Taking TESOL to the World

May 19th, 2015 | By | Category: Messages, TESOL
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Andy Curtis


—In 2011, the “TESOL Association” was reborn and rebranded as the “TESOL International Association.” As the then-president of the association, Christine Coombe, explained in her blog posting: “By now you’ve heard the good news: TESOL is now the TESOL International Association. As the president of TESOL’s Board of Directors, I can assure you that the decision to change the association’s name was not taken lightly. The Board and TESOL staff discussed the change at length, and given the ubiquity of the acronym “TESOL,” all agreed that a new name would better communicate what the association does and who it serves. I hope you are as excited about the change as I am” (19 September, 2011).

At the purely lexical level, going from the “TESOL Association” to the “TESOL International Association” was not necessarily seen as a Big Thing. It was, after all, just one word. But given the power and the connotations of that word, International, it was, in reality, Something Big. And, much as I will always love the words and the works of Shakespeare, as a language teacher and someone who “does language for a living,” I disagree with Juliet’s claim that: “That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet” (Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II, Lines 1-2). We know, as language teachers and as language learners, that what we call things matters. We know that “Naming is Not Neutral.”

As a result of this Name Change, we have been, quite rightly, receiving challenges along the lines of: “OK. So you added the word international and gotten yourselves a new middle name. Good for you. Now prove it!” That, in turn, has led to the association’s taking a long, hard look at itself—especially in light of the upcoming 50th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the association, to be held in Baltimore next April and the theme for which is “Reflecting Forward.” During those discussions, I coined the phrase “Taking TESOL to the World,” partly to challenge two long-standing notions. The first is the idea that for the association to be international, it must hold its annual convention outside of the US.

We tried that this year, for TESOL 2015, and went to Toronto, Canada, which turned out be challenging for all parties, including conference attendees, TESOL staff and volunteers, exhibitors, sponsors, and others. In spite of the challenges and the complications, TESOL 2015 was attended by more than 5,600 participants from just over 90 countries. So, it was the fact that TESOL professionals had come from more than 90 countries that made the convention international—not where it took place. In fact, perhaps somewhat ironically, when the annual convention is held in the US, more participants from more countries attend. For example, last year, at TESOL 2014, in Portland, Oregon, nearly 7,000 participants from more than 100 countries attended . Therefore, although it may seem counterintuitive, one way of making the annual convention as international as it can be is to hold it in the US.

Another enduring belief that the association has been revisiting recently is the idea that the more international affiliates we have, the more international the association is. Again, on the surface, this seems like an obvious and logical conclusion. Except that, as part of reflecting on how international we are, we realized that we’ve been using international to mean “outside the US.” But such a definition of international leads to the illogical and unacceptable conclusion that US affiliates, such as CATESOL—and the 40-plus other US affiliates—are not part of what makes the TESOL Association international, when they very much are part of that!

Having strayed into some murky waters here, I must be clear that the association greatly values its affiliates, both within and outside the US, and we will continue to welcome new affiliates to join us and to develop and deepen the association’s relationships with our affiliates. But what we don’t do now is to assume that having more affiliates in more countries makes us more international than if we had fewer. Such numerical conclusions focus solely on quantity and say nothing about the quality of these relationships.

Instead of such simplistic indicators as where the annual convention is held, and how many (non-US) affiliates we have, a much more meaningful measure of the association’s commitment to being international is the ways in which the association is taking TESOL to the world. A recent and powerful example of this is the fact that, for the first time in its nearly 50-year history, on April 24 and 25, 2015, the association held its first-ever event in India—with its first-ever president of Indian origin—on the theme of “Changing Classrooms, Supporting Teachers,” in partnership with the US Department of State’s Regional English Language Office, New Delhi, and the Regional Institute of English, Chandigarh.

One of the reasons for taking TESOL to the world is the fact that, for various good reasons—financial, job-related, visa-related, and other reasons—we know that many members of the association cannot attend the annual convention. So, if they can’t come to us, we’ll go to them! To that end, the association is organizing a number of academies, symposia, and regional conferences in 2015 and 2016, to Vietnam, Mexico, Singapore, and elsewhere, details of which can be found on the TESOL website. I’ll be writing about those events later, when they are happening, and you can find more details of the India Academy at the TESOL Leadership Blog. In the meantime, I’d be happy to hear from CATESOL members, with your ideas about how we can help take TESOL to the world.

Andy Curtis is president of the TESOL International Association.


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