In November 2015, The Japan Association for Language Teaching (JALT) celebrated its 41st annual international conference at the Granship in Shizuoka. JALT2016 will be held in Nagoya at WINC Aichi in November. Here is a brief history of an organization that began when a group of teachers got together to exchange ideas and has since become one of Japan's largest and most effective cooperatives for professional development in language education.
The idea for an association of language teachers started at a language conference at The Language Institute of Japan in Odawara in 1975 when a group of teachers got together to discuss teaching methodologies. The kernel of an idea was formed.
Tom Pendergast became the first president of JALT when the organization started in 1976 as a group of about 50 teachers in the Kansai Region, originally called the Kansai Association of Language Teachers (KALT). Over the next 2 years, many more members joined and what started as a collective of teachers crystallized into an organization with a solid structure, purpose, and goals.
Other founding members, David Bycina and Doug Tomlinson, set up a second group called the Kanto Association of Language Teachers (also called KALT) in Tokyo in 1976. Around the same time, Charles Adamson started the Tokai Association of Language Teachers (TALT) in Nagoya. In 1977, leaders from all three groups got together to plan a national annual conference and form a constitution with bylaws establishing JALT as a volunteer, nonprofit organization consisting of three chapters. JALT also became a TESOL affiliate at the same time. Because so much work had gone into the planning and groundwork, the organization recognized 1975 as its founding year. In 1978 the Chugoku Chapter (Hiroshima) was started by Marie Tsuruda, a member of KALT since 1975. At this time there were about 1,000 members in the organization nationwide. The Nishinippon (Fukuoka) and Shikoku Chapters also began in 1978; followed by Tohoku (Sendai) and Hokkaido in 1979; Kyoto and Okinawa in 1980; Nagasaki and Aomori in 1981; Hamamatsu, Kobe, and Okayama in 1983; Matsuyama and Yokohama in 1984; Chiba, Shizuoka, Tokushima, and Yamagata in 1985; Ibaraki, Omiya, and Gunma in 1986; Niigata, Kanazawa, Fukui, Nagano, Toyohashi, and West Tokyo in 1987; Kagoshima in 1988; Himeji, Iwate, Nara, and Tochigi in 1989; Yamaguchi in 1990; Akita in 1992; Fukushima in 1994; Kitakyushu, Kochi, and East Hokkaido in 1995; Miyazaki and Kumamoto in 1996; Gifu in 1999; East Shikoku in 2005; Wakayama in 2006; Oita in 2009; and Tottori in 2014. Over the years, some of the chapters have dissolved and their members have been added to the roles of surrounding chapters; others have combined into regional groups: Kagoshima and Miyazaki became Nankyu in 2014 and Nagasaki joined Nankyu in 2015. JALT currently has 34 chapters.
Starting in 1979, major revisions were made as JALT realized its potential for growth and the opening of new chapters in other areas. The JALT Newsletter became a monthly publication, edited by David Bycina. The JALT Journal started as a semiannual refereed research-oriented publication, with Nancy Nakanishi as its first editor. It was also around this time a prominent Japanese educator suggested that JALT be for foreigners and that the Japanese set up their own organization. (The suggestion was based on the idea that communication would be easier if there were two organizations, one working in English and the other working in Japanese, working together instead of one.) JALT decided to continue its policy that the organization was open to all teachers, professionals, and students interested in language education no matter what their nationality, where they were teaching, working, or studying, or what language they were teaching.
In 1979, JALT became an affiliate of IATEFL and developed affiliations with TESOL in the US and other ESL organizations in Asia. We now have international partnerships with Thailand TESOL, The English Teachers Association of the Republic of China (ETA-ROC), The Philippines Association of Language Teachers (PALT), Korea TESOL, The Far Eastern English Language Teachers Association (FEELTA), Cambodia TESOL, Linguapax Asia, Malaysian English Language Teaching Association (MELTA), the Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in Indonesia (TEFLIN), and the International Academic Forum (IAFOR). Domestically, JALT is a board member of UALS (the United Association of Language Studies), and has partnerships with AJET (The Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching), ESTEEM (The Elementary School Thematic Education Movement ), JII (The Japan Intercultural Institute), ETJ (English Teachers in Japan), and JACET (Japan Association of College English Teachers).
In 1983, The JALT Newsletter appointed a Japanese editor, Kenji Kitao, which led to an increase in articles in Japanese. In 1984 The JALT Newsletter changed its name to The Language Teacher, but still remained a monthly publication. Of all major language teaching organizations such as TESOL, IATEFL, etc., JALT was the only organization which produced a monthly publication as well as the annual Conference Handbook and the semiannual JALT Journal. In 2009, the growing popularity of web publishing convinced the Publications Board that The Language Teacher would work better as a bimonthly publication with faster updates on our website at jalt.org
Over the years, Japanese involvement in JALT grew and the Kyoto conference in 1985 marked the first time a Japanese member, Kazuo Yoshida, co-chaired JALT's annual international conference. In 1989, JALT held its first annual conference outside of the Kanto, Kansai, and Tokai regions. The conference was held at Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama. By this time, conference banquets and One-Can Drink parties had become social highlights of the conference. All together, 41 JALT Conferences have been held on Honshu and Kyushu. Tokyo has hosted seven conferences (1978, 1981, 1984, 1987, 2007, 2008, 2011); six have been in Shizuoka (2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2015); Nagoya has hosted five (1977, 1980, 1983, 1995, 2010); Kyoto (1976, 1979, 1985), Omiya (1990, 1993, 1998), Hamamatsu (1986, 1997, 2012), and Kobe (1988, 1991, 2013) have had three each; Kitakyushu (2001, 2006) has had two; and one conference has been held in each of Odawara (1975), Osaka (1982), Okayama (1989), Kawagoe (1992), Matsuyama (1994), Hiroshima (1996), Maebashi (1999), Nara (2004), and Tsukuba (2014). JALT2016 will be back at WINC Aichi in Nagoya.
In 1988, JALT started an Asian Scholar Program through which teachers from other Asian countries are hosted in Japan, meet with teachers here, and give presentations at the annual international conference as well as local chapters all over Japan on the Four Corners Tour program. In 2008 the program was renamed the Balsamo Asian Scholar Program in honor of Bill Balsamo, president of the Himeji Chapter and founder of the Teachers Helping Teachers SIG. Over the years, teachers from many countries have visited Japan on this program, including four teachers from China, four from Vietnam, three from the Philippines, two each from Cambodia and Laos, and one each from Russia, Pakistan, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Bangladesh, and Thailand.
In 2014, the Kevin Cleary Invited Speaker program was begun in memory of a beloved JALT President, to bring another excellent scholar to address JALT members at the conference. The first recipient of this award was Ma. Milagros Laurel from the Philippines; in 2015, Ken Urano from Japan was the Invited Speaker.
The 90s brought more changes to JALT. An office supervisor, Junko Fujio, was hired in 1992 and JALT's Central Office was set up in Tokyo. At one point, the monetary reserves for the organization totaled more than 44 million yen. With the bursting of the bubble economy, JALT faced financial hardships like everyone else. Some of the problems were: publication costs had increased; the annual conference had become so large that it now needed to be held at a more expensive commercial site; textbook companies merged; and fewer advertisements were sold. Complicated by inadequate accounting procedures and many teachers losing their jobs, which meant they left the country, JALT used most of its reserve funds and faced a serious financial crisis. The National Treasurer, with the help of the financial steering committee, brought expenses under control. As JALT entered the new millennium, it promised to have a balanced budget and to start operating in the black again. JALT changed the system of its finances in 2001 by asking an outside accounting firm to support the financial operations of JALT in order to reduce the burden on the Director of Treasury.
National Special Interest Groups (N-SIGs) started forming in 1990 with the first two being Bilingualism and Video N-SIG. Other SIGs quickly began to form: Global Issues in Language Education in 1991; Japanese as a Second Language and Team Teaching (to become Junior/Senior High School) in 1992; Materials Writers, Computer Assisted Language Learning, and College and University Educators in 1993; Teacher Education and Development and Learner Development in 1994; Professionalism and Administration in Language Education, Teaching Children, and Testing and Evaluation in 1996; Gender Awareness in Language Education, Other Language Educators, and L2 Literacy in 1999; Pragmatics in 2000; Pronunciation in 2001; Eikaiwa in 2002; Lifelong Language Learning in 2005; Study Abroad, Extensive Reading, and Teachers Helping Teachers in 2008; Framework and Language Portfolios in 2009; Business Communication, Critical Thinking, and Task-Based Learning in 2010; Vocabulary, Literature in Language Teaching, and Speech, Drama, and Debate in 2011; School Owners in 2012; and Mind, Brain, and Education in 2014. Over the years, as interests have changed and developed, some SIGs have dissolved and others have combined (Junior/Senior High School and Teaching Children became Teaching Younger Learners in 2015), but JALT currently has 26 very active SIGs. The SIGs started holding an annual PanSIG conference in the spring of 2002, each year in a different city and co-hosted by a different chapter. In 2016, the 14th annual PanSIG conference was in Okinawa. Akita will be the site of PanSIG in 2017.
JALT has led the way in developing the Pan Asian Consortium (PAC) Conferences, which started in 1997 in Bangkok, Thailand, and continued in Seoul, Korea in 1999; Kitakyushu in 2001; Taipei, Taiwan in 2002; Vladivostok, Russia in 2004; Bangkok in 2007; Tokyo in 2008; Manila, Philippines in 2009; Seoul in 2010; Taipei in 2011; Vladivostok in 2012; Cebu, Philippines in 2013; and Bangkok in 2015. The 2016 PAC Conference will be held in Seoul, Korea; PAC 2017 will be in Taipei, Taiwan; and PAC 2018 will be hosted again by JALT.
JALT was granted NPO status in 1999 and has since then been a nonprofit organization registered with the Tokyo Metropolitan Government under the NPO Law passed in 1998, a law specifically designed to encourage the development of public interest groups. Under its NPO Constitution and Bylaws, JALT holds two Ordinary General Meetings and three Executive Board Meetings each year.
In 2013, the Executive Board approved a JALT mission statement, to guide JALT in future planning and development: JALT promotes excellence in language learning, teaching, and research by providing opportunities for those involved in language education to meet, share, and collaborate.
The question now is what does the future hold for JALT? The organization is looking for ways to better serve it members and increase membership. JALT is also trying to improve its international ties with other Asian countries through the Pan Asia Conferences and exchange programs. Most importantly, JALT is committed to providing the best service possible for its many members for years to come.