The Language Teacher
04 - 2000

Looking Back: The History of TLT

Larry Cisar

Kanto Gakuen University

What do The Language Teacher, the KALT Newsletter (Kansai), the KALT Newsletter (Kanto), and the JALT Newsletter have in common? They are all the same thing (or closely related). And the middle two are older than JALT! The KALT Newsletter (Kansai) began in 1976 as the newsletter of the Kansai Association of Language Teachers. When some former members began an association in Nagoya (Tokai ALT) and Tokyo (Kanto ALT), the newsletter traveled with them. Nancy Nakanishi-Hilderbrandt, the first editor, carefully gathered material that would allow teachers in Japan to keep up with what was happening in the world of language education. This publication name lasted through 1978.

David Bycina, one of the founders of the Kanto group, was sure that there was enough information to have, not a quarterly, but a monthly publication. The fledging national organization was not sure, so David proved his point by producing 12 issues of the Kanto newsletter. David was elected editor (yes, JALT elected editors in the beginning), the name JALT Newsletter was chosen, and from Volume 3 through the beginning of Volume 8, JALT had a monthly newsletter under that name.

As with all good things, the monthly publication did not stop evolving and growing (or going through all the usual growing pains). The Executive Committee and the Publications Board found that JALT was no longer putting out just a newsletter. It had evolved into a magazine with newsletter sections. To reflect this change, the name was altered in April, 1984 to The Language Teacher. The current name has already had a sixteen year run; any guesses as to how many more years it will be thus?

At first glance, the numbering of issues in some volumes was very strange, with no issue 6 and either no issue 13 or issue 13 appears to be the last issue. Why? For a time in the 80s, JALT numbered the JALT Journal as an issue of The Language Teacher. This was done in the belief that it was necessary to keep the cheap postal rates for the Journal. The Journal also kept its own numbering system. Later, the Publications Board found out that it was not necessary to do that, so we now have 12 sequentially ordered TLTs.

Cut-n-paste has always been the way The Language Teacher has been assembled. But, while the current versions are done electronically, the early editions were done with paper, scissors, and the glue pot. In the early days, the articles were typed by people on a variety of typewriters, giving some editions a very hodge-podge look. JALT first consolidated the process by buying a Silver Reed ball typewriter (and if you think JALT fights over money now, you should have heard the arguments about purchasing that typewriter). It is surprising that there were so few mistakes in the early editions, since none of the people working on it were professional typists. (Well, almost none. Sanae Matsumoto was a professional secretary, but she was not a member of JALT -- just helped David do all the work.)

Japanese came into the newsletter a few years later, as typing in Japanese was not an easy task. The first article in Japanese was by Kenji Kitao, and was a report on the TESOL Convention in 1982. Since then, Japanese articles have appeared in most issues, with one issue, July of 1988, being mainly in Japanese. Kenji, who was later promoted by JALT to Vice President, did much to expand the use of Japanese within JALT publications. The largest work was a special issue of The Language Teacher, edited by a team headed by Kenji, to celebrate 10 years of JALT. The title is TEFL in Japan. This work, mainly in Japanese, dealt with the status and style of TEFL in Japan as JALT celebrated its tenth year. Masayo Yamamoto followed up on Kenji's early work and was the Japanese editor for all JALT publications for a good period of time. Subsequent Japanese editors have continued and expanded the use of Japanese in JALT publications.

Two editors of JALT's premiere publication have gone on to become presidents of JALT. Deborah Takano-Foreman went directly from being editor to being President, while Gene van Troyer went from editor to Publications Board Chair to president. Most editors have retired simply from exhaustion. Editors have come from a variety of places within JALT: Chapter Officer, SIG officer, or just having experience outside of JALT. Most have worked their way up through the ranks in JALT publications.

Getting the publication to the membership has also gone through a variety of changes. Originally, the editor mailed out each copy (which could be why Nancy really was not interested in doing a monthly publication). When David Bycina became editor, the author of this article became distributor, which meant putting the labels on each wrapped issue, taking them to the post office, and negotiating the final bill. After exhausting Doug Tomlinson in the distributor's position, JALT negotiated to have the printer prepare the publication for mailing and take it to the post office. This system continues until today.

JALT owes its cheap postal rates to the work of Kohei Takubo, an early National Public Relations Chair, who went through the process of getting the postal frank for JALT. JALT has been lucky to keep this privilege to mail third class over the years. When the Post Office came out with an even cheaper way to mail the publication, the Central Office staff did the work to make sure that the membership benefited from it.

JALT has worn out several printers. Only with volume 4 did JALT start to acknowledge who was printing the publication -- done to protect the guilty. For many years, S.U. Press in Kobe printed the newsletter. JALT has had a long relationship with the current printer, Koshinsha in Osaka.

The modern history is covered by others in this issue; the future history is left to those who will be writing, editing, and proofing it. As the profession has grown over the last 24 years, and as it has become more professional, so have the JALT publications. But I do miss the humor that was often there. I will end with a quote from "From the Devil's Dictionary," by Tom McArthur: "Basilect: An acrolect with no ambition." (The Language Teacher, Volume 12, Issue 5, p. 31). Now can somebody tell me what it means?

Larry Cisar teaches at Kanto Gakuen University. He has been active in JALT since its early days. Currently he is working on writing Internet material using Hot Potatoes.

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