M.A. in TESL/Applied Linguistics


The MA in Teaching English as a Second Language/Applied Linguistics (TESL/Applied Linguistics) is a two-year advanced degree covering teaching methods and research in English language teaching. The program consists of 30 credits.

Students admitted to graduate study can declare up to two of the seven elective disciplinary specializations: Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), Language Assessment, English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Literacy, Literature in ESL, Corpus and Computational Linguistics, and Teaching English to L1 Spanish Learners.

Learning Outcomes

  1. Demonstrate independence, reflective practices and professionalism in teaching and assessment of English as a second language.
  2. Demonstrate knowledge of and confidence with the use of computer applications relevant to teaching English language teaching.
  3. Formulate important research questions to for guiding investigations that contribute to theory and practice in one or more areas of applied linguistics.
  4. Carry out research in one area of applied linguistics that will increase understanding of English language teaching.
  5. Evaluate research in the field to identify its contribution to theory, research and practice in applied linguistics.
  6. Communicate ideas, discoveries, and findings to others in a professional and creative manner.
  7. Collaborate with other professionals to create and investigate new knowledge, practices and products for English language teaching.


The program of study (POS) consists of four types of requirements:

Pre/Co-requisites representing basics that all students should have before or early in their degree program (knowledge of linguistics, English grammar, and computer applications in the field);

Required courses that teach the knowledge and skills that are fundamental to all work in TESL/Applied Linguistics;

Electives that can be chosen from a particular area of specialization to strengthen students understanding of one area (computer-assisted language learning, English for specific purposes, language assessment, literacy, literature, corpus and computational linguistics, and teaching English to L1 Spanish learners);

Language requirement that can be met through college-level study, or otherwise demonstrated proficiency. See below for more details.

Areas of Specialization

  • The computer-assisted language learning (CALL) specialization prepares students to work as the CALL specialist in an ESL/EFL program, selecting and coordinating software resources, constructing computer-based language learning activities, and conducting staff development workshops on CALL.
  • The language assessment specialization prepares students to work as a test developer for a testing company or an assessment specialist for a language program.
  • The English for specific purposes (ESP) specialization prepares students to work in both academic and workplace settings where instruction needs to focus on a particular type (or register) of English. Students in this area would acquire the skills to assess context-specific language needs and to develop appropriate materials for learning and assessment.
  • The literacy specialization emphasizes the study of written language skills to teach in the public schools, community colleges, or abroad. A student following this program can also complete requirements for ESL certification for the state of Iowa and specialize in the teaching of reading and writing skills. Other opportunities include composition theory and practice, literary studies, and studying the application of reading theory to elementary or secondary public schools.
  • The literature specialization allows students with a background in English to strengthen the depth of their knowledge of literature as it relates to the teaching of ESL, thus preparing them to teach ESL through literature.
  • The specialization in teaching English to L1 Spanish learners focuses on the linguistic and cultural differences encountered when teaching learners in Spanish speaking areas of the world. Teaching assistantships in Spanish are available for students in this area of specialization. Applicants wishing to be considered for a teaching assistantship in Spanish should indicate their interest in their letter of application.
  • The specialization in corpus and computational linguistics is aimed at students interested in the study of language using large databases of natural language use, and in writing programs for doing so.

In addition to particular job-related advantages, the specializations provide a strong foundation for students wishing to continue for a PhD by providing an in-depth foundation in one area beyond the basics of TESL/Applied Linguistics including an MA thesis, the specializations prepare students to pursue their interests in teaching and research.

Curriculum for TESL/Applied Linguistics

(30 credits minimum)


Includes the following courses, or their equivalents. You must document previous coursework that meets pre/co-requisites by submitting a Pre/Co-requisite Equivalency Petition signed by your assigned program advisor or major professor. Students who have not completed the prerequisites upon entry into the program must complete them as soon as possible after admission.

  • ENGL 220: Descriptive English Grammar or passing the online Engl 220 test-out
  • ENGL 219: Introduction to Linguistics or Engl 511: Introduction to Linguistic Analysis
  • ENGL 510: Introduction to Computers in Applied Linguistics

(3 credits – ENGL/LING 511 or ENGL/LING 510 – can be counted towards the specialization credits of the degree, but can be counted only once each if double specializing)

Pre-requisite equivalency
You need to document previous coursework that meets prerequisites by submitting a Pre-requisite Equivalency Petition signed by your assigned program advisor or major professor. This completed petition must be submitted to the Graduate Program Staff Assistant, 227 Ross Hall, for consideration and approval by the Director of Graduate Education.


Linguistic Analysis and Interpretation

  • ENGL/LING 514: Sociolinguistics
  • ENGL/LING 537: Corpus Approaches to Grammatical Analysis

Applied Aspects of Second Language Acquisition

  • ENGL/LING 512: Second Language Acquisition
  • ENGL/LING 524 or 525: Literacy: Issues and Methods for Nonnative Speakers of English or
    Research and Teaching of Second Language Pronunciation (Literacy specialization must take 525)
  • ENGL/LING 519: Second Language Assessment
  • ENGL/LING 588: Supervised Practice Teaching in TESL, or 
    Engl 500: Teaching Multimodal Composition, or
    3 credits of Sp Cm 513: Teaching Fundamentals of Public Speaking


Students must choose electives designated as counting in each area of specialization and should consult with their assigned program advisor or major professor concerning “relevant electives.”

Double specialization requires a minimum of 18 credits. Engl 510 or 511 can be counted toward 3 of the specialization credits but can be counted only once each if double specializing.

Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL)

  • ENGL/LING 526: Computer-Assisted Language Learning
  • Two courses in CALL with POS Com approval (517X, instructional technology, HCI, etc.)

Language Assessment

  • ENGL/LING 630 topic on Dev of Language Assessments
  • RESEV 552 or STAT 587C (previously STAT 401)
  • Other relevant elective

English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

  • ENGL/LING 527: Discourse Analysis
  • ENGL/LING 528: English for Specific Purposes
  • Other relevant elective


  • ENGL/LING 524: Literacy: Issues and Methods for Nonnative Speakers of English
  • Two courses taken with prior approval from the student’s advisor/ major professor and chosen from relevant electives in literacy (see below).

Suggested courses for the Literacy specialization inside the English Department include:

  • Engl 503: Theory and Research in Composition
  • Any relevant graduate literature courses

Suggested courses for the Literacy specialization outside the English Department include:

  • Educ 533: Theories of Learning
  • Any courses with a significant component relevant to research in and/or pedagogy in literacy

Literature in ESL

  • Three appropriate electives, two of which must be from English Department graduate literature course offerings.

Corpus and Computational Linguistics

  • Three appropriate courses with a significant component relevant to either corpus-based analyses of language or the computational analysis of language.

Suggested courses for the Corpus and Computational Linguistics specialization inside the English Department include:

  • ENGL/LING 516: Methods of Formal Linguistics Analysis
  • ENGL/LING 520: Computational Analysis of English
  • ENGL/LING 517X: Corpus Linguistics
  • ENGL/LING 527: Discourse Analysis

Suggested courses for the Corpus and Computational Linguistics specialization outside the English Department include:

  • Any courses in Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

Teaching English to L1 Spanish Learners

  • Three appropriate courses with a significant component relevant to research into and/or the teaching of learners of English whose first language (L1) is Spanish.

Suggested courses for the Teaching English to L1 Spanish Learners specialization outside the English Department include:

  • Span 554: Intro to Spanish-English Interpretation
  • Span 563X: Contemporary Spanish Linguistics
  • Span 545: Seminar on the Literatures and Cultures of Latin America

Open Option

(no declared area of specialization)

  • Three appropriate electives approved by the POS committee

INDEPENDENT RESEARCH= 3 CREDITS (only 3 credits count towards the degree)

  • Engl 699: Thesis or Engl 599: Creative Component on topic related to area of specialization


Satisfying the MA TESL/AL Language Requirement may require additional coursework. The spirit of this requirement is that students, before they graduate, will have had a language-learning experience either in the recent past or concurrent with working toward their degree. All students are required to submit a Language Requirement Form indicating how this requirement is to be met signed by your assigned program advisor or major professor and submitted to the Graduate Program Staff Assistant for approval by the Director of Graduate Education in order to receive acknowledgement on your official academic record that a language requirement has been met.

Native speakers of English

  • have completed one year (or its equivalent) of college-level study in a single foreign language with a grade of B or higher, as shown on a transcript, no more than ten (10) years before beginning graduate work in the TESL/Applied Linguistics program; students who finished at least one year of college-level language study more than ten (10) years before beginning graduate work in TESL/Applied Linguistics must complete one semester of college-level study of any foreign language with a grade of B or higher, concurrent with working toward the degree OR
  • complete one year or its equivalent of college-level study in a single foreign language, with a grade of B or higher in the second semester, concurrent with working toward the degree OR
  • demonstrate proficiency in a single foreign language by means of a CLEP exam available through the College Board equivalent to one year of college-level study OR
  • provide clear evidence of a bilingual background

Nonnative speakers of English

  • Nonnative Speakers of English must pass the English Placement Test (as a graduate student) unless the student is exempt (see http://apling.engl.iastate.edu/english-placement-test/) if students fail the EPT, they will be required to take English classes.
  • All graduate in the TESL/Applied Linguistics MA program whose first language is not English are required to pass the OECT as part of their program requirements. To pass the OECT, students must receive a Level 1 pass and be fully certified or may be exempted from taking one or both of the OECT components. Check the OECT website for further information.

Information for Applicants

  • M.A. applicants must have completed a Bachelor’s degree prior to their first semester in the program.
  • Nonnative speakers of English: required minimum scores are 95 IBT* (100 preferred); 587 PBT (600 preferred); 7.0 IELTS; 68 PTE; 115 Duolingo (only approved through Spring 2025 entry term admission cycle). Applicants who have earned a bachelor’s (or higher) degree from a country where English is the only official language are exempt from this requirement.
    *Applicants scoring below the above minimum score requirements may need to take English support courses.
    **Minimum score of 25 IBT Writing or 7.0 IELTS Writing required for teaching assistantship consideration.
  • Most of our M.A. students are funded.

Application Process

Before you apply for admission to the program read the detailed information on the MA in TESL/AL section of the English Department Graduate Program of Study Manual.

Application Deadline: January 5 with applications accepted and evaluated beginning October 15. Early applications are encouraged.