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Learn to be an English as a Second Language (ESL) or foreign language educator.

Program Type


Semester Start

Fall, Spring

Study Options


Minimum Duration

2 Years

2023 Best Online Graduate Education Programs ranking by U.S. News & World ReportUMass Boston’s Applied Linguistics MA was ranked as one of the Best Online Graduate Education Programs by U.S. News & World Report. This program focuses on training you to teach English as a Second Language (ESL) to English language learners (ELLs). It’s designed for teachers and other professionals who want to hone their skills in applied linguistics, including bilingual education, ESL instruction, and foreign language pedagogy, and add a credential to their résumé. As a UMass Boston student, you’ll benefit from faculty expertise and working with new technologies in online delivery and eLearning. Explore theoretical linguistics, applied linguistics, and interdisciplinary areas of psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics to gain a thorough understanding of the linguistic, cultural, and ideological considerations that govern language acquisition and use. Apply these skills to conduct research as part of a PhD program, work with community based organizations, or prepare to teach ESL in various contexts, including public schools, K-12, adult education, and language schools in the United States and abroad.


  • This program consists of ten 3-credit courses, or 30 credits.
  • Online tuition is $575 per credit.
  • Associated fees can total approximately $2,750. 
  • Total estimated cost to complete this program is $20,000. 
  • Estimate is based on completing program by minimum duration. Other fees may apply. Request Info to connect with a program representative for further details.


  • Fall semester admissions: May 1(If you have a completed application by January 15, you will receive a decision by March 1) (application deadline extended to July 1 for Fall 2024 admissions)
  • Spring semester admissions: November 1 (If you have a completed application by October 1, you will receive a decision by November 1)

Application Checklist

  • GPA and Transcripts: Linguistics MA candidates must have at least a 3.0 GPA, preferably in a relevant field of study such as foreign language, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, English, history, political science or psychology. Candidates must supply all official academic transcripts, graduate and undergraduate, from schools previously attended.
  • References: Candidates must supply at least two references, which indicate strong language skills and an ability to do academic work at the graduate level. If possible, referees should address directly the applicant’s suitability for graduate work in Applied Linguistics. Both letters should be from academic sources (previous professors).  Additional letters of recommendation from employers, teaching supervisors, or principals are welcomed. References should state clearly how long the referee has known the applicant and in what capacity. If a candidate is unable to submit letters from academic sources, the reason should be referenced in the statement of interest.
  • Written Statement: Candidates must submit a written statement of at least 1,200 words indicating the reasons for their interest in pursuing a degree in Applied Linguistics. This statement is an important part of the application and is evaluated as evidence of the applicant’s writing ability and familiarity with issues in the field. A discussion of the applicant’s experiences in language study, language teaching/tutoring, travel, or living in other cultural settings is appropriate, as is the discussion of the candidate’s career goals. The applicant may also use the statement to directly address any areas of weakness in their application. The statement should specify the applicant’s intended concentration, whether English as a second language, bilingual studies, or foreign language pedagogy.
  • TOEFL: Typically, successful candidates who are non-native speakers of English will have a TOEFL score report with a minimum score of 600 on the paper-based test (PBT), 250 on the computer-based test (CBT), or 90 on the internet-based test (iBT). IELTS scores may be submitted in lieu of the TOEFL. A minimum score of 6.5 is required.
  • Language Proficiency: Candidates for the Foreign Language and Bilingual Education Concentrations may be asked to indicate native or near-native proficiency in the language they expect to teach.
  • GRE: The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is not required but may be submitted to bolster an applicant’s academic record.

1. Required Courses:

  • Linguistics (APLING 601)
    Get an introduction to the basic linguistic concepts necessary for understanding how sounds, words, sentences, and texts are structured in English. The course’s main goal is to help you use these concepts to contrast the structure of English with the structure of other languages.
  • Language, Culture, and Identity (APLING 603)
    Get a basis for a more comprehensive understanding of the various concepts and meanings of culture and the ways in which cultural practices help shape our identities, particularly how they are enacted and received in classrooms and second language education. The readings, discussions, and assignments are aimed toward developing potential pedagogical tools and educational programs that will be grounded in the research and concepts presented and explored in this course. The main goal is for you to develop your own personal, theoretically grounded approach to teaching that facilitates cross-cultural communication in addressing the socially constructed notions and identifications of “race” and their ensuing identities in the multilingual classroom. Both theories and practical research from the second language classroom and other domains will be illustrated. By writing about and discussing readings drawn from a broad literature base, you’ll analyze how multiple phenomena of culture and identity (e.g., power, race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, language, sexuality, and class, among other factors) affect schools, the classroom, teachers, and students.
  • Theories and Principles of Language Teaching (APLING 605)
    In this course, you’ll get a theoretical background in the theory of second language development and language teaching. Concepts from the fields of applied linguistics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and education will be presented in relation to fundamental questions about language learning. The course will focus on the foundations of language acquisition to build your understanding of the relationship between research, theory, and practice in second and foreign language teaching. Contributions of major schools of thought — including Behaviorism, Innatism, Cognitivism, Interaction, and Sociocultural theory — will be examined in relation to current and historical language teaching practices and beliefs.
  • Psycholinguistics (APLING 621)
    Study contemporary issues and theories of language development and the field of Second Language Acquisition (SLA). Get an overview of the major research findings on language learning during the last forty years, e.g., universal features of the L2 learner and the L2 learning process, nature and route or acquisition, Interlanguage, cross-linguistic influences, role of the environment and environmental triggers of acquisition, and cognitive contributions. You’ll examine a range of SLA epistemologies and theories that attempt to account for some of these research findings and the issues they have raised. You’ll practice critically evaluating specific research studies and understanding their connections with current perspectives in the field.
  • Sociolinguistics (APLING 623)
    Explore language variation and its social, political, and cultural significance. You’ll evaluate current sociolinguistic theory and research in sociolinguistics. Topics include language attitudes, language identity, societal and individual bilingualism, language policy, Black English Vernacular (BEV/Ebonics, creoles/pidgins), and language variation by SES, ethnicity, and gender.
  • Field Experience (APLING 690)
    This course grounds your academic work in the practical realities of the classroom and student learning. You’ll design a semester-long field experience in coordination with the course instructor based in action research or student teaching in which you respond to the specific needs and questions of your teaching or research context. The seminar community and readings will support you in developing reflexivity in your teaching and research practice and in linking practice to theory and policy.

2. Concentration: Choose one.

ESL & Bilingual Studies

  • Teaching ESL: Methods and Approaches (APLING 618)
    Examine schools of thought that frame teaching English as a second language to immigrant children, youth, and adults in the US and elsewhere. You’ll explore many language teaching methods and approaches with special focus placed on Sheltered English Instruction (the mandated instructional approach for ELLs in Massachusetts and in influential model world-wide). Course readings will examine psycholinguistic, sociocultural, and historical influences on ESL and Sheltered English instruction. Your evolving understanding of teaching and learning English as a second language will contribute to awareness of why and how your decisions affect a specific teaching context and will support informed pedagogical choices.
  • Foundations of Bilingual/Multicultural Education (APLING 614)
    Explore issues pertaining to the historical, philosophical, legal, and theoretical foundations of bilingualism, and bilingual/multilingual education. Through the study of pertinent literature, you’ll develop a theoretical and philosophical framework that will enable you to better understand language policies and the politics of diversity and multiculturalism, and their implications for education in the United States and worldwide.

Foreign Language Instruction

  • Methods and Materials in Foreign Language Education (APLING 611)
    In this course, you’ll (1) relate methods of teaching a foreign language to current Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research and theory and evaluate these methods; (2) discuss classroom problems in light of current SLA theory; and (3) look critically at textbooks and create new, specific course material to be tested and shared among all class participants. The course's hands-on approach bridges the gap between theoreticians and classroom practitioners: You’ll be encouraged — through reading, discussion, teaching demonstrations, and classroom observations — to explore and define the language teacher's role and to question your experience as language learners and teachers.
  • Integrating Culture into the Language Curriculum (APLING 612)
    Take a hands-on approach and bridge the gap between theoreticians and classroom practitioners. You’ll tie in your critical understanding of cross-cultural perspectives into numerous aspects of the language curriculum. Explore how culture has been taught traditionally and how cultural values are embodied in authentic documents. You’ll gain awareness of potential cultural conflicts between your own culture and the culture you teach or your students' culture. Discussion and research are directed towards developing instructional units based on a large variety of authentic documents that reflect multicultural diversity and help you discover and resolve cultural conflicts.

3. Electives: Choose two electives in related disciplines that complement your specialization in one of the concentration areas. Students from one concentration may enroll in required courses from another concentration and count those credits toward their electives.

  • Dual Language Pedagogy (APLING 615)
    This course provides you with a systematic study of effective ways to structure learning opportunities for English Language Learners in bilingual educational settings. You’ll develop an understanding of the instructional needs of language minority students and an awareness of bilingual programs with a focus on dual language to meet those specific needs presented. You’ll explore theories of language learning, and a variety of procedures, methods, approaches, and appropriate materials for use in bilingual and, in particular, dual language pedagogy.
  • Curriculum Development in Bilingual Education (APLING 616)
    Study issues pertaining to the historical and theoretical foundations of curriculum studies in general, and of bilingual curriculum, in particular. You’ll trace the history of curriculum studies and then delve into the theory, application, design, development, and implementation of bilingual curriculum. Through the study of pertinent literature, you’ll develop a theoretical and practical framework and become familiar with the processes involved in the bilingual education curriculum. You’ll explore what schools teach to language learners, what should they teach and who should decide about it; what is the primary aim of bilingual education; and what beliefs, values, or attitudes are learned from the way bilingual classrooms are.
  • Phonetics & Phonemics (APLING 627)
    Examine the sound system of English and the principles of phonetics and phonemics, while getting an introduction to phonology. You’ll practice using this knowledge to do error analysis and to teach aural/oral skills.
  • The Structure of the English Language (APLING 629)
    In this course, you’ll study ways of describing the structure of English, starting with traditional methods used in many textbooks and finishing with alternative methods. You’ll discuss teaching methodologies and sociolinguistic considerations and will have opportunities for practice in applying these theories and techniques.
  • Discourse Analysis (APLING 633)
    Explore approaches to discourse analysis, which will be defined as a set of procedures for interpreting utterances in context. You’ll examine different descriptive models from the disciplines of linguistics, sociology, and anthropology and apply them to a variety of texts and contexts. The course will concentrate on face-to-face oral interaction, but some aspects of written or “planned” texts will also be discussed. The models of discourse analysis will be applied to the areas of everyday conversation, classroom interaction, and (native/non-native) interaction in interviews, classrooms, and everyday conversation.
  • Critical Discourse Analysis (APLING 634)
    In this course, you’ll consider language and discourse in relation to society in general and education in particular. Discourses are historical, ideological, as well as forms of social action. The role of language in social life is of paramount concern to researchers in the social sciences, including education. You’ll be introduced to theories and methods of discourse analysis, and more specifically, Critical Discourse Analysis. You’ll become familiar with the methods used in conversation analysis, discourse analysis, and critical discourse analysis and their theoretical underpinnings. Towards this end, the course will consider Marxist, neo-Marxist, postmodern, and critical theories in order to provide a theoretical framework that will enable you to understand the situation and the formation of different discourses in conducting your research.
  • Literacy & Culture (APLING 635)
    In this course, you’ll take a sociolinguistic and anthropological approach to the analysis of discourse and, in so doing, seek to clarify the distinction between “oral style” strategies and “literate style” strategies in communication. You’ll look at so-called “oral cultures” and cultures influenced by writing, as well as at cross-cultural differences in orientation toward spoken communication and language and literacy socialization practices. A great deal of emphasis in class will be placed on the analysis of non-literary texts, e.g., interactions between teachers and young children as the children tell stories during “Show and Tell”, interactions between writing instructor and student writers during writing conferences, narratives told by adolescents who speak Black English Vernacular, and written texts produced by student writers from various non-mainstream backgrounds.
  • Ethnography (APLING 637)
    In this course, you’ll address the how and why of ethnographic inquiry. You’ll be introduced to ethnographic approaches and methodologies, and, more importantly, to the kinds of questions ethnographers ask. A key emphasis is on demystifying the field of research and applying ethnographic methods and techniques suitable for the study of culture, language, and schooling. You’ll read and critically assess a variety of ethnographic research that addresses issues in class, ethnicity/race, culture, language, and learning. You will also implement anthropological and sociological approaches and insights in planning for and conducting ethnographic observations and interviews. As a final assignment, you will be required to write a project proposal proposing to study an issue related to ethnicity/race, culture, language, and education.
  • Historical Foundations of Critical Pedagogy (APLING 643)
    Explore critical theory and the ways it has affected and shaped educational theory, pedagogy, and classroom practice. This course draws upon the seminal work of a diverse group of theorists, including writings from the Frankfurt School (Marcuse, Adomo, Horkheimer), Antonio Gramsci, Louis Althusser, and others. Within a historical context, the you’ll focus on early theories of social and cultural reproduction, theories of resistance, and the hidden curriculum. The latter part of the course will situate some of the early reform issues about schooling within a more recent context in order to illuminate how such issues resonate with current public discourses on schooling and radical pedagogy. You’ll examine the work of critical pedagogues such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, Bell Hooks, Stanley Aronowitz, Michael Apple, etc. Finally, you’ll look into the application of Critical Pedagogy framework to classroom practice for language teachers. Major themes of the course include education as a cultural force, hegemony and the politics of hidden curriculum, popular cultures, public pedagogy and cultural politics, capitalism, neoliberalism and education, and the role of educators as public intellectuals.
  • Immigration & Education (APLING 665)
    Get an understanding of theory and research on the education of immigrant children, youth, and adults in the US and worldwide. You’ll draw on interdisciplinary lenses, including contributions from psychological, sociological, anthropological, and educational research to understand and apply current perspectives on immigration to local contexts. You’ll explore the implications of the growing presence of immigrant-origin students in public schools in the US and other post-industrial societies. You’ll also consider the role of gender, social-economic status, race, ethnicity, undocumented status, and a variety of social context factors which affect the adaptation of immigrant students and families with special focus placed on education settings. Our evolving understanding of the pathways immigrant students take as they negotiate schooling and life in a new country will contribute to informed policy, curriculum, and pedagogy choices.
  • Writing Theories in Second Language Instruction (APLING 669)
    In this course, you’ll consider the key issues in writing theory, research, and pedagogy as they are specifically related to writing in a second language. You’ll be introduced to the existing research and developing theories on the composing process and examine, critique, and evaluate current and traditional theories and practices by exploring the ways in which theory and research can be translated into instruction.
  • Testing in the Bilingual/ESL Classroom (APLING 670)
    Become familiar with language proficiency and language dominance testing and with other measurement and evaluative procedures needed in the administration and instruction of limited English proficient students in ESL and bilingual programs.
  • Teaching Reading in the ESL Classroom (APLING 673)
    Get exposure to current debates over various perceptions of what constitutes literacy, especially in regard to educating English language learners (ELLs). Critically analyze reading theories and research in reference to bilingual and ESL reading practices. As part of this overview, you’ll analyze a number of reading approaches and methods, including sociocultural and psycholinguistic orientations toward literacy development, bilingualism, and second language reading development. You’ll also examine informal language, literacy assessment of ELLS, and current implementation of the Massachusetts state-defined English language arts framework and ESL standards. Finally, you will study and evaluate current L2 reading instructional and informal assessment methodologies and strategies in light of current research and theory.
  • Technology in Language Education (APLING 678)
    In this course, you’ll (1) survey the various kinds of technological resources available for use in the ESL classroom; and (2) evaluate critically the use of technology in the ESL classroom and the extent to which it is compatible with current theories of language acquisition.
  • Usage-Based Linguistic Analysis (APLING 684)
    Learn how language corpora-large computerized databases of spoken and/or written language are created, analyzed, and applied in the second/foreign language classroom to the teaching and learning of English or any other language. You’ll read relevant literature in areas of corpus-based research, learn how to use software designed to analyze corpora, and as a final project, analyze some particular area of grammar in a relevant corpus and describe how the results of such an analysis can be applied in the language teaching classroom.
  • The Internet in the Language Classroom (APLING 685)
    Study the need for the integration of the Internet in the language classroom, whether in the form of web-enhanced or web-based lessons. Special focus is placed on the ways the Internet can be used to enrich, enhance, and deliver lesson plans that successfully address language goals and the needs of second language learners. You’ll gain competence in effectively browsing the web, integrating Web resources for educational resources, and thoughtfully using technology and the Internet to plan classroom activities. Issues such as the digital divide, acceptable use policies, copyright, quality assurance, and content validity are addressed with the aim of developing a theoretical framework and thinking about the Internet critically.

At the end of this two-year program, you’ll be awarded a Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics. The degree will demonstrate your expertise in the field on your résumé, as well as in interviews and workplace evaluations. The degree prepares you to work with community based organizations and to teach ESL in various contexts, including public schools, K-12, adult education, and language schools in the United States and abroad. You can also continue conducting research by applying to UMass Boston’s Applied Linguistics PhD program.

Recent Graduates

Recent graduates are employed by public schools, universities, education consulting companies, adult education providers, and publishing companies — around the world and near Boston — including:

Boston Public Schools Quincy Public Schools

Chelsea Public Schools Brockton Public Schools

Why UMass Boston Online?


Among the lowest online tuition rates of an accredited, public research university.


Study full-time to finish fast, or part-time to suit your schedule. Live sessions scheduled with the working professional in mind.


The same courses taught by the same academic departments as on campus. No third-party providers.

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Applied Linguistics MA