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The Early History of TESOL

James E. Alatis, Georgetown University

Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, Inc. (TESOL) is an independent professional organization established in 1966. The organization was created out of professional concern over the lack of a single, all-inclusive professional organization that might bring together teachers and administrators at all educational levels with an interest in teaching English to speakers of other languages (ESOL). The formation of the organization was a sign of TESOL’s maturity as a profession. It is worth looking back to where TESOL has been in order to understand where TESOL, both the profession and the organization, is today and where it is likely to go in the future.

The creation of the TESOL was the culmination of more than 4 years of organizational groundwork and discussions centering around three issues: (1) The need for a professional organization that would be permanently devoted to the problems of teaching English to speakers of other languages, at all levels. (2) The need for a pedagogical journal to serve the entire profession. (3) The need for a register of specialists that might be helpful to foundations, government agencies, and universities in their attempt to cope with the ever-growing need for qualified personnel in the area of ESOL.

The question of an association for teachers of English to speakers of other languages, and the related questions of a journal and a roster of ESOL specialists, had been matters of concern for some time not only to the people in universities and professional associations, but also to government agencies and foundations with interests and activities in ESOL.

"Five organizations gave birth to TESOL, each one vitally concerned with second language problems, yet no one organization exclusively concerned with them. The Center for Applied Linguistics has as its interests the entire area of applied linguistics, which includes a program in English as a second language. The Modern Language Association of America has concentrated on the teaching of English and foreign languages to native speakers and on literary scholarship. The National Association of Foreign Student Affairs has borne a good deal of the burden of all problems--not only language problems--of the foreign student. The National Council of Teachers of English encompasses all of English pedagogy almost form the cradle to the grave, of which English as a second language is a part. The Speech Association of America has had an obvious concern in thousands of classrooms and through its research with the speaker whose English is not idiomatic. The Steering Committee that planned the first TESOL conference in Tucson in 1964 and the second in San Diego in 1965, as well as the New York convention in 1966, was made up of the representatives of these five interested organizations." (Anderson, 1967, p. 175)

Following is a brief summary of developments in the progress toward increasing professionalism that was emerging in 1966.

Next: Pilot Meeting, September 12, 1963