The 1960s: Building Foundations

CAL’s work during the early 1960s centered on five major themes: developing and professionalizing the field of English for speakers of other languages (ESOL); promoting contrastive linguistics; establishing and developing databases of materials; identifying personnel and programs for teaching uncommonly taught languages; and conducting research into language diversity.

Professionalizing English as a Second Language (ESL) Instruction

In the early 1960s, CAL sponsored a series of conferences that focused on the need for a professional organization for teachers in the rapidly growing field of ESL. These conferences were pivotal in the formation of Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) in 1966. Today, TESOL is a leading professional organization with thousands of members worldwide.

In 1964, CAL organized a conference focusing on the emerging field of English as a foreign/second language (EFL/ESL) testing. Government and university representatives alike voiced the need for a central testing program. CAL was instrumental in the ensuing development of the first Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), which is widely used and respected around the world today.

In 1966, CAL conducted a major survey of master’s degree ESL/EFL teacher training programs in the United States. The study focused attention on the need for establishing standards for these programs based on course work requirements and other quality indicators.

During the decade, CAL convened and acted as secretariat for the National Advisory Council on the Teaching of English as a Foreign Language, which brought together U.S. Government agencies, university professors, and others to discuss national language education needs and strategies. In the international arena, CAL sponsored conferences on second language instruction that forged links between governments and agencies teaching English in their countries. CAL also published The Linguistic Reporter, a newsletter focusing on trends, innovations, news, and issues in the field.

Expanding the Field of Contrastive Linguistics

In the 1960s, CAL sponsored contrastive studies of English structure and phonology with the five other most commonly taught languages: French, German, Italian, Russian, and Spanish. CAL also worked in close cooperation with several East European countries in conducting contrastive studies between their languages and English. Several of these—including studies on Hungarian, Polish, Romanian, and Serbo-Croatian—were completed before the Cold War stopped the flow of information across the Iron Curtain.

CAL also conducted the World Language Survey to describe the characteristics of the world’s languages and provide a basis for formulating a general theory of language. The resulting database, combined with CAL’s contrastive studies, provided an important foundation for further research in the field.

Building a National Information Center on Language Learning

One of CAL’s first projects was to collect and disseminate information about foreign language education, the psychology of language learning, assessment of second language proficiency, and ESL instruction and acquisition. By the mid-1960s, CAL had also established and maintained a roster of professionals working in the fields of applied linguistics, the teaching of uncommonly taught foreign languages, and the teaching of English as a second language.

These early efforts to build databases of materials and information helped CAL to win the first ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics. Except for a three-year period, this major U.S. Government clearinghouse was housed at CAL from 1966 to 2003.

Exploring New Issues in Language Diversity

In the late 1960s and continuing into the 1970s, another main focus at CAL was on American vernacular dialects. Beginning with major studies on Black Vernacular English, CAL expanded its research on American dialects to include studies of regional varieties, such as Appalachian speech, as well as research on languages-in-contact, such as English spoken by Puerto Ricans in New York. CAL published many of its findings in this area in the Urban Language Series. The descriptive information contained in these monographs led to developing classroom applications for teaching standard English to speakers of nonstandard English. This work played a major role in establishing and developing the field of sociolinguistics.

Other 1960s projects at CAL included

  • Initiating a series of projects on American Indian language issues.
  • The French Prototype Project, which developed one of the first machine-based self-instructional foreign language courses in the world.
  • Extensive research into literacy and the linguistic dimensions of reading.