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Dr Talia Isaacs

Dr Talia Isaacs

Dr Talia Isaacs
BA, MA, PhD (McGill University), PgCert (Bristol)

Research Fellow

Helen Wodehouse Building,
35 Berkeley Square, Clifton BS8 1JA
(See a map)

+44 (0) 117 331 4312


Second language speaking and listening; Pronunciation assessment and instruction; Rating scales and rater processes; Mixed methods research; Form-focused instruction; Language for Specific and Academic Purposes; Cross-cultural communication


Talia Isaacs joined the University of Bristol as a Lecturer in Education after completing her PhD at McGill University, Canada in 2011, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 2014. Her research centres on second language (L2) assessment (particularly of pronunciation and fluency), with a focus on the development and validation rating scales, the alignment between rater perceptions and L2 speech productions, and oral communication breakdowns and strategies in workplace and academic settings. Burgeoning interests include health (particularly doctor-patient) communication, the recruitment of underrepresented ethnic minorities to trials, automated scoring of speech, and helping learners and assessors calibrate their performances through feedback provision. 

Talia is Director of the University of Bristol Second Language Speech Lab, a sound-attenuated research facility which uses state-of-the-art audio technology to capture and analyse speech samples and to train people to assess the speech in a purpose-built environment. Her research has attracted funding from the European Commission on identifying the linguistic factors that promote comprehensible speech, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada on the validation of an L2 speaking scale for formative assessment purposes, and from the British Council on distinguishing between upper levels of the IELTS pronunciation scale. Talia is a recipient of the Canadian Modern Language Review Best Graduate Student Paper Award and the IELTS Master’s Award for the “most significant contribution to the field of language testing.”

Although her research primarily interfaces L2 pronunciation with assessment, Talia is known for the breadth of her research interests and experience. Her published papers span the topics of endangered languages, communicative drills, and musical ability, for example. She has examined the language needs and interactions of engineers in technical settings and has participated in projects on health care access for linguistic minorities and policy effects of the OECD's PISA test. She led a systematic review on the role of language and the inclusion of ethnic minority patients in clinical trials as part of her EU grant.

Talia is on the Editorial Board of Language TestingLanguage Assessment Quarterly, and Journal of Second Language Pronunciation. She is an elected Member-at-Large on the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) executive board, an expert member of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA), a founding member of the Canadian Association of Language Assessment (CALA), and an affiliate member of ConDuCT-II Hub based in the School of Social and Community Medicine (Theme 2: optimising recruitment to trials). She co-coordinated the Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research in Education (CAERe) from 2012-15 (due to resume the role in 2017) and is active in training educational stakeholders on assessment and in playing a key advisory role both at the university, and in relation to specific projects or evaluations for external associations (e.g., British Council, Council of Europe working group on revising the CEFR descriptors). Talia has acted as a reviewer for Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) research grants, as an evaluator for studentships and academic prizes, and reviews for journals in applied linguistics, educational assessment, phonetics, and social health. Her work has appeared in high impact journals, including Applied Psycholinguistics, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition, Health Communication, Language Assessment Quarterly, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, and TESOL Quarterly. She is co-editor (with Pavel Trofimovich) of the first edited volume dedicated to the topic of pronunciation assessment (in press, 2017). [Link to contents]

Plenaries, invited talks and workshops (since 2013)

2016 - Invited talks or meetings to be held at the British Council, UCL Insitute of Education, St Mary's University (UK), and University of Jyväskylä (Finland)

2015 - Invited workshop at the Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgium on the Common Euoprean Reference for Languages and rating fluency and other profiiency measures and invited talk on engaging teacher "experts" in speaking scale development and validation.

2015 - Asian Association for Language Assessment Conference invited talk and workshop in Bangkok in May

Workshop: Principles and practice in assessing speaking: Beyond reticence to target “ear and tongue skills”

Invited talk: Perceptions and ratings of lay listeners, teachers, and examiners in L2 pronunciation scale development and validation

2013-15 - Bristol higher education assessment training workshops on feedback, academic integrity, and marking schemes to Faculty Education Directors, academic teaching staff, and programme administrators.

2014 - Led Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) workshop on assessing productive skills for international test developers in Sèvres, France (consultancy with G. Yu).

2014 - Plenary presentation at the Language Testing Research Colloquium (LTRC) in Amsterdam on first language effects in pronunciation assessment in relation to the conference theme, "towards a universal framework." 

2013 - Keynote at the Cambridge English Centenary symposium on pronunciation assessment. 

2013 - Invited workshop at Lancaster University on mixed methods research in the social sciences and invited talk on modelling comprehensibility.

In the news

2014 - Results from TESOL Quarterly article on first language effects on L2 speech productions summarised in posts on The Conversation (Isaacs et al.).

2014 - Launch of the EU-funded Second Language Speech Lab featured on a Made in Bristol TV interview, a Bristol Post article, and an Epigram article. View press release here.

2014 - BBC Somerset interview on regional accents.

2012 - Findings from Bilingualism: Language and Cognition article (with Trofimovich) on teasing apart accent and comprehensibility featured in a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article, a French interview on Radio Canada International, and in regional newspapers. View press release here.

Memberships and associations

Association Internationale de Linguistique Appliquée (AILA)
Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE) – Individual Member
British Association for Applied Linguistics (BAAL)
Canadian Association of Language Assessment (CALA) – Founding Member
European Association for Communication in Healthcare (EACH)
European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA) – Expert Member
European Second Language Association (EuroSLA)
International Language Testing Association (ILTA)


Talia coordinates three new units that she spearheaded since joining Bristol: Teaching and Assessing Fluency and Pronunciation (to MSc TESOL students),  Questionnaire Design and Analysis (to MSc Educational Research and PhD students as part of the ESRC-funded South West Doctoral Training Centre), and Second Language Pronunciation and Fluency (to EdD students). She also coordinates Pedagogy and Curriculum in TESOL (MSc TESOL), engaging teachers in their professional development training. In her capacity as co-coordinator of the Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research, she regularly coordinates and leads research and assessment literacy training and seminars for educators from different stakeholder groups within the university and beyond.

Talia supervises PhD, EdD, and MSc students with overlapping research interests in applied linguistics, educational assessment, and health communication (click here to view dissertation topics of current and former doctoral students). She regularly serves as internal or external examiner for doctoral degrees. She is also the first former winner of the IELTS Masters Award to have supervised a student receipient of this prestigious prize (Hyunjin Kim, 2015; click here for award announcement).  

Talia is actively involved in training graduate student Research Assistants and training postdoctoral researchers in all aspects of the research process through her externally funded projects. Selected narratives of current and former students are available thorough the 100 Stories website, launched as part of the Graduate School of Education's 2013 centenary. 

External collaborators

Professor Jo-Anne Baird, University of Oxford; Dr Jennifer Foote, University of Alberta, Canada; Dr Daniel Hunt, University of Nottingham; Dr Luke Harding, Lancasater University; Dr Sara Kennedy, Concordia University, Canada; Professor Michel Laurier, University of Ottawa, Canada; Dr Aek Phakiti, University of Sydney, Australia and Univesity of Bristol Honorary Research Fellow, Dr Kazuya Saito, Birkbeck University of London and Univesity of Bristol Honorary Research Fellow; Professor Norman Segalowitz, Concordia University, Canada; Dr Ron Thomson, Brock University and IAS Benjamin Meaker Visting Professor, University of Bristol; Professor Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University, Canada; Dr Carolyn Turner, McGill University, Canada, Dr Stuart Webb, Western University, Canada


  • Applied Linguistics
  • Construct Validity
  • Educational Assessment
  • Foreign Accented Speech
  • Health Communication
  • Higher Education
  • Individual Differences
  • Intelligible Pronunciation
  • Mixed Methods Research
  • Rating Scales
  • Second Language Acquisition
  • Social Integration



Graduate School of Education

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system


Dr Isaacs currently teaches 3 courses:

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