Richard Smith is a Reader in ELT and Applied Linguistics at the University of Warwick, where he founded and has continued to develop the Warwick ELT Archive, a unique collection of materials connected with the history of English Language Teaching. He also edits the ‘Key concepts’ feature in ELT Journal, whose seventy-year history he writes about here.
ELT Journal celebrates its 70th birthday in 2016. It has been published since 1961 by Oxford University Press, but the first issue was produced in October 1946 by the British Council and distributed worldwide from its offices in Hanover Street, London. The journal was the brainchild of A.S. Hornby (1898-1978), and the idea for it came from his pre-war experience editing the Bulletin of the Institute for Research in English Teaching in Japan (see Smith 2007 and/or listen to this interview with A.S. Hornby for more on the journal’s origins). Hornby edited the new journal for four years until he left the Council to devote himself full-time to dictionary- and materials-writing. His best-known work is undoubtedly the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English (which has sold more copies than any other OUP publication apart from the Bible) but his single-handed creation of ELT Journal was an equally influential achievement. The journal rapidly became a focal point for the nascent ELT profession and industry. Indeed, it is a little-known fact that ‘ELT’ is itself an abbreviation of the original title of the journal, English Language Teaching. A look at this sequence of covers will show how the title has evolved over the years, with ‘Journal’ being added in 1973 to prevent confusion of ELT, the journal, with ELT, the wider profession.
For a long period of twenty-three years, 1958 to 1981, which saw the transformation of ELT – the profession and industry – from a relatively small-scale operation into something more akin to the level of activity we see today, the journal was edited by W.R. (‘Bill’) Lee (1911–1996). Lee’s other major claim to fame was that in 1967 he founded ATEFL, now known as IATEFL – the International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The journal continues to enjoy a particularly close relationship with IATEFL, as with the British Council, and both of these organizations are represented on the journal’s Advisory Board, while the ELTJ editor is also on IATEFL’s Advisory Council.
In 1981, exactly 35 years after the journal’s foundation, its format was modernized, and a new editor, Richard Rossner, was appointed. The journal also became more open to applied linguistic insights and to an influx of ‘communicative’ ideas (see Hunter and Smith 2012). Since then, a succession of editors – all of them also well-known in the ELT profession for other achievements – have ensured that ‘ELTJ’, as the journal now tends to be known, remains at the forefront of developments in English language teaching theory and practice. 1981 also saw the introduction of an Editorial (Advisory) Panel, on which almost all of the ‘names’ in ELT have at one time or another served. This has been responsible for reviewing submissions and ensuring that the journal maintains its leading reputation. Special mention needs to be made, too, of Cristina Whitecross, who, from the 1980s until her retirement as Chair of the journal’s Board of Management in 2009, was its mainstay and consistent ‘champion’ on the OUP side.
After Lee, the editor with the longest period in office was Keith Morrow, who edited the journal for 17 years, from 1995 to 2012. Philip Prowse took over from Morrow as Reviews editor and remained in this role for the same long period. This was a time when many previous certainties were overturned, with a large number of articles being accepted for publication which were critical of over-privileging native speaker teachers’ linguistic, cultural and methodological norms. Under Morrow and Prowse an increasingly wide variety of voices began to be heard, both in the journal itself and within the Editorial Panel, which became more international and diverse.
Bringing this very brief account up to date, innovative features under the present editor, Graham Hall, have included making one article per issue open access (as an ‘editor’s choice’ article), associating this with a short video presentation by the authors, and encouraging themed issues. Alessia Cogo, the Reviews editor, has introduced new ‘Review Forum’ and ‘Authors respond’ features.
The past 70 years – and especially the last three decades — have witnessed an explosion of interest in ELT around the world. Throughout, ELT Journal has remained a major focal point for interested professionals and practitioners, maintaining and nurturing a continuous tradition of principled exploration, in which theorization relating to practical experience, much more than top-down application of background research or theory, has been at the centre of concern. Over the years, alongside the British Council and IATEFL, ELTJ has contributed immensely to the professional image of teaching English as a second or foreign language, providing a space for the serious reflection and, above all, the maintenance of quality on which any profession depends.
Hunter, D and Smith, R. 2012. ‘Unpackaging the past: “CLT” through ELTJ keywords’. ELT Journal 66/4: 430-439. Online: https://eltj.oxfordjournals.org/content/66/4/430.full
Smith, R.C. 2007. ‘The origins of ELT Journal’. Online (Oxford University Press website): https://www.oxfordjournals.org/eltj/about.html