About the Second Language Acquisition
The goal of the graduate
program in SLA is to create independent and insightful researchers capable
of using analytical and empirical methods to illuminate and understand
the acquisition, use, and maintenance of second languages.
The first distinctive characteristic of the graduate program is
a strong commitment to crosslinguistic and cross-cultural research. To
date, the SLA research agenda has been driven largely by issues in the
acquisition of English as a second language (ESL), and developments in
theory based on empirical results from ESL studies. This program broadens
the focus by encouraging research in the context of multiple languages
and the training of scholars to carry this out.
Admission to the program will require a level of proficiency in at
least one language other than English that will allow incoming students
to do substantive research in that language.
Orientation The second defining characteristic is an interdisciplinary
research program based in the Department of Modern Languages. The strong
tradition of interdisciplinary research at Carnegie Mellon, coupled with
the world-class quality of the related programs, makes Carnegie Mellon a
natural setting for the SLA graduate program. The SLA doctoral program at
Carnegie Mellon encompasses cognitive, linguistic, social and instructional
perspectives, as well as the interaction among these. These core areas of
research draw on the strengths of faculty in Modern Languages, Psychology,
English, Philosophy and the Center for Innovation in Learning. Students
are also encouraged to interact with faculty at the University of Pittsburgh,
particularly in the departments of Linguistics, Instruction and Learning,
and the Learning Research and Development Center (LRDC).
The SLA program draws on areas related to SLA in these other departments
and programs. Courses in these related areas will provide the student with
a background in the methodology and theories of areas which inform the multidisciplinary
field of SLA.
Students are also expected to seek appropriate training in statistical methods,
in accordance with the particular area of SLA that they choose for their
- Linguistic Analysis
- Cognitive Psychology
- Cross-Cultural Issues
- Issues In Rhetoric, Literacy, and Pedagogy
The program has a major commitment to a research infrastructure
that facilitates rigorous quantitative and qualitative work. In an environment
distinctive among SLA graduate programs, the undergraduate language courses
and related extracurricular and overseas programs serve as laboratory
settings for research. This allows graduate students and faculty structured
access to learners, and provides language learners with exposure to language
learning research. The close working relationship between graduate research
and undergraduate instruction serves to enhance both the teaching and
research missions of the Department. The integration of research and instruction
provides a controlled setting for data collection, an ongoing source
of examination, and evaluation of instructional processes and outcomes.
The SLA doctoral program encompasses two major categories of research which
draw on the strengths of faculty in Modern Languages and other departments.
Advantage of Work at Carnegie Mellon
The doctoral program at Carnegie Mellon provides hands-on training through
research collaboration with faculty as well as unique opportunities to
join research with teaching. Our faculty have established local, national
and international partnerships with numerous colleagues interested in
these same questions. Study in our department affords students the opportunity
to share in such partnerships and to develop the expertise to conduct
individual research which furthers insights and understanding into these
Graduates of the program will have the skills and knowledge required to
be successful in second language-related fields in academia, business,
and government. We expect most individuals completing the program to seek
a career in academia. However, graduates of our program will be desirable
candidates for teaching and research positions in both academic and non-academic
programs. The number of such programs is growing worldwide. Increasingly,
departments of Modern Languages seek scholars trained in second languages
with expertise in SLA. In addition, there are numerous opportunities in
the fields of business, technology, and government as growing global interdependence
in economic, political, and cultural spheres increases the need for trained
individuals who can play leadership roles in the private and public institutions
that mediate this process.
The M.A./Ph.D. in SLA consists of four years of course
work, an M.A. thesis, a Ph.D. comprehensive examination, and a Ph.D. dissertation.
Although the M.A. degree is offered as a step toward the Ph.D., the program
does not accept students for the M.A. only. However, students with a previously-earned
M.A. in SLA or a related field can bypass the M.A. and enter only for
Students will complete two years of interdisciplinary course work
for the M.A.; including a broad base in SLA theory, analysis of language,
research methodology, and research experience. Students are expected to
enroll full time (36 units) during the semesters that they are working
toward the degree. The Graduate Program Advisor and the Graduate Committee
will review previous M.A.-level course work for approval to bypass the
M.A. Students earning the M.A. at Carnegie Mellon can transfer toward
this degree no more than four courses taken previous to enrollment at
Carnegie Mellon. Chosen in consultation with the advisor, two additional
years of coursework will follow the M.A. thesis.
Students entering with an approved M.A. should expect to enroll in the
core SLA courses with other entering students and must complete a university
residence requirement of a minimum of four semesters of full time coursework.
Previous coursework cannot be transferred in lieu of Ph.D. requirements.
As a part of the training in SLA, all students are expected to teach one language course per semester at Carnegie Mellon while working toward their degree.
Students will complete (or will have completed) an M.A. thesis that is comparable to a publishable research paper on a chosen topic.
The student will present for approval by the examination committee a reading list covering three of the four areas of SLA research: instructional issues in SLA, linguistic approaches to SLA, cognitive aspects of SLA, social and cultural issues in SLA. One of the areas selected will be designated as the primary area, normally the one in which the student plans to conduct dissertation research. The student will complete a written examination containing questions covering the three selected areas. Part of the examination may involve the analysis of data and, following the exam, the committee may conduct an oral examination to clarify the content.
The student will select a dissertation committee comprised of no less than three members: a committee chair from within the department and two additional members, at least one of whom shall be from within the department. This committee will convene to approve the proposal no later than the end of the eighth semester. The committee chair will convene a defense upon satisfactory completion of the dissertation.
The Graduate Research Seminar provides a forum designed to keep faculty and students abreast of current SLA research in the department and in the field. While progressing through the program, participation in the research seminar in the form of presentation and discussion is expected of all students.
The department strongly encourages students to participate in exchange programs at language acquisition research centers abroad.