Talia Isaacs, PhD​





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 growing research interests in examining oral communication between carers and patients in healthcare settings and optimizing the recruitment of underserved patients to health intervention studies, particularly ethnic minorities. 

I have have a growing track-record of leading consultancy projects, including with the British Council on automated assessment of speech, a local National Health Service (NHS) Trust on analyzing simulated consultations to feed into senior hospital doctors' communication skills training, and the Association of Language Testers of Europe (ALTE) on productive skills assessment training for language testing practitioners. I currently serve as a core member of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD's) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2024 foreign language questionnaire expert group, advising on technical aspects of the development of educational stakeholders' background questionnaires and reviewing the foreign language framework that will serve as a basis for test development. I am also a member of the TOEFL Committee of Examiners (Educational Testing Service), advising on research and development.

am currently an expert member of the European Association for Language Testing and Assessment (EALTA) and a founding member of both the Canadian Association of Language Assessment (CALA), and the Eye-Tracking Special Interest Group (ETSIG). I co-lead the Communication theme of the MRC-NIHR (Medical Research Council-National Institute for Health Research) Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP) Trial Conduct Working Group together with Frances Shiely (University College Cork). I have served as an elected Member-at-Large on the International Language Testing Association (ILTA) executive board and as a strategy group member for the UK Association for Language Testing and Assessment (UKALTA). I was involved in capacity- and community-building during as co-coordinator of the Bristol Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research through organizing seminars, supporting research bids, seeking funding opportunities, and stakeholder outreach. I now organise events held through the UCL Centre for Applied Linguistics on a wide range of topics in TESOL and applied linguistics.

I have delivered conference plenaries/keynotes and invited talks or workshops in different countries around the world, including in Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Holland, Ireland, Israel, Japan, Thailand, UK, and US. In 2014, I delivered a 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. ​

My funded research projects include:

​• Isaacs, T., Révész, A., & Trofimovich, P. (2020–21, pending contract). Investigating IELTS Speaking level distinctions using automated and auditory measures: Communicative adequacy and the complexity-accuracy-fluency triad. IELTS joint-funded research programme, British Council
• 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.

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 Boards of Language Testing and Assessment, Testing and Applied Measurement, having previously served on the Editorial Boards of The Journal of Second Language Pronunciation and Language Assessment Quarterly.

I frequently serve as an ad hoc peer-reviewer. In addition to externally reviewing books, book or book series proposals or contributions to edited volumes (Bloomsbury, Cambridge University Press, Palgrave Macmillan, Routledge, Wiley-Blackwell), I have provided referee 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 

Sociolinguistics Applied Linguistics​International Journal of Applied Linguistics
Psycholinguistics - Applied Psycholinguistics, Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
Speech sciences - Journal of PhoneticsLanguage and Speech
Medicine International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research​,​ JMIR Protocols, Journal of Communication in HealthcareTrials

Educational assessment - Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice

Databases: Online Resource for Recruitment research in Clinical triAls (ORRCA) - Full-text reviewer

I have reviewed research grants, prizes, and/or research reports for the following organizations and schemes:

British Council - Assessment Research Grants and Awards (ARAGs)

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) - Research Grants

European Commission - Marie Sklodowska-Curie Individual Fellowships 

International Language Testing Association (ILTA) - Best Article Award; Robert Lado Memorial Award; Workshops and Meetings Award

Journal of Second Language Pronunciation (JSLP) - Best Paper Award

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada - Doctoral Awards

Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) - Spark Funding Scheme

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 on funded projects which I have led: Zsófia Demjén, UCL (IoE); Andrea Révész, UCL (BC); Fiona Stevenson, UCL (IoE); Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University, Canada, (BC, SSHRC); Guoxing Yu, Bristol (BC)

Postdoctoral Researchers

Jamie Murdoch - corpus building

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

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

Sponsorship of Visiting Fellows

● Wang Hua, Assistant Professor, Shanxi University, China
Aek Phakiti, Associate Professor in TESOL, University of Sydney, Australia
Anna Piasecki, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics, University of the West of England, UK
Kazuya Saito (previously at Waseda University, Japan), Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics & TESOL, UCL, UK
Ron Thomson (recipient of IAS Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor Award), Professor of Applied Linguistics, Brock University, Canada