Second language acquisition (SLA) is the systematic study of learning, using, and sometimes losing any form of language beyond the mother tongue. SLA is a burgeoning research field because today there are more people on the planet 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 identities. The experiences and challenges surrounding SLA are studied by 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 interdisciplinary academic program that embodies the university’s mission to foster the study of globally important issues. In their coursework, students in the program learn from and collaborate with experienced and distinguished faculty in many departments and, through their original dissertation research, students generate and contribute new knowledge to the field. Students develop a thorough understanding of the scope of SLA as a field of inquiry, and develop and refine research skills that will serve them as they define and pursue their own research agenda. 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.

Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (https://grad.wisc.edu/apply/requirements/#english-proficiency).
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

The Ph.D. Program in SLA requires a master's degree in a foreign language, English, applied linguistics, linguistics, or education. Please refer to the SLA 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.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

Students in the SLA program, depending on their qualifications, may receive financial support through several departments, programs, and institutes. Students with a background in foreign language or English teaching may work as graduate teaching assistants (TAs) in departments in which those languages are taught. Other students work as graduate project assistants (PA) 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.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.


Minimum Credit Requirement 51 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 36 coursework credits plus 9 dissertation credits, for a total of 45 credits.
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 26 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Details can be found in the Graduate School’s Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) policy (https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244).
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
This program follows the Graduate School's GPA Requirement policy
Other Grade Requirements Incompletes must be resolved by the end of the next fall or spring term in which the student is enrolled. In addition, all incompletes must be resolved before students may take any portion of the preliminary examination.
Assessments and Examinations Students must take preliminary exams within one semester of completing coursework.

The dissertation proposal must be approved by the student’s dissertation proposal committee no later than one calendar year after the student becomes a dissertator.

The last step in completing the Ph.D. in Second Language Acquisition is the successful defense of a doctoral thesis or dissertation, followed by its deposit with the Graduate School.
Language Requirements Typically, the student must demonstrate an advanced level of academic oral and reading proficiency in two languages prior to taking preliminary exams. A plan for meeting this requirement is developed by the student and advisor during the student’s first semester in the Program. The plan must be approved by the advisor and the SLA steering committee by the end of the first academic year.
Breadth Requirements Because of the broad, interdisciplinary nature of the SLA program course requirements, a minor or graduate/professional certificate is not required. A minor or graduate/professional certificate is optional, and, in some cases, may be strongly suggested. Students must submit a short statement (2-3 pages) at the end of their third semester, discussing how the courses that they have taken so far, as well as those that they plan to take in the future semester(s), inform their dissertation research and their envisioned career path.

Required COURSES

Required Courses
ENGL 318 Second Language Acquisition3
ENGL 711 Research Methods in Applied Linguistics3
Pre-approved quantitative research methods courses (please choose one 3-credit option): 3
Statistical Methods Applied to Education I
Statistical Methods Applied to Education II
Statistics for Sociologists I
Pre-approved qualitative research methods courses (please choose one 3-credit option): 3
Seminar in Research Methods in African Cultural Studies
Research and Evaluation Paradigms in Curriculum and Instruction
Design of Research in Curriculum and Instruction
Introduction to Qualitative Research
Smr: Special Topics in Research & Evaluation in Curriculum & Instruction
Research Methods in Composition Studies
Chosen in consultation with advisor.
Dissertation Credits 19
Total Credits51

Students take a minimum of 9 dissertation credits (three semesters); in most cases four or more semesters of enrollment in dissertator credits is likely. Students enroll in dissertator credits in their advisor's department and will likely need to obtain authorization from the department to register. An advisor, under certain circumstances, may permit the student to replace the 3 dissertation credits with another 3-credit graduate course that directly supports the dissertation. 

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count up to 6 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned ten years or more prior to admission to the SLA Program is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

In addition, typically, students with prior graduate coursework at UW-Madison may only count up to 6 credits toward the SLA Program.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

Prior coursework from the UW–Madison undergraduate career may not be applied toward the program.

UW–Madison University Special

Prior coursework from the UW–Madison University Special student career may not be applied toward the program.


Those students not meeting satisfactory progress requirements (found in the Graduate Program Handbook) may be put on probation for a semester.


Students are required to meet with their advisor at least once each semester to review their progress, select courses, and to discuss any outstanding issues or questions.


15 credits

Time Limits

Students must submit plans for completing the emphasis requirement and the language requirement for approval by the steering committee within their first year of the program.

Students typically complete all of the coursework requirements within two years of enrolling in the Program. Students are required to complete all coursework and fulfill the language requirement before taking the preliminary examinations.

Students must take the preliminary examination within one semester of completing coursework.

Graduate School regulations require Ph.D. candidates to defend their dissertation five years from the date of passing their preliminary examinations.

grievances and appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.


Students in the SLA program are typically funded through campus teaching assistantships, project assistantships or through fellowships. Contact the program for more details.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Program Resources

Students in the SLA program benefit from a variety of professional development opportunities organized by students, faculty, and staff. A speaker series offers students the chance to interact with top scholars in the field. In addition, the program organizes workshops in such topics as designing research, publishing, and preparing to go on the job market. An annual graduate student symposium, organized in partnership with students in related programs on campus and other institutions, allows students to gain professional experience organizing a conference and presenting their research before audiences of peers and faculty members from the three institutions and across the country.  In addition, Summer Research Partnerships provide opportunities for core faculty and students to work collaboratively on research projects. These collaborations have led to conference presentations and/or co-authored journal publications.

  1. Demonstrate a strong overall understanding of the scope of the discipline of SLA (e.g., the theories on which research in the field is based; the types of questions that researchers in SLA address; and the variety of techniques used to answer these questions). Demonstrate an in-depth understanding of theories and research findings related to their focal areas of interest.
  2. Develop an original research plan that advances a specific area of SLA. Retrieve, evaluate, and interpret academic publications, and use this information to identify a gap in the extant research and to develop theoretical frameworks and research designs for their own research projects. Learn to design realistic and feasible research projects and to prepare necessary protocols.
  3. Collect data following relevant protocols and analyze/interpret the resulting data. Reflect on the procedures and results of their own projects to identify strengths, limitations, and implications.
  4. Develop skills for disseminating their research in a variety of professional venues and domains through both presentations and manuscript preparation.
  5. Participate in and communicate effectively as members of a professional community. Seek opportunities to engage in service to the program, the university and/or the wider community.

SLA Steering Committee - The interdisciplinary SLA Steering Committee is comprised of members from the units listed below.

African Cultural Studies: Professor Katrina Thompson

Asian Languages and Cultures: Associate Professor Naomi Geyer, Associate Professor Byung-Jin Lim and Professor Junko Mori

Curriculum and Instruction: Professor Margaret Hawkins, Associate Professor Mariana Pacheco, Assistant Professor Diego Roman, Professor Francois Tochon and Professor Kate Vieira

English: Assistant Professor Jacee Cho

French and Italian: Associate Professor Heather Allen

German, Nordic, and Slavic: Professor Monika Chavez and Professor Karen Evans-Romaine

Language Institute: Director Dianna Murphy

Spanish and Portuguese: Associate Professor Cathy Stafford

Staff: Kristin Dalby (Graduate Coordinator) and Skender Jahiu (Financial and Payroll Specialist)