September 8, 2014
Andy Curtis, TESOL President-Elect; TESOL International Association

It was announced at TESOL 2014 in Portland, Oregon in March this year that TESOL International Association is preparing for its 50th year and for its 50th Annual Convention and Exhibit, in Baltimore, Maryland, in March 2016. However, some members, especially those who have been active in the association for decades, have been thinking of TESOL’s “Big Five-O” and reflecting on the association’s first half-century for many years already. For example, in March 2010, at the 44th Annual Convention and Exhibit in Boston, Massachusetts, Kathi Bailey, David Nunan, and I had the honor of giving the annual Alatis Plenary, at which the James E. Alatis Award for Service to TESOL is presented. As it states on the TESOL website: “This award was established in 1987 to honor James E. Alatis for his 21 years of devoted service as TESOL’s first executive director.” The winner of the award that year was our friend and one of my coauthors, Mary Romney, making it an even more memorable event for us.

The Early Days of TESOL
Kathi, David, and I decided to make the Alatis Plenary an opportunity to look at the beginnings of the association, its history and its possible futures, of which the affiliates have been and will continue to be a very important part. Kathi was in California, while David and I were in Hong Kong, and with the help of staff at the TESOL office in Alexandria, Virginia, we spent many months and a total of more than 100 hours doing the research, planning, preparing, and rehearsing—for a presentation of less than 1 hour! That is the first, last, and only time that any of us have done that, and although we were asked to write up the talk for a Chinese-language publication in Taiwan, we never did get around to writing it up for a wider audience. Therefore, given the timing, and the importance of the affiliates in the history of the association, this seemed like a good place to share with readers some of that work and some of that history.

A part of the TESOL website which appears to be relatively rarely visited is on “The Early History of TESOL,” which explains that the coming together of five different organizations led to the founding of the association in 1966: The Center for Applied Linguistics, The Modern Language Association of America, The National Association of Foreign Student Affairs, The National Council of Teachers of English, and The Speech Association of America. In some sense, then, TESOL came into existence initially as “an association of associations.” That highlights the importance of the different membership entities that make up the association, these days, based on the affiliates and interest sections, and in the early days, based on other associations that were there already.

The Forming of Affiliates: 1966 to 2010
The five organizations above are all based in the United States, and most of the 30-plus new TESOL affiliates formed in the 1970s were in North America: Arizona, British Columbia, California, Nevada, the Carolinas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Intermountain (representing Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming), Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mexico, Michigan, Mid-America (representing Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Missouri), Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin, and four affiliates in Texas. However, in the 1970s, the first European affiliates were also established in Italy, Portugal, and Spain; the first affiliate in South America, in Venezuela, and the first affiliate in Asia, in Japan, were established.

In the 1980s, more than 20 additional affiliates were formed, but in terms of the association becoming more international, in that decade only about half of the new affiliates were in the United States: Alabama and Mississippi, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Northern New England, Oklahoma, Eastern Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Some more European affiliates were created, in France, Greece, and Sweden, and in Asia, a Thailand affiliate was established. The 1980s was an especially important decade for the Caribbean and for Central and South American affiliates, which were established in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador, as well as in Panama, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The 1980s also saw the forming of the first affiliates in the Middle East, in Arabia (UAE), Israel, and Pakistan.

By the 1990s, the rate at which new affiliates were forming was slowing down somewhat, but 15 more were created, only one of which was in the United States, when West Virginia, Ohio, and Western Pennsylvania combined to form the Three Rivers affiliate. That made the 1990s the first decade in which almost all of the new affiliates came from outside North America. Most of these new affiliates were in the Europe and Eurasia region: in Croatia, the Czech Republic, England, two affiliates in Russia, Ukraine, and in Slovakia. Also, three more affiliates were established in Central and South America: Chile, Costa Rica, and Peru; three more in Asia and Oceania: Korea, New Zealand and Taiwan; and one in Turkey.

In the first decade of the new millennium, slightly more affiliates were established than in the previous decade: Australia, Cameroon, Georgia, Hong Kong, India, Macedonia, Malaysia, New Brunswick, Philippines, Qatar, two more affiliates in Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Uzbekistan, and West Virginia. Again, we see that only one of these 17 was in the United States, and all four of TESOL’s other geographical areas were also represented: Asia and Oceania; Europe and Eurasia; Caribbean, Central and South America; and Africa and the Middle East. This made a total of approximately 90 affiliates in the first 44 years of the association, between 1966 and 2010.

The Forming of Affiliates: Present Day
In the 4 years since 2010, approximately 20 more affiliates have been established, the four most recent of which were announced in TESOL 2014 in Portland in March: Grupo de Especialistas en Lengua Inglesa (GELI), in Cuba; Burkina English Teachers Association (BETA), in West Africa; BC Teachers of English as an Additional Language, in British Columbia, Canada; and Tunisia TESOL, in North Africa.

To provide a complete update on the 20 or more new affiliates which have been created between 2010 and 2015 would require more research. But it does seem that the majority of those have been established in TESOL’s Africa and Middle East region, including Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia and Mali, as well as Morocco, Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and Iran, Sudan, Tanzania, and Qatar.

The current situation is described on the TESOL website:

TESOL affiliates provide English language educators with professional information and support within their geographic regions. As of November 2013, TESOL was affiliated with 112 independent organizations with a total membership of more than 44,000 professionals. 15 organizations are located in Asia and Oceania, 19 in Europe and Eurasia, 14 in Caribbean, Central and South America, 17 in the Middle East and Africa, and 47 in North America.

The complete list of current affiliates can be found on the TESOL website and includes a number of countries with affiliates not mentioned above, including, in Asia and Oceania, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal, and Indonesia, and in the Europe and Eurasia region, Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Macedonia, and Serbia. (My sincere apologies to any affiliates or countries I may have accidentally missed, or included in error, as the list is frequently changing.)

The Future of TESOL and Its Affiliates
It is interesting to note that the answer to the question “How many countries are there in the world?” depends on who you ask. For example, the United Nations recognizes 193 countries, but the U.S. State Department recognizes 195, and there are other estimates out there too, but none appear to be more than 200. That means that in most of the countries in the world today there is now an affiliate of TESOL International Association. That represents a truly impressive achievement, for each and every affiliate, and for TESOL. As far as I know, there are very few professional associations of any kind, anywhere in the world, that can say that. But what comes next?

Having grown to well over 100 affiliate member countries in fewer than 50 years, we now need to step back and look at where we are now, as an “association of associations,” nearly half a century on from the first five entities out of which the association was originally formed. As I hope many readers are aware, since the fall of 2012, TESOL has been engaged in a governance review, with a report by the Government Review Task Force made available online in March 2014. Some of the findings of that report—which I urge all affiliate members, and especially affiliate leaders, to read and give feedback on—highlights some of the challenges facing the association and its membership entities, especially its interest sections and affiliates. Another equally important TESOL initiative taking place at this time is the development of a new three-year strategic plan, which I also strongly urge affiliate leaders and members to read and give feedback on.

This is a very important time for the association, when we want and need to hear the voices of the affiliates, so I look forward to hearing from you!

Dr. Andy Curtis received his MA in applied linguistics and language teaching and his PhD in international education from the University of York in England. He is a professor in the School of Graduate Education at Anaheim University, California, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent consultant for language teaching organizations worldwide. He is the current president-elect of TESOL International Association (2014–2015).