human Development and Quantitative Methodology.
There are four areas of specialization: second language learning, second language instruction, second language assessment and second language use. Students select two courses in each of two areas (for a total of four courses), plus two electives in the area of their proposed dissertation work. In addition, all students take two courses in quantitative and/or qualitative research methods. The eight courses (total) represent the minimum coursework requirement; some students may need extra coursework prior to starting the set of eight courses and many will wish to take courses beyond the minimum eight, based on their interests.

Current Courses, Requirements, Advising, Admissions and Information for International Graduate Students

Requirements for the Ph.D.

Prior to being accepted to candidacy for the Ph.D. (i.e., before writing the dissertation), students must write two qualifying papers deemed of publishable quality for a major refereed SLA journal by the examining committee of three faculty members. These papers are in lieu of comprehensive examinations. They will be presented publicly and must be approved by the committee after the presentation. They need to be in two different areas; there can be some overlap, however, between two qualifying papers or between a qualifying paper and the dissertation (the qualifying paper research can serve as a pilot study for the dissertation, for instance). A committee of three faculty members is required for each paper. For the procedures regarding the qualifying papers, refer to the SLA handbook:

Once the two qualifying papers are successfully defended, the student is admitted to candidacy and will write and then defend a dissertation proposal before five faculty members, who will serve as the dissertation committee. Once the proposal is approved, the student will register for SLAA899 credits while writing the dissertation, which must make a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in the SLA field. The chair of the student's dissertation committee, in consultation with the other committee members, will determine when the dissertation is ready to be defended publicly at an oral examination. The dissertation must be approved by the five-member committee.
Foreign Language Requirement
Before graduation, all students completing the Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition must demonstrate three types of experience with non-native language: learning a non-native language, using a non-native language, and teaching a language to non-native speakers of that language. All three types of experience will be verified through official documentation and/or assessment as follows:

1. Language Learning.
Students must have spent at least two semesters as a student of a non-native language in a post-secondary classroom environment (6 total credits minimum) verified through transcripts. SLLC will provide this experience for any student who needs it.

2. Language Teaching.
Students must have taught a language to non-native speakers of that language for at least 1 semester, or the equivalent of 45 hours verified through contract, letter, etc. SLLC will provide this experience for any student who needs it.

3. Language Use. 
Students must show that they are able to communicate in a non-native language at the intermediate-low level on the ACTFL scale through an Oral Proficiency Interview (OPI). Students whose native language is not English will be able to satisfy this requirement through their competency in English. 

These three requirements do not necessarily have to be met in the same language.

Current Courses

AREA 1: Second Language Learning
SLAA610: Research and Theories of SLA
SLAA611: Fundamentals of Language Acquisition and Instruction
SLAA740: Research Issues in Second Language Learning
SLAA741: Cognitive Processes in Second Language Learning
SLAA742: Second Language Processing
SLAA743: Interlanguage Studies
SLAA744: Age Effects/Maturation Constraints
SLAA749: Special Topics in Second Language Learning

AREA 2: Second Language Instruction
SLAA750: Instructed SLA
SLAA751: SLA Classroom Research
SLAA754: Task Based Language Teaching
SLAA759: Special Topics in Second Language Instruction

AREA 3: Second Language Assessment and Research
SLAA620: Second Language Research Methodology
SLAA630: Second Language Testing and Assessment
SLAA760: Research in Second Language Assessment

AREA 4: Second Language Use
SLAA770: Sociolinguistics in Second Language Acquisition
SLAA771: Developmental and Cross-Cultural Pragmatics
SLAA772: Bilingualism and Multilingualism
SLAA773: The Heritage Language Speaker


Students are required to meet with their advisor before they can register for classes. At the Ph.D. level, students are initially advised by the director of the program in SLA until they choose their own academic advisor (usually, the same as their advisor for either of their qualifying papers or the dissertation). By the end of their second semester in the program, students should choose a permanent advisor and register this choice with the director of the program in SLA. In all cases, final responsibility for meeting Graduate School requirements and deadlines rests with the student, not with the advisor. Students should regularly check the graduate school website for all official deadlines. For more details on specific program requirements and procedures, please see the Ph.D. Advising Sheet (LINK TO pdf of ADVISING SHEET).


Financial Assistance
Students admitted to the Ph.D. program may be eligible for funding in the form of graduate assistantships or research assistantships within SLLC or on grants and contracts from the UMCP-affiliated Applied Research Laboratory for Intelligence and Security (ARLIS) or the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), depending on language expertise and the availability of positions. There may also be stipends for participation in special research projects. Depending on the instructional needs of individual language programs in SLLC, students may receive teaching assistantships to teach one of the languages offered in SLLC. Please note that in order to be considered for any financial support, students must be full-time and their GRE scores must be on file. If you would like to be considered for support, please indicate this on the graduate school application, downloadable at

Limited funds for travel to national conferences may be available through SLLC when the student is presenting a paper.  However, students should also explore other possibilities for funding available through the conference organizers, external agencies or institutions, as well as the College of Arts and Humanities and the Graduate School.

For more information on travel funds available through the Graduate School, please visit

Students interested in the interdisciplinary study of language are welcome to join the language science community at UMD. For more information, please visit Language at Maryland.
Requirements for Admission
Note that prior to admission to the program, applicants must have successfully completed a bachelor's degree from an accredited university in a relevant field, e.g., SLA, linguistics, education, psychology, or applied linguistics.

General information about the admissions process to the University of Maryland is available at the Graduate School. However, some details specific to our program differ from what is posted on that site, so please be sure to follow the instructions below regarding where these materials should be sent, and what is required for admissions consideration.

Admission Deadlines
(all documentation MUST be in by this date!)

  • October 2 (spring domestic)
  • September 20 (spring international)
  • January 15 (fall domestic)
  • February 5 (fall international) 

Materials Required for all University of Maryland Applicants

For the information about the application process and the materials required for all University of Maryland applicants, please visit the Graduate School website (

Students whose native language is not English must satisfy the Graduate School’s English proficiency requirements (visit Applicants should arrange for TOEFL, IELTS or PTE scores to be sent directly to the University of Maryland; the institutional code for the University of Maryland is 5814.
Supplemental Materials Required by the SLA Program
The SLA program requires the following supplemental materials to be uploaded as part of the application:

  1. Three letters of recommendation, preferably from faculty members who have taught you recently and who can attest to your scholarly potential in the field of SLA. References from those who know you professionally are acceptable as well. 
  2. A statement of purpose, in English, describing your academic and career background and future plans, specifying why you believe the SLA program at the University of Maryland is suitable for you, and you are suitable for it, and how you would expect to use the training received at UMD.  The statement of purpose is in lieu of the separate "Statement of Goals and Research Interests" and "Statement of Experiences" listed on the Graduate School website.
  3. Writing sample: Evidence of an ability for, and desire to undertake, scholarly work appropriate for the heavily research-oriented Ph.D. in SLA, as demonstrated through a writing sample such as an excellent M.A. thesis, a seminar paper, or published articles.
  4. Verbal and quantitative GRE scores are required for all applicants. Please have ETS send your GRE scores directly to the university; the institutional code for the University of Maryland is 5814.

An admissions interview may be required and will be conducted in-person or by telephone. On your application, please be sure to provide a current telephone number and e-mail address where we can reach you.

Completed applications are reviewed by an admissions committee in each graduate degree program. The recommendations of the committees are submitted to the dean of the Graduate School, who will make the final admission decision. Students seeking to complete graduate work at the University of Maryland for degree purposes must be formally admitted to the Graduate School by the dean. For questions related to the admissions process, prospective students may contact the Graduate School.

Information for International Graduate Students

The University of Maryland is dedicated to maintaining a vibrant international graduate student community. The office of International Students and Scholars Services (ISSS) is a valuable resource of information and assistance for prospective and current international students.  International applicants are encouraged to explore the services they offer, and contact them with related questions.

The University of Maryland Graduate School offers admission to international students based on academic information; it is not a guarantee of attendance.  Admitted international students will then receive instructions about obtaining the appropriate visa to study at the University of Maryland which will require submission of additional documents.  Please see the Graduate Admissions Process for International applicants for more information.

Program Director

Kira Gor

Professor, School of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
Professor and Program Head, Second Language Acquisition

(301) 405-4246