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Dr Talia Isaacs
UCL Institute of Education
20 Bedford Way
Dr Talia Isaacs profile picture
  • Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL
  • IOE - Culture, Communication & Media
  • UCL Institute of Education

After completing my PhD in Second Language Education from McGill University, Canada (2011), I moved to Bristol University as Lecturer then Senior Lecturer in Education and Founding Director of the EU-funded Second Language Speech Lab. I was appointed Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL at UCL in 2016, where I am Programme Leader for the MA TESOL In-Service. I am also Associate Professor in TESOL at Anaheim University, US, having taught a fully online course for masters and doctoral students in language assessment. I am an expert member of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment, an Editorial Board Member of Language Testing, and serve on the TOEFL Committee of Examiners (ETS), advising on research and development. I am leading test validation projects on (1) the predictive validity of Duolingo, examining test scores in relation to academic attainment, and (2) the linguistic quality and communicative adequacy of test-takers' performances on the two-way IELTS discussion task.

Alongside this work, I research health communication. I co-lead the Communication theme for the MRC-NIHR Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP) Trial Conduct Working Group, investigating methods for improving communication across all phases of a clinical trial. My research interests in this area include improving the recruitment and retention of under-served groups, particularly ethnic minorities, and generating evidence-based best practice recommendations for making information more accessible to stakeholders. I am leading a small-scale MRC-NIHR TMRP project examining how language-related patient eligibility decisions are made during recruitment to clinical trials. A corpus of informed consent documents used in cancer trials that arose from my pump-priming project is now available open access through UK Data Service. I am also interested in doctor-patient communication and led a consultancy on analysing senior hospital doctors' simulated consultations in partnership with a London-based National Health Service (NHS) Trust. I collaborated on an ESRC-funded emergency COVID project working with community organisations to improve vaccine uptake in ethnic minorities. 

Within the educational arena, I am interested in educational assessment in both classroom and high-stakes settings, particularly in higher education. I have served as an expert member of the OECD's PISA 2025 foreign language questionnaire development group and as expert reviewer of calibrated descriptors for phonology for the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and have conducted consultancy work with Cambridge Assessment English and the British Council. I am also interested in technology-mediated assessment, including automated speech recognition, automated scoring, machine translation, and communication applications of artificial intelligence. I would welcome collaborations in these areas. 

Research Summary

My research interests straddle language assessment, second language acquisition, higher education, speech sciences, psychology, and medicine. My work broadly addresses the pressing social-educational challenge of reducing language barriers and improving the oral communication skills of speakers for whom English is a nondominant language to foster their success in workplace and academic settings and promote integration. Much of my work is situated in the mixed methods research paradigm. One main research strand relates to profiling the linguistic difficulties that impede the production of comprehensible English. I led the development of the world's first comprehensibility scale to help teachers target the most important linguistic factors for understanding international students' speech. I co-edited Second Language Pronunciation Assessment: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, the first edited collection dedicated to pronunciation assessment and Multilingual Matters' first open access book.

I have a strong track-record of leading research and consultancy projects on assessment and communication. I am working with the National Centre for Excellence for Language Pedagogy (NCELP), providing recommendations on speaking for the revised GCSE Modern Foreign Language assessment.

My primary-authored work has appeared in journals including:

Applied Psycholinguistics


Health Communication

International Journal of Inclusive Education


Journal of Second Language Pronunciation

Language Assessment Quarterly

Language Teaching

Language Testing

Studies in Second Language Acquisition

TESOL Quarterly. 

I have evaluated research grants, reports, or prizes funded by: 

British Council

Economic and Social Research Council 

Educational Testing Service

European Commission

International Language Testing Association

Journal of Second Language Pronunciation

Ministère de la Fédération Wallonie Bruxelles

National Institute for Healthcare Research

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada 

Swiss National Science Foundation

Teaching Summary

I am Programme Leader for the MA TESOL In-Service, a dedicated one-year MA programme for experienced language teachers culminating in a dissertation, with a talented and dynamic body of current students and alumni. Prior to that, I served as programme leader for the MA TESOL Pre-Service, the largest Masters programme in our department. I have taught applied linguistics courses at universities in the UK, Canada, and the US on varied topics, including in language assessment, second language acquisition, pedagogy and curriculum, pronunciation and fluency, and questionnaire design and analysis. I designed and lead the popular MA-level Language Testing and Assessment optional module at UCL, which explores fundamental considerations and current trends in language testing and assessment. It is designed for students interested in understanding and being able to critically evaluate the design, use (and misuse) of language assessments and/or to apply these principles to construct their own instruments. I deliver workshops nationally and internationally on these and other topics (e.g., using mixed methods, constructing questionnaires, scholarly abstract writing, using scoring systems, academic integrity). I have served as External Examiner for the Distance MA in Language Testing at Lancaster University (2016-21), have taught exam board employees through Association of Language Testers in Europe workshops, and am on teaching staff at Anaheim University, enhancing students' language assessment literacy.  I enjoy supervising and mentoring early-career researchers and am actively involved in training graduate students and postdoctoral researchers in all aspects of the research process. Click here to view a short video on how my receipt of the Caroline Clapham IELTS Masters award in 2007 has shaped my academic career, including supervising of two former student award recipients. 

JUN-2020 Associate Professor, TESOL Graduate School of Education Anaheim University, United States
APR-2020 Programme Leader, MA TESOL In-Service Culture, Communication and Media UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom
JUN-2017 – FEB-2018 Programme Leader, MA TESOL Pre-Service Culture, Communication and Media UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom
NOV-2016 Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics and TESOL Culture, Communication and Media UCL Institute of Education, United Kingdom
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