English Learning Insights,  English Teaching Insights,  ESL,  Georgetown,  Meet ELC Faculty,  Meet ELC Staff,  TESOL

ELC Then & Now: From 1960 to Today

At the English Language Center, academic excellence meets English language and cultural immersion in programs for students and teachers of English as a second language. The ELC experience integrates intensive academic preparation, critical thinking, and cultural awareness to help students improve English for their academic, professional, or personal lives. For over 60 years, our dedicated faculty and staff have engaged with a wide range of language backgrounds and learning styles through dynamic and innovative courses taught in our nation’s capital, Washington, DC. The English Language Center, however, wouldn’t be the institution it is today without the contributions of many throughout our history.

One of the oldest language programs in the United States, the intensive English language program at Georgetown University began in the early 1950s as part of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service. Later in the 1950s, the intensive English courses became part of the newly established School of Languages and Linguistics (SLL), and the program was officially named the Division of English as a Foreign Language (DEFL). Dr. Robert Lado, a respected professor within the field of Applied Linguistics, was appointed Director of the SLL in 1960, and later Dean in 1961. Dr. Lado’s vision and work for SLL included a commitment to the field of teaching English as a foreign language, or second language (TESL). His successor as Dean, Dr. James E. Alatis, was also revered in Georgetown University history and a contributor to the field as the first executive director of the global professional organization Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Under Dr. Lado’s leadership of SLL, his dedication to ESL brought a new department to Georgetown in 1961, the American Language Institute (ALI). The ALI had already been in existence since 1942 through support from the National Education Association and later affiliation with American University. It was well known domestically and abroad for its English language publications and testing materials used by the United States government. While at Georgetown, the department was funded by a yearly contract with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Unlike the traditional semester-long intensive English courses being offered through DEFL, ALI’s programs under government contracts concentrated on the specific needs of students in highly specialized fields. As such, not only would ALI students focus on strengthening academic English, but cultural competence and long-lasting friendships would also organically emerge.  

The American Language Institute was a significant player in the field of teacher training as well. In addition to short-term programs and workshops being conducted for foreign and domestic English teachers, the ALI provided an advisory voice in the field of TESL, inviting government personnel and professionals to attend ALI for briefings, classroom observations, and extended internships. In the summer of 1967, this expertise was observed in a joint institute with the National Department of Education held for Washington, DC public school administrators. It was the first of its kind in the country utilizing ESL methodology for educationally-disadvantaged students in urban public schools. Back at Georgetown, faculty of ALI also taught courses in the School of Languages and Linguistics, and TESL methodology students frequently observed ALI language classes.

Throughout its years, ALI administration and faculty were heavily involved in notable professional organizations in the field, such as the TESOL International Association, a characteristic still held by many administration and faculty still currently in the English Language Center. In addition to Dr. Lado and Dr. Alatis’ recognitions, the first director of ALI, David P. Harris, and associate director, Leslie Palmer, were also both involved in the development of the first TOEFL examination.  

A major change in our history occurred in 1991, when Georgetown University moved to bring all of the English language programs on campus under one unified center. This unit, known as the Center for Language Education and Development (CLED), combined the Division of English as a Foreign Language (DEFL) and the American Language Institute (ALI). The intensive English courses that both departments offered merged to become the CLED English as a Foreign Language (EFL) program, continuing until today to serve students from every corner of the world seeking academic English preparation for university study in the United States. Several years later, in 1996, ALI’s contract with USAID ended and so did its name. However, due to the institute’s development of many significant programs outside the USAID contract, it was aptly renamed CLED Special Programs. Since then, the division has continued to offer flexible custom programs for groups of specialized students and has maintained critical governmental contract programs, notably the English for Heritage Language Speakers (EHLS) program for the past 13 years with the Center of Applied Linguistics and the National Security Education Program.

These two divisions of CLED operated their distinct program offerings separately for decades until 2017, when they were brought together into Georgetown’s School of Continuing Studies (SCS) and relocated to Georgetown’s downtown campus at SCS. In addition to the physical move, CLED was renamed the English Language Center (ELC), with the goal of uniting a strong faculty and program resources to continuing delivering world-class English language and training programs in the heart of Washington, DC.  Although our name has changed over the years, the core of the ELC’s mission to support a global community through the academic excellence and relationships fostered in our English programs has not.

The Lado Years 1960-1973, Georgetown University Press

“Unquestionably ALI’s greatest contribution to the University has been to acquaint many thousands of foreign scholars, governments officials, and technical specialists with the name of Georgetown University….for these students–who include a remarkably high percentage of influential foreign leaders–ALI offers the first United States university experience, and, as Dean Lado has written, ‘the impressions they gain during this first contact tend to be remembered more vividly than any other after they return to their respective lands.’”


From the American Language Institute to the Center for Language Education & Development to the English Language Center, we welcome each of you – scholar, official, specialist, leader – to join us and share your story as part of our history and our new era!