Talia Isaacs, PhD​

 

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Research program

My research broadly addresses the pressing social-educational challenge of reducing language barriers and improving the oral communication skills of nonnative English speakers to foster their success in workplace and academic settings and promote their social integration. My research program centres on profiling the linguistic difficulties that most impede the production of comprehensible (clearly understandable) speech in adult second language learners of English so that these can be targeted in instruction and assessment. During my time at the University of Bristol, I founded the Second Language Speech Lab through EU funding (2012-16). I have also led consultancy projects, including a state-of-the-art review on automatic speech recognition and scoring for the British Council with concrete recommendations for test development. I have growing research interests in examining oral communication between carers and patients in healthcare settings and optimizing the recruitment of ethnic minority patients to health intervention studies. 














My funded research projects include:
​• Isaacs, T., Demjen, Z., & Stevenson, F. (2017). What does it take to understand? Using techniques from discourse analysis and corpus linguistics to analyse the language demands of ethical materials in health intervention research. Seed Funding Scheme, UCL Institute of Education.
• Trofimovich, P., Kennedy, S., Isaacs, T., & Saito, K. (2016–19). Second language communication skills: Helping non-native university students align perceived and actual performance. Insight Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
• Yu, G., He, L., & Isaacs, T. (2013–14). The cognitive processes of taking IELTS academic writing task one: From concurrent think-aloud to eye-tracking with retrospective interviews. British Council.
• Isaacs, T. (2012–16). Fostering cross-cultural communication: Identifying the linguistic factors that promote comprehensibility in academic and workplace settings. Marie Curie Career Integration Grant, European Commission. [
View details and results in brief]

• Isaacs, T., Trofimovich, P., & Yu, G. (2012–13). Examining the linguistic aspects of speech that most efficiently discriminate between the upper levels of the revised IELTS pronunciation scale. British Council. [Download research report]
• Trofimovich, P., & Isaacs, T. (2011–13). International students at Canadian universities: Validating a pedagogically-oriented pronunciation scale. Insight Development Grant, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. 
• Isaacs, T. (2008–10). Boom or bust? Pronunciation perspectives of stakeholders in the Alberta energy sector. Sir James Lougheed Award of Distinction, Alberta Scholarship Programs.
• Isaacs, T. (2007–10). An accent on accent: Diagnostic assessment as a worthy investment. Canada Graduate Scholarship, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


 Since completing my PhD in 2011, I have delivered conference plenaries and invited talks or workshops in different countries around the world, including Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Israel, and Thailand, and the UK. In 2014, I delivered a conference plenary at the Language Testing Research Colloquium in Amsterdam on the role of learner first language background in pronunciation assessment in relation to the theme, "towards a universal framework." The abstract synthesizes my research program on the comprehensibility construct. 

In the news

Live interviews on regional accents, the pronunciation of proper nouns and English loanwords, and correcting interlocutors’ pronunciation on BBC Radio Somerset (2014), the Steve N Allen Show (2015), and BBC Local Radio (2017; broadcast across England)

2016 press release: BAME patients may be underrepresented in trials for diabetes treatment, study finds featured on on-line news outlets (e.g., diabeteshearld.com; diabetes.co.uk), with policy implications elaborated in a policy briefing

2014 article in The Conversation with audio examples: Learning to speak English? Making yourself understood isn’t all about the accent

2014 press release: Europe's first speech lab for non-native English speakers opens in Bristol featured on Made in Bristol TV interviews and a Bristol Post article.

2014 New York Times article, Fewer pass high school exams, and some in England cheer, cites research report on policy effects of the OECD's PISA test (Baird et al., 2011).

2012 press release: Understanding accents: Effective communication is about more than simply pronunciation, featured in a Radio Canada International interview in French and a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) article.

Esteem indicators and professional service
I currently serve on the Editorial Board of three premier journals in my field:








I also frequently serve as an ad-hoc reviewer. In addition to reviewing book proposals (e.g., Cambridge University Press, Bloomsbury), I have provided refereed reports for journals in the following research areas:
Second language acquisition - Language Learning, Studies in Second Language Acquisition, Canadian Modern Language Review 

Language teaching - Language Teaching, System, TESOL Quarterly, TESL Canada Journal 

Psycholinguistics - Applied Psycholinguistics, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
Sociolinguistics - Applied Linguistics
Educational assessment - Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice
Speech sciences - Journal of Phonetics
Medicine - Trials


I am currently an elected Member-at-Large on the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) executive board and recently chaired the ILTA Best Article Award Committee (award citation). I am also 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 a member of the Medical Research Council Hubs for Trials Methodology Research (HTMR) Recruitment Working Group. I recently reviewed documents on phonology drafted by a working committee for the Council of Europe with likely policy and stakeholder implications and conducted consultancy work with the British Council on automated assessment of speech. I have acted as a peer-reviewer and rapporteur for Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) grants and as a panel member for academic prizes in the fields of language testing (e.g., ILTA Robert Lado Memorial Award) and pronunciation (e.g., JSLP Best Paper Award), having myself been recipient of best article and best thesis awards. I have been involved in capacity- and community-building as co-coordinator of the Bristol Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research (2012-15) through organizing seminars, supporting research bids, seeking new funding sources, and stakeholder outreach and regularly serve in an assessment advisory role both locally and internationally.


Research training & capacity building

Project funders: British Council (BC), European Commission (EC), UCL Institute of Education (IoE), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), 

Co-investigators: Dr Zsófia Demjén, UCL (IoE); Dr Fiona Stevenson, UCL (IoE); Professor Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University, Canada, (BC, SSHRC); Dr Guoxing Yu, Bristol (BC)

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr Jamie Murdoch - building a corpus of patient consent forms & information sheets

Dr Louisa Edwards &Dr Daniel Hunt (now Assistant Professor in Discourse Analysis, University of Nottingham) - systematic review 

Research Assistants
Dr Karen Bell & Danielle Ward – second coding/bias analysis/data extraction
Terra Sprague – Second Language Speech Lab management, website development;
Dr Bernardita Munoz Chereau – data sorting, statistical analyses, results reporting
Garrett Byrne, David Collett, Merve Dermialp,
Matt Kedzierski, Jane Nebe, Hassan Qutub, Sohaib Sandhu & Helen Tan – data collection/entry


Sponsorship of Bristol Visiting Fellows & Second Language Speech Lab collaborators

Dr Aek Phakiti, Associate Professor in TESOL, University of Sydney, Australia
Dr Anna Piasecki, Lecturer in Linguistics, University of the West of England, UK
Dr Kazuya Saito, Lecturer in Second Language Acquisition, Birkbeck University of London, UK
Dr Ron Thomson, Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, Brock University, Canada

Research