In 1995-96, under the direction of President Joy Reid, TESOL – the largest global professional association for teachers of English as a second or foreign language – began exploring the possibility of starting an independent foundation for the profession. The Association Advancement Committee (Jim Alatis, Ed Anthony, Russ Campbell, Jodi Crandall, Joan Morley, and Dick Tucker) recommended the establishment of a foundation which would support research in our field and promote the application of research findings to solving practical problems.
The Early Years
In June 1998, the TESOL Board of Directors voted to provide the start-up funding for the fledging foundation, and, in 1999, TIRF was granted its status as a charitable foundation under US tax law.
Early in its work, TIRF board members focused on the fact that no existing organization or agency, private or public, was uniquely concerned with investigating issues in language learning and teaching. While specialized groups with ample funding do focus on research and development activities intended to improve the human condition in other domains of public life, no such focus has ever been given to the crucial area of education in English as a second or foreign language. TIRF provides this specialized attention, giving high priority to the development of a coherent program of language learning research, teaching research, and information dissemination.
The First TIRF Invitational Conference
In 2001, TIRF hosted a small invitational conference in Alexandria, Virginia, to establish its research priorities. Participants included academic researchers; publishers; representatives of the Interagency Language Roundtable, the World Bank, the Center for Applied Linguistics, the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, the American Educational Research Association, and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education; and members of the TIRF Board. For a summary of the discussion that day, please click here [Duff&Bailey_TIRF_ResearchPriorities]. Please note that TIRF is gratefully sharing the Duff & Bailey (2001) article, which was published in TESOL Quarterly, with the express written consent of TESOL, Inc.
The Research Grants Program
In 2002, TIRF began awarding Doctoral Dissertation Grants to support research on topics identified by the Board of Trustees as crucial. Applicants must have completed all required coursework and must have their research plans approved by a faculty committee. Awards in amount of up to US $5,000 were made, with the author of the strongest proposals being named the Russell N. Campbell Scholar, in honor of one of TIRF’s founding members. To read about the Doctoral Dissertation Grant recipients and their findings, please click here.
Also in 2002, TIRF began awarding Priority Research Grants in amounts of up to US $25,000. In order to promote international research cooperation, these awards were provided to teams of experienced researchers working in at least two countries. The Priority Research Grant program was suspended in 2007 in order to devote funds to dissemination efforts. To read about the Priority Research Grant recipients and their findings, please click here.
Betty Azar’s Support
Between 2005 and 2008, TIRF-sponsored research was funded by a substantial grant from Betty Azar, author of the Azar Grammar Series (Pearson Longman). Her generous donation funded five Priority Research Grants and six Doctoral Dissertation Grants to assess the effectiveness of principled approaches to teaching grammar to adult English language learners around the world.
Betty Azar began teaching ESL in 1965 at Iowa State University. Her classroom needs over the years led her to writing ESL/EFL materials that eventually became a series of grammar-based textbooks. The first book in the Azar series, Understanding and Using English Grammar, was published in 1981. She then wrotetwo other texts, Basic English Grammar and Fundamentals of English Grammar, creating the Azar Grammar Series, a staple in English language teaching worldwide. Betty is a strong advocate of a grammar-based developmental skills approach to English language teaching. Her texts use grammar as a base for developing all language skill areas. The Azar Grammar Series (now the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series), is now in its 4th edition and has been used by millions of English language learners over the past 30 years. Betty is now retired and lives in the state of Washington in the US.
The Foundation is grateful to Betty for her long-term support of research related to effective teaching and learning of English.
The Sheikh Nahayan Fellowships
Under the leadership of TIRF Board members Yehia El-Ezabi and Ali Al-Sharhan, the Foundation established a relationship with Sheikh Nahayan, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research of the United Arab Emirates. The Sheikh wished to promote research on the teaching and learning of English in the Arab world, and to that end he provided funding for three doctoral dissertation fellowships per year in the amount of $25,000 each between 2008 and 2010. To read about the fellowship winners and their research, please click here.
TIRF trustees and grant recipients have given several presentations at the annual TESOL Convention over the years, and TIRF has hosted donor appreciation events, beginning in 2004. TIRF presentations have also been held at conferences sponsored by the Regional Language Center in Singapore, the American Association for Applied Linguistics, CATESOL, the Association of Binational Centers of Latin America, and the Japan Association of Language Teachers.
TIRF Board members who were in the UAE for the TESOL Arabia Conference participated in a “Discussion in Dubai” on March 12, 2005. The event was coordinated by TIRF Board members Yehia El-Ezabi and Ali Al-Sharhan with the assistance of the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates. The Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, Sheikh Nahayan, underwrote the expenses associated with this event. Invitees included representatives from the Ministry of Education, public school education, and university English programs from the UAE and neighboring countries.
In 2005, a second dissemination event was held in Sao Paolo, Brazil on April 25th and 26th. The event, with the theme “English in the contemporary world: expanding opportunities through education,” was coordinated by Board member Antonieta Celani and sponsored by the Spencer Foundation with the assistance of the British Council, the Cultura Inglesa, World Learning do Brasil, and Consulado General dos Estados Unidos da America (brochure enclosed as an attachment). The event was attended by approximately 75 participants including NGO representatives, educational policy makers, media, corporate sector representatives and ELT practitioners, and elicited broad media coverage – both press and radio. Five members of the TIRF Board (Joanne Dresner, Koffi Edoh – also one of the formal respondents – Donald Freeman, Dennis Hogan, and Terry Toney) also attended.
In 2010, in conjunction with the TESOL Arabia Conference, TIRF Board members participated in another dissemination event. This one focused on research on the teaching and learning of English in the Arab world – a research initiative supported by Sheikh Nahayan. Board members David Nunan, Kathi Bailey, and Yehia El-Ezabi participated in a panel presentation, along with Fiodhna Hyland, a recipient of the Sheikh Nahayan Fellowship.
The Key Questions Initiative
In 2008, the TIRF Board of Trustees voted to undertake research on key questions affecting our modern world. The first such study TIRF published was The Impact of English and Plurilingualism in Global Corporations, which appeared in 2009. For a summary of this report, please click here. For a free downloadable PDF of the full report, please click here.
TIRF has maintained its physical office primarily in free or low-rent spaces in order to maximize the application of donors’ contributions to promoting research. For instance, over the years, the TIRF office has been housed at TESOL’s Central Office, Georgetown University, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan, Brigham Young University, the School for International Training, and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.