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 analysing simulated consultations to feed into senior hospital doctors' communication skills training, the Association of Language Testers of Europe (ALTE) on productive skills assessment training for language testing practitioners, Duolingo on predictive validity in relation to academic attainment, and Cambridge Assessment English on scoring pronunciation. I am currently a member of the TOEFL Committee of Examiners (Educational Testing Service), advising on research and development. In 2020, I served 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 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 British Council's 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. (2021–23). 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., Treweek, S., Shiely, F., Finucane, E., Gillies, K., Nurr, N., Sydes, M. Durand, M.-A., Khunti, K., Demjén, Z., Burnett, E., & Sood, H. (2021–22). Beyond "must speak English": In search of a fairer way to operationalise patient screening for language proficiency in trial recruitment. MRC-NIHR (Medical Research Council-National Institute for Healthcare Research) Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP).
• Kang, O., Isaacs, T., Thomson, R. I., & Yan, X. (2021–22). Fairness of using different English accents in listening tasks of the Duolingo English Test. Duolingo.
• Isaacs, T., Hu, R., & Trenkic, D. (2021). Investigating the predictive validity of Duolingo English Test scores at research-intensive UK universities: Do skill profiles matter? Duolingo.
• Shiely, F., Isaacs, T., Finucane, E., Treweek, S., Gillies, K., & O'Sullivan, L. (2021). Understanding the language and complexity of informed consent in clinical trials and identifying participant preferences and understanding of key trial processes: Randomisation. HRB-TMRN/MRC-NIHR-TMRP working group project seed funding award.
• 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. [Download publication; download dataset]
• 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. [Download research report]
• 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)
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 Phonetics, Language and Speech
Medicine - International Journal of Methods in Psychiatric Research, JMIR Cancer, JMIR Protocols, Journal of Communication in Healthcare, Trials
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
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) - Research for Patient Benefit programme
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) - Doctoral Awards
Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) - Spark Funding Scheme
I currently serve on my department's College of Reviewers, evaluating colleagues' peer-reviewed publications in preparation for the next Research Excellence Framework.
Research training & capacity building
Project funders: British Council (BC), Duolingo (DL), European Commission (EC), UCL Institute of Education (IoE), Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), MRC-NIHR Trials Methodology Research Partnership (TMRP)
Co-investigators on funded projects which I am leading or have led: Zsófia Demjén, UCL (IoE); Andrea Révész, UCL (BC); Fiona Stevenson, UCL (IoE); Danijela Trenkic, York University, UK (DL); Pavel Trofimovich, Concordia University, Canada, (BC, SSHRC); Guoxing Yu, Bristol University, UK (BC)
Ruolin Hu - predictive validity
Louisa Edwards &Daniel Hunt (now Assistant Professor in Discourse Analysis, University of Nottingham) - systematic review
Karen Bell & Danielle Ward – second coding/bias analysis/data extraction
Linda Taschenberger - speech sample editing and analysis, instrument development
Terra Sprague – Second Language Speech Lab management, website development;
Bernardita Munoz Chereau – data sorting, statistical analyses, results reporting
Garrett Byrne, David Collett, Merve Demiralp, 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