English in Post-Revolutionary Iran: From Indigenization to Internationalization

Following this week’s publication of English in Post-Revolutionary Iran, we asked the book’s author, Maryam Borjian, to explain a bit about its background.

Maryam Borjian, author of "English in Post-Revolutionary Iran"

Maryam Borjian, author of “English in Post-Revolutionary Iran”

Post-revolutionary Iran was envisioned with a homegrown, indigenized model of English education – an indigenized English free from the influence of the English-speaking nations. The indigenization movement began some 30 years ago at the onset of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The founding of the Islamic Republic in Iran marked the beginning of a new era in the country’s political landscape. Iran, which had been under the geopolitical influence of the West since the early 19th century, turned away from its Western allies, the United States, in particular, to follow an anti-Western, anti-imperialist ideology. The dream was to achieve ‘self-reliance’ and ‘self-sufficiency’, not only from the capitalist West but also from the communist East. In the words of the grand revolutionary motto of the time, it was to be an Islamic Republic ‘self-sufficient’ (kod-kafā) from the West and the East (na sharqi, na gharbi).

Grand Bazaar of Kerman, 17th century, Kerman, Iran  © Maryam Borjian

Grand Bazaar of Kerman, 17th century, Kerman, Iran. Photo courtesy of Maryam Borjian ©.

Within such a climate, the attitude towards foreign languages was profoundly negative and they were treated as ‘suspicious subject matters’ and ‘the enemies of the people’. Among foreign languages, English was considered the most unfortunate as it was closely associated with the United States, ‘Great Satan,’ and its closest ally, the United Kingdom. The intensity of hostility towards the West and to European languages could perhaps be best explained by the closure of the Iran–America Society and the British Council, the most active centers of English language teaching (ELT) in pre-revolutionary Iran. To eliminate all variables associated with cultural and linguistic imperialism, all foreign language schools were closed and foreign teachers and professors were expelled from the country. A state-run publishing house, aka SAMT, was established to produce indigenized, homegrown textbooks, in which some aspects of English were selectively accepted (phonology, morphology and syntax), whereas the cultural elements of the language were all removed.

As such, a new form of English was born, a form that some may regard as a ‘flat, lifeless and context-free language’, which has been taught to generations of school children via the state’s approved homegrown English textbooks ever since.

The indigenization movement, together with anti-Western and anti-imperialist sentiments, has continued to dominate the political and educational discourse of post-revolutionary Iran for the better part of the past three decades. Yet, despite the state’s 30-year-long constant efforts, the existing system of English education in Iran is not entirely indigenized. Rather, it is marked by two diverging forms of English: (1) the indigenized model that is used by the state-run education programs, and (2) the internationalized or Anglo-Americanized model, which is used by private-run education programs throughout the nation. The latter model is the one currently in vogue and most demanded by Iranians.

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran

English in Post-Revolutionary Iran explores the politics of English language teaching and learning in post-revolutionary Iran from 1979 to the present. The book examines the nation’s English education at the two levels of policy and practice to explore the process (how and what), causes (why) and agents (who) of the two diverging trends of ‘indigenization’ and ‘internationalization’ within the country’s English education. The book explores the ways in which English education has been perceived by various stakeholders both at the national level (politicians and policymakers, and at the subnational level (professional associations, university-based and privately based language programs, English professors, teachers and students) and the catalysts that have sparked off receptiveness or hostility towards foreign lessons, ideas and norms on the part of each set of stakeholders. Although it is presumed that supranational forces have been absent from the realm of English education in post-revolutionary Iran, the book equally takes into account the implicit and explicit contributions of various international and transnational organizations (the World Bank, the UN developmental agencies and the British Council) to the internationalization of the field of English education in the country.

To read more about the book, please visit its page on our website here.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: