The Cambridge University Institute for Automated Language Teaching and Assessment (ALTA) is a virtual institute which brings together teams from computing, engineering, linguistics and language assessment to investigate new ways of using technology to enhance language learning and to develop cutting-edge approaches to assessment which will benefit learners and teachers worldwide. It forms part of Cambridge University’s interdisciplinary Language Sciences Initiative.

Sponsorship from Cambridge English Language Assessment will provide the funding for a team of PhD students and post-doctoral researchers and will focus on a range of topics, including:

  • text and speech processing
  • machine learning
  • corpus development and analysis
  • security, platforms and deployment

The initial period of funding is for 5 years beginning in October 2013. However, the ALTA institute is intended to be a rolling research programme with funding renewed for a further 5 years towards the end of the current period.

Cambridge English already has extensive experience in using technology to support language learning, including the multi-million word Cambridge Learner Corpus which is a uniquely extensive database of learners' English which is used to enhance Cambridge English exams and learning materials. Huge advances in areas like speech recognition and machine learning mean that computers can now complement the work of human assessors, giving surprisingly accurate evaluations of language and helping to diagnose areas for improvement. A lot of ground-breaking work is being done within Cambridge University, and the new Institute will bring this together, adding a new dimension to language learning.

We do not believe that automated assessment will replace human teachers and examiners anytime soon, but it can add great value to their work. For example, it can provide additional layers of quality control, speed up processes and allow teachers to offer more objective in-course tests which give detailed diagnostic feedback to help students to improve their English more effectively.

Who we are

The ALTA Institute is administered by the Computer Laboratory and includes principal investigators from the Departments of Engineering and Theoretical and Applied Linguistics.


The remit of the institute is to conduct research in computer systems and platforms, corpus linguistics, computational linguistics, speech processing and machine learning relevant to the activities of the sponsor.

For brief, non-technical introductions to some of the research we are undertaking, please see the videos of Mark Gales' and Ted Briscoe's talks at the recent Cambridge English Centenary Conference.


In the academic year 2013/14, we are offering fully-funded three year doctoral studentships and one to three year postdoctoral research associate positions to suitably qualified applicants wishing to work in any of the above areas of research on problems such as automated assessment of textual or spoken material, error detection and correction, etc. (See the English Profile Programme for examples of research undertaken so far.)

Potential applicants may contact the director or one of the other investigators for further information.

For current opportunities, visit these links:

Contact us

Contact us for further information about ALTA. Potential applicants may contact the director or one of the other investigators for further information.

Fill out my online form.