William Lacon Threlford established the Institute of Linguists in 1910 with the aim of addressing the lack of expertise in modern languages among British businessmen involved in foreign trade. The first exams were held during that year, and the first members were admitted.
A distinguished figure in public life, Threlford worked tirelessly to secure the foundations of the Institute. Through his social and business connections, he was able to recruit a body of distinguished supporters as patrons, presidents and vice-presidents to help further the aims of the Institute. In 1935, recently knighted, he presented the Threlford Challenge Cup for the first time, described as 'the world's greatest trophy for fostering the study of languages'.
In 1958, the year of Threlford’s death, the Institute became a company, and in 1960, its Golden Jubilee year, adopted a new heraldic crest. It was during this year that the Institute established the Threlford Memorial Lecture, which continues annually to this day.
An Educational Trust (IoLET) was set up in 1977, allowing the Institute's exams and other educational activities to be run by a body with charitable status.
HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO was appointed Royal Patron in 1999, an apt choice as he had had a military career during which he had trained as an interpreter in Russian. He has proved to be an enormous asset to the Institute, attending events, speaking and presenting prizes at Awards and other ceremonies.
CIOL's Royal Charter was granted in 2005, by HM Queen Elizabeth II which represented a significant step forward in the recognition of language professionals and linguist in all areas of work and public life.
In 2010 the Institute celebrated its centenary with a formal reception at the British Academy, with speeches by our Royal Patron HRH Prince Michael of Kent, the Institute's then President Lady Brewer and other distinguished guests.
In 1924 the Institute had established 'The Linguists' Review - the magazine for the foreign correspondent, teacher of modern languages and student of modern languages'. The publication underwent various changes in format before eventually becoming 'The Linguist' offering linguists and lovers of languages a wide range of interesting and in-depth interviews and articles relevant to their professions and lives.
With its Royal Chartered status, CIOL today has over 5,000 professional members in over 50 countries who use their language skills across a wide range of professions. The organisation runs Continuing Professional Development, events, workshops and conferences providing opportunities for linguists to network, develop and maintain their skills and connection to a vibrant community of fellow linguists. CIOL's Divisions, Networks and Societies offer members a wide range of workshops, lectures, networking and social events.
The IoL Educational Trust, now know as CIOL Qualifications, offers professional language qualifications of the highest standard.
Combined, CIOL and CIOL Qualifications make awards annually to recognise achievement and significant individual and organisational contributions towards fostering the study and advancement of languages.