The History of the Council of 
Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages


KPart I.  COTSEAL’s Early Years


 by Carol Compton, Frederick Jackson and Teresita Ramos

The Council of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages (COTSEAL) began with an idea presented in a paper given at the Conference on the State of Southeast Asian Studies held at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC in March of 1984.  In that paper, Carol Compton, then at Northern Illinois University, called for the development of a committee on the teaching of Southeast Asian languages “to provide leadership, encouragement, and ideas which can strengthen the quality and increase the amounts and kinds of teaching of Southeast Asian languages in the United States."  At the session's end, Richard McGinn of Ohio University offered to support the development of such an organization in any way he could.

Richard McGinn was indeed to provide both support and leadership in the development of COTSEAL.  When Carol Compton and Nancy Smith-Hefner called an organizational meeting of teachers at the University of Michigan on August 12, 1984, McGinn was elected the group's first president by the twenty-four people attending.  He served as president of what was then called the Consortium of Teachers of Southeast Asian Languages from 1984 to 1987; during that time the group designed and adopted a constitution, affiliated with the Southeast Asia Council of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS), and held meetings twice a year (at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) in the summer and at the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies in the spring).  COTSEAL's constitution describes the organization's mission as follows:  "COTSEAL is a professional interest group whose primary purpose is to promote the discipline of language teaching on all levels: teaching, materials development, and research."

Teresita Ramos of the University of Hawaii-Manoa was elected twice as president of COTSEAL.  Her first term was 1987-1990; during that period she also served as Language Director at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI) in Hawaii.  She initiated formal training of language teachers at SEASSI and opened the training to COTSEAL members and other interested teachers of Southeast Asian languages.  She also introduced COTSEAL workshops at SEASSI, at which practicing teachers and teacher training experts were invited to give presentations on topics related to teaching methodology and curriculum preparation.  Beginning in 1991, these workshops became an annual summer conference, jointly sponsored by SEASSI and COTSEAL.

As COTSEAL President, Ramos played an active role in the establishment of the National Council of Organizations of Less Commonly Taught Languages (NCOLCTL) and in the development of the proposal for its first grant.  As a result, in 1991, she was elected as president of NCOLCTL.

John Hartmann of Northern Illinois University was elected as president of COTSEAL for the period 1990-93.  He was unable to serve the full term, and the presidency passed in 1991 to COTSEAL's elected vice president, Frederick Jackson of the Foreign Service Institute.  Although Dr. Hartmann's tenure was very brief, COTSEAL had two very significant accomplishments under him.  The first of these was the planning and presentation of a highly successful COTSEAL panel at the 1990 Association for Asian Studies meeting on Computer-Assisted Language Instruction.  The audience included teachers of several East Asian and South Asian languages, as well as the COTSEAL constituents.  The second achievement was the development of the first computerized COTSEAL database of professionals interested in the teaching of Southeast Asian languages.  This data base, the development of which was funded in part by NCOLCTL, is the foundation for COTSEAL's record keeping.

The period of Fredrick Jackson’s presidency (1991-93) was one of great growth and activity for COTSEAL, stimulated in large part by the organization's co-receipt (with SEASSI) in 1991 of a $5000 seed money grant from NCOLCTL to strengthen organizational infrastructure for the teaching of Southeast Asian languages.  The principal investigators for the grant were Thomas Gething of the University of Hawaii, then-chair of the SEASSI Executive Committee, and COTSEAL President Frederick Jackson.  Through judicious budgeting, the grant made it possible for COTSEAL to complete the database mentioned above, to significantly upgrade its professional publication to the status of a refereed journal, to begin publication of a newsletter to disseminate information across the field, and to sponsor a series of Round Table panels at annual meetings of AAS on issues and concerns in the field.  The grant also enabled COTSEAL and SEASSI to begin co-sponsoring the summer Conference on Southeast Asian Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics and, very significantly, to join together to establish a Southeast Asian Language Committee (LC) to make recommendations to the SEASSI Executive Committee and Board for the improvement of Southeast Asian language teaching at SEASSI and in the academic year programs.

The Language Committee included, ex-officio, the president of COTSEAL and the past, present, and future SEASSI Language Directors.  Also on the committee are appointed representatives of Southeast Asian language organizations not otherwise represented on the Committee.  The LC has worked hard to identify and set priorities for program and staff development.  To gather information, LC designed and sent out a survey questionnaire, jointly sponsored by COTSEAL and SEASSI, on the "State of the Field."  The questionnaire was sent to almost 300 Southeast Asian language professionals world-wide, and had a return rate of approximately 30%.  A report on the findings of this survey and discussions of priorities for the field were presented at the 1994 meeting of the Association for Asian Studies.

During Teresita Ramos' second term as President of COTSEAL (1993-1996), the NCOLCTL awarded the organization $24,000 to develop a Southeast Asian Language Learning Framework.  Through some seed-money funding from the Center of Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) of the University of Hawaii, eleven leaders of the field met in Hawaii in January 1994 to write a proposal and to select a task force to draft the Framework.  In 1999, the final version of the Southeast Asian Language Learning Framework was published as an issue of the Journal of Southeast Asian Language Teacing (JSEALT, Vol. VIII ).  With the help of the University of Hawaii’s Center for Southeast Asian Studies, a conference on the on the application of the generic language framework to specific Southeast Asian languages was held in Hawaii in 1996.  To our knowledge, this is the first recorded time that key Southeast Asian language professors representing eight languages have worked collaboratively to develop a common vision for the field.