Being an interdisciplinary program at the University of Arizona means that our work reaches across traditional boundaries of all types and that organizationally, we are associated with five colleges at the UA. Our faculty are more than 90 in number and bring expertise from more than 19 academic departments, many of which are nationally ranked. Across our cohorts, our students hail from all over the world and the U.S. Admission to our program is highly competitive as we work to maintain small class sizes and a strong advisory support system with each student having two faculty mentors and a faculty advisor.
The SLAT Ph.D. program is designed to provide rigorous advanced training for researchers, teacher-researchers, and administrators whose interests lie in second language acquisition and applied linguistics. Our students choose from a range of majors in Instructional, Linguistic, Cognitive, and Sociocultural Dimensions and a minor in these areas or in Language Program Administration or Technology and Second Language Teaching. We offer graduate certificate programs as well. Additionally, our students have access to numerous professional development resources, research lectures, and a network of alumni. Our program diversity allows students to create a meaningful, individual pathway to their chosen future careers.
Our students graduate with the expertise that will allow them to make invaluable contributions to students and research in Applied Linguistics. Since our start in 1990, the SLAT program has graduated almost 600 students who have gone on to become leaders in their discipline, regionally, nationally, and internationally. Graduates regularly place into tenure-track academic careers and teaching positions as well as into innovative careers in non-profit development work, governmental positions, publishing work, and even corporate cutting-edge educational technological careers.
The mission of the interdisciplinary program in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) is:
- To provide rigorous and high quality graduate-level training for researchers, teachers, curriculum specialists, and administrators at all levels of instruction who are concerned with aspects of second language acquisition, learning, and teaching;
- To facilitate scholarly communication and collaboration among faculty with different disciplinary traditions and identities at the University of Arizona who have expertise and interest in language acquisition, learning, and/or teaching;
- To enhance the quality of undergraduate foreign language education at the U of A and other institutions;
- To provide outreach support to the community, state, and beyond, in relation to social needs and policy issues concerning language learning and multilingualism.
The SLAT program is central to the University mission in providing a graduate education program that meets designated criteria for excellence and can demonstrate promise for national and international distinction; in possessing faculty who have achieved national and international distinction for teaching, scholarship, and service activities; in providing services which are of particular relevance to regional multilingual settings; and in stimulating and coordinating interdisciplinary activities which are contributing to new knowledge and in an emergent field and innovative developments in practical applications.
SLAT received approval from the Arizona Board of Regents in Fall 1990, and admitted its first doctoral students in Spring 1991. It is organized as an interdisciplinary committee, which currently has a membership of over seventy faculty with primary appointments in nineteen different apartments housed in the College of Humanities, the College of Science, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, the College of Applied Science and Technology, and the College of Education.
Specialists in SLAT are in demand at the state and national levels, as the number of non-english speaking students increases in the United States. According to some estimates, about 18% of all school age children in the United States came from non-english speaking homes, with major concentrations in the Southwest. These demographics demand an augmentation in research and development in the area of second language acquisition in order to solve the many complex problems that English language learners face.
Recent statistics also indicate an increase in foreign language enrollments at the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary levels in the U.S., including traditionally taught languages like Spanish, as well as less commonly taught languages like Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese. The renewed interest in foreign language learning places additional responsibilities on institutions of higher education to gain an optimal understanding of second language acquisition processes and the implications for classroom instruction. A survey of Modern Language Association’s Job Information Lists indicates that approximately 20% of all positions currently available in foreign language areas in U.S. universities require specialization in Second Language Acquisition or Language Pedagogy.
At the international level, there is steadily increasing professionalization of the field of second language research and teaching. There is also increasing demand for highly trained experts at universities abroad that wish to develop graduate programs in this field. In any given year, approximately 40-45% of the students currently enrolled in SLAT are from other countries.
The decision to organize SLAT as an interdisciplinary committee rather than within departmental bounds was made with the focus of program quality, efficiency, and coordination.
First, understanding of the processes and practices of second language acquisition involves consideration of the interrelationships of language, learner (cognitive, affective, and social), and instructional variables. Applied linguists, sociolinguists, theoretical and functional linguists, psycholinguists, linguistic anthropologists, cognitive scientists, and educational researchers have all been making contributions toward building an emerging theory of language acquisition. The conduct of research and the training of new scholars can best be implemented in a structure that minimizes administrative and disciplinary barriers.
Second, at the time SLAT was proposed, several departments at the University of Arizona already employed nationally and internationally recognized scholars who conduct research, teach, and publish in this as well as related areas. The establishment of this interdisciplinary committee brought existing resources into a cohesive program that has become one of the leading doctoral programs in the field. Third, the establishment of SLAT provided integrative ties for basic undergraduate language instruction on this campus, which is administered across the College of Humanities (e.g. Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Latin), the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (English, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Native American Languages), and the College of Education (American Sign Language). SLAT faculty members include the coordinators for instruction of most of these languages, who now have enhanced channels and opportunities for communication, collaboration, and innovative development. The participation of SLAT doctoral students as graduate teaching associates in various basic language programs is also contributing to the quality of undergraduate education by providing more experienced and more highly trained instructors than were previously available, and by substantially increasing the integration of instruction with current theory and research.
SLAT operates under the Guidelines for Interdisciplinary Graduate Committees, approved by the Graduate Council in Spring 1987. It is administered by an Executive Council, currently composed of eleven members appointed by the Director of Graduate Interdisciplinary Programs, plus two SLAT student representatives chosen by vote of the SLAT students.
The Chair of the Executive Council, who is also the Chair of the SLAT program, is responsible for carrying out the duties assigned by that committee, and for maintaining appropriate records and communications. Subcommittees are appointed with the approval of the Executive Council for screening applicants for admission, constructing and evaluating the Qualifying Exercise, curriculum review/revision, and other purposes.
The SLAT Graduate Advisor is a member of the Executive Council. The Chair and the SLAT Graduate Advisor each receive course release time for their service. The mentorship and service role of all SLAT faculty are in addition to their normal departmental responsibilities. No faculty lines are assigned directly to SLAT.
Individual Faculty members in SLAT maintain a high level of outreach activities, ranging from positions of local importance, such as service on educational committees, to consulting with national and international agencies or departments/ministries of education. Collaborative efforts for outreach by the SLAT program have included educational activities with the Tucson Unified School District, response to business needs, and potential collaboration in research and program activities with U.S. government training agencies.
SLAT faculty and students have served as researchers, consultants, and/or visiting scholars in relation to federal language training programs. At the international level, SLAT faculty have consulted with colleagues in a variety of different countries concerning the design of teacher development programs in English as a Second/Foreign Language.
In 2006, SLAT and UA were awarded funding of $1.28M for four years by the U.S. Department of Education to found a National Foreign Language Resource Center (One of 16 in the U.S.). Now in its third cycle of grant funding, our center is called the Center for Educational Resources in Culture, Language, and Literacy (CERCLL). CERCLL’s projects blend culture, language, and multiple literacies. In line with the Department of Education guidelines, CERCLL focuses on the less commonly taught languages, although it does have projects addressing multiple languages that include French, German, and Spanish as well.
SLAT faculty members, sometimes with the help of SLAT students, have been involved in various projects that conduct and disseminate research on new and improved approaches to teaching foreign languages, develop and disseminate new teaching materials reflecting the results of research in effective teaching strategies, operate academic year and summer intensive workshops to provide professional development for K-16 language teachers, develop and disseminate materials designed to serve as resources for K-16 language teachers.