James E. Alatis: A Life in Language An Oral History
Coomber, Nicole M.
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This oral history tells the story of James E. Alatis, who served as dean of the Georgetown School of Languages and Linguistics (SLL) and as the first executive director of the professional organization Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Born to Greek immigrants in Weirton, West Virginia in 1926, his preparation for leadership in language education included an upbringing as a child of immigrants and Greek community school. In this environment, Alatis learned to be an interpreter for his parents and for his community. In his later leadership of transformational organizations in the language education field, he institutionalized a style of leadership characterized by the ability to promote a vision and interpret the needs of various groups. His interpretive leadership style fostered collaboration towards a common vision. His story underscores the essential role of linguistics in language education, advocates for a close relationship between government and academia, and promotes applied linguistics as key for language learning and scholarship. He leads by facilitating collaboration and translating among different groups. His vision of language education proved prescient after over forty years in the field of language education and despite challenges presented to it by a change in leadership at TESOL and the closing of the SLL. Alatis's story both opens a window to this period of history in language education and stands as an example of academic leadership in the field.