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English in Iran

Updated on February 26, 2012
New Iranian grads
New Iranian grads
Protest for freedom
Protest for freedom

Misconceptions between people or cultures sometimes produce conflict or war. With all of the war rhetoric in the media about war between the US and Iran, the real irony is that Iran is a country they embraces English, as its main second language for schools to teach. This seems like a true contradiction from how the ruling government feels and what it wants for its people. Ahmadinejad calls America as the Great Satan and tells its citizens how bad it is, yet if you look at their schools, you get an opposite impression. Since America and Britain are the two main English speaking countries where it is the native language, you would think that Iran's government would ban the use of the language. Yet, nothing is further from the truth.

In Iran, the English language is studied in Rahnamaei (literally meaning, guidance or orientation), an equivalent for Middle school (Jr. High) in other countries. In Iran, Middle school is for three years and it covers grades 6-8 for students aged 11 to 13 years old. During the first year of middle school, students have 1-2 classes classes (90 minutes) per week for the next three years until graduation. Also, at the university level, students need to pass two units of general and four units of professional business English to get a degree. English may also be required at the primary level also.

Statistics reveal that less than 5% of Iranians can speak fluent English. Also, out of 92% university candidates, less than 10% answer the English test section correctly. In most public schools, teaching English begins with alphabets and reading from books.
Since 1925, English has been one of the primary second languages for Iranians to learn, but it has become much more important, ironically, since 1980. All this seems rather paradoxical as war shadows cast over Iran over their quest for a nuclear weapon and other subversive activities of their government.
Go figure.


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