Carnegie Mellon University

MA in Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition

Program Requirements

The MA in Applied Linguistics & Second Language Acquisition is a 90-unit program designed to be completed over two semesters. Students in the program will:

  1. Develop foundational knowledge of current second language acquisition theory and research.
  2. Apply current theory and research to practice in a broad range of educational contexts (e.g., the classroom, technology-enhanced environments, content and materials development, program administration)
  3. Design and carry out a small-scale research project on second language development in instructed and uninstructed contexts.
  4. Communicate effectively about research findings, student learning outcomes, and educational practice and policy in a range of professional settings (e.g., conferences, publications, schools, institutional administration).

Typically, students begin the program in the fall semester and graduate at the end of the following spring semester. Course requirements are as follows:

  1. Second Language Acquisition: Theories and Research (82-783) 
    This course introduces students to the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) in order to provide them with an understanding of the way in which second languages are learned and acquired. The course will survey various theories of second language acquisition (e.g., Universal Grammar, Connectionism, usage-based approach, Interaction Hypothesis, sociocultural theory, language socialization, and the complex dynamic systems perspective), and their claims will be examined in the light of recent research findings. The course will also examine the impact of internal and external factors on second language acquisition and development. Some topics include: the role of learning environment for language acquisition (e.g., study abroad settings, technology-mediated contexts), explanations for different levels of success among second language learners, variations in second language use, and the effect of classroom instruction in second language acquisition.
  2. Approaches to Teaching Modern Languages and Cultures (82-793) 
    This course includes a survey of pedagogical theory and practice in foreign and second language instruction, with a primary emphasis on American contexts, but with some intercultural components where applicable (traditional language instruction in classrooms in Germany or China, for example, and how those conventions might affect learner perception of contemporary American practice). Methodologies surveyed might include grammar-based instruction, the audio-lingual method, Total Physical Response, topical-functional architectures, communicative, constructivist, and interactionist approaches. The course will also require multiple observations of experienced teachers in different target-language contexts.
  3. Teaching Apprenticeship (82-794) 
    This course will allow for a semester-long experience working in tandem with a single instructor in the language of specialization, including review of syllabus/curriculum design, teaching philosophy and techniques, lesson planning and execution, assessment, and integration of appropriate media and technologies. The student will be asked both to deliver instruction based on the existing syllabus and to create and deliver new materials appropriate for the level and focus of the class. This practicum is designed to build on the knowledge gained in fall semester courses. The course assignment is determined in consultation with the Program Director and faculty in the language area of specialization.
  4. Language Acquisition and Technology (82-888)
    This course is designed to examine the affordances and the effectiveness of instructional technologies in the teaching of second or foreign languages (L2) and learn how to design language learning experiences that can be enhanced by or articulated around a variety of technological tools. While avoiding “toolism” (i.e., I do it because I can) the course will foster an understanding of how technology can transform and improve pedagogical practices to amplify L2 development in L2 instruction. The course proceeds as follows: (1) a short examination of the current context (cultural/social/institutional contexts) and participants profile (beliefs, practices), (2) continued engagement with various theoretical frameworks and empirical evidence in the area of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) that can inform the use of instructional technology to foster L2 learning, and (3) the design of learning experiences usable to foster learner’s development of language skills and intercultural competence in authentic contexts.
  • One Second Language Acquisition research methods course
    Currently, the department offers quantitative, qualitative, interaction, and research methods courses. Additional research methods courses can count as electives.
  1. At least one additional course in Second Language Acquisition
  2. At least one cultural studies elective (3xx/7xx or 4xx/8xx course in the language of specialization)
  3. 1-2 additional open electives in Second Language Acquisition, Modern Languages, or another course at CMU or University of Pittsburgh  with approval. Normally, students will complete 2 electives for this requirement. However, students who are approved to complete the 18-unit mentored research experience instead of the 9-units capstone project (see below) will take only 1 additional elective.
  • Students are required to complete a supervised 9-unit capstone project in their second semester of the program. The focus of this capstone is the practical application of essential knowledge and skills to a pedagogical problem. Projects may include, but are not limited to, small-scale action research in a classroom setting, a portfolio of teaching materials, or the creation or creative application of a technology-driven learning tool.
  • Alternatively, students who are interested in conducting research in second language acquisition may apply to complete an 18-unit mentored research experience in which they collaborate with a faculty member on an original research study. Typically, the mentored research experience will involve original data analysis (e.g., drawing on an ongoing study conducted by the supervising faculty member) and a write-up of the results/findings of the data analysis. Students may also be involved in the design of a new study and/or original data collection as well as other research-related tasks as appropriate.

Sample Course Distribution


  • 82-783 Second Language Acquisition Theories & Research
  • 82-793 Approaches to Teaching Modern Language and Cultures
  • SLA Research Methods
  • Elective
  • Elective


  • 82-794 Teaching Apprenticeship
  • 82-888 Language Acquisition & Technology
  • Elective
  • Elective*
  • Capstone Project*

*Students who are approved to complete the 18-unit mentored research experience instead of the 9-unit capstone project will take only 1 additional elective.