Frequently Asked Questions about SIL

What kind of organization is SIL?

SIL International is a faith-based nonprofit organization committed to serving language communities as they build their capacity for sustainable language development. SIL’s service is founded on the principle that communities should be able to pursue their social, cultural, political, economic and spiritual goals without sacrificing their ethnolinguistic identity. SIL has been an official NGO partner with UNESCO since 1993 and has had special consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) since 1997.

Does SIL International provide training?

Training for the work of SIL International is generally the responsibility of the SIL schools at various sites worldwide. Anyone with the appropriate educational background can enroll in the SIL training. See SIL's training site for full details on training in SIL.

How can I find out about working with SIL?

SIL staff are volunteers who raise their own financial support. In addition to fieldworkers in applied linguistics many technical people also assist the organization. A number of international advisors in linguistics, literacy, sociolinguistics, anthropology and translation also help SIL.

For work overseas, various national organizations recruit members who serve under SIL. For more information see

How does SIL receive permission to work in various countries?

In most cases, SIL works under some department of the government, such as education, social services or, in a few cases, religion. It also maintains reporting relationships to various national universities, and national organizations.

Where did the organization's name come from?

In 1934 William Cameron Townsend began linguistics and anthropology courses for students interested in fieldwork overseas. They were held in the summer at a small community in Arkansas. In 1942 the summer program was moved to the University of Oklahoma and remained there for many years. Because of this seasonal schedule, Townsend labeled the training the Summer Institute of Linguistics. Over time the full name of the organization was dropped and the initials SIL became the name of recognition in many places worldwide. SIL International has recently been adopted officially as a public name. Operational entities may still adapt their names according to the appropriateness of the particular country in which they work, e.g., Latin American and Francophone countries employ Spanish and French names.

Where is the international headquarters of SIL?

The SIL International headquarters is located in Dallas, Texas. SIL has also been incorporated in Australia. SIL has offices on five continents.