Until the 1970s, the teaching of English at Chulalongkorn University lay in the hands of various academic bodies, depending partly on the nature of each individual course and partly on the policy of each faculty. Generally speaking, English courses covered three major areas: basic communication skills in English, compulsory for all undergraduates and required of postgraduates in certain fields of study; English for various academic purposes, for both undergraduates and postgraduates in various faculties who needed to study English over and above the basic level; and specialised English, for English majors and minors in the Faculties of Arts and Education.
For a long time the Faculty of Arts assumed a major role in providing teaching services in all these areas to students in various faculties as well as to its own students. In other faculties, however, there were three different practices. Some of them set up a teaching unit within the faculty itself and organised their own courses; others sought assistance from the Faculty of Arts, although they also offered certain courses taught by their own teaching staff; still others simply relied on the services provided by the Faculty of Arts without forming their own teaching unit. It was, therefore, obvious that English courses in the first two areas came under the administration of a variety of agencies within the University. This naturally brought up the issue of whether the University was really making the best available use of the human and financial resources at its disposal.
In March 1972, at the request of the University and by prior arrangement with the British Council, Dr. Francis C. Johnson made a survey of the existing English language teaching situation at the University. He came up with several suggestions, the most important of which was that the University should establish a centralised institution offering service (non-specialised) courses to all undergraduates. About two months later, the University endorsed the idea and formed a committee to work out the details that the establishment of such an institution would involve. Meanwhile the University contacted the British Council, requesting a number of experts to assist in the new project. Unfortunately, due to some problems in the negotiations between the United Kingdom government and Thailand's Department of Technical and Economic Co-operation, the project was suspended temporarily. It was not until 1975, therefore, that the English Language Centre Project was launched by the University, with the late Assistant Professor Dr.Panninee Sagarik as its director.
On November 7, 1977, the English Language Centre Project took a major step forward in its development: a language institute was officially established at Chulalongkorn University in order to provide English language teaching and training services as well as carry out experiments and research with regard to Thai and foreign languages. At the same time, the Central Institute of the English Language (CIEL), Ministry of University Affairs (then the Office of University Affairs), was also merged with the Institute. Professor Toemsakdi Krishnamara, a former rector of Chulalongkorn University, was then appointed its first director, with Assistant Professor Dr. Panninee Sagarik as the deputy director, a position which she held until her untimely death in 1981.
In 1978, a pilot project was inaugurated for first-year undergraduates in three faculties: Engineering, Political Science, and Commerce and Accountancy. A year later, not only were teaching services for first-year undergraduates expanded to cover all fourteen faculties that existed at the time, but also second-year courses were offered for the first time to undergraduates in the three faculties mentioned above who had originally participated in the pilot project. In 1980, the Institute further expanded and extended its services by offering second-year courses to nine faculties, and third- and fourth-year courses to three faculties. Three years later, the very first elective course was offered to undergraduates in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Science. The year 1985 saw three further developments. For the first time, the Institute offered four English courses to postgraduates. Also for the first time, a placement test was administered, the purpose of which was twofold: firstly, to exempt the better students from taking the first English course, which until then was compulsory for all freshmen entering the University, and secondly, to place the remaining students in classes according to their level of proficiency. Finally, in place of the single elective course which was first made available in 1981, three such courses were developed as general electives. Up to this point, the Institute could be said to have fulfilled its major obligations in providing service courses in English to the majority of Chulalongkorn University undergraduates and postgraduates.
Today CULI, with a commitment to excellence in both its teaching and research, performs a variety of functions. As a teaching institution, it serves the multifarious needs of the undergraduates and postgraduates in all fourteen faculties. It also acts as a centre for carrying out research that covers almost every aspect of English language teaching. Finally, it provides ELT services to teachers of English, organisations in both the government and the private sectors, as well as to the general public.