English Language Institute: Celebrating 70 Years

On  June 21st, 1941, the University of Michigan formally established its English Language Institute. The first, and therefore oldest, program designed to offer English as a foreign language in the United States, in the 70 years since the English Language Institute has become the model for other programs across the country and around the world.

Since its inception, the ELI’s has had two goals. The first is to serve students directly though English as a Second Language education. To accomplish this goal, the ELI offered its inaugural Summer Program to 13 participants in its first year. The next year, attendance nearly doubled to 22 and growth continued. By 1946 some 750 students had passed through the ELI. Nor did the English Language Institute resign ESL education to the summer alone. At the same time, the ELI has pursued its other major goal: the refinement and improvement of English language teaching and teacher training.  By the time of its 50th anniversary celebration in 1991, the ELI was offering over 30 courses, including English language courses for non-native doctors professionals and English as a Second Language teacher training courses.

Almost from the beginning, however, the English Language Institute has also paid careful attention to the need for accurate assessments for English proficiency. To this end, at the behest of the United States government, the Examination for the Certificate of Proficiency in English (also known as the ECPE exam) was released in 1953 for use abroad. Over the following decades Michigan tests were adopted by a growing number of schools and other organizations both in the United States and abroad. To meet rising demand, in recent decades the ELI has also developed the intermediate level Examination for the Certificate of Competency in English (ECCE exam), the intermediate-advanced level Michigan English Test (MET exam), and the advanced level Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB exam). Thus, it is clear that after 70 years the ELI is just getting started.