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Video | The English Barrier

15 Dec 2012 16:49Comments

[ media watch ] Young Iranians start learning English in school by the sixth grade. And many begin even younger.

"Iranians are obsessed with having their kids speak English," one journalist working in Iran tells Tehran Bureau. "So many families put their children in kindergartens that teach English.... English classes are an inseparable part of the children's lives."

But officials of the Islamic Republic have never been known for their mastery of the lingua franca.

"Most Iranians consider their ignorance and incompetence as representatives of the nation and an embarrassment to the country," the journalist adds.

"Mind you, in order to earn a Ph.D. in Iran you need to pass the TOEFL" -- Test of English as a Foreign Language -- "and many of these officials allegedly have a Ph.D. So the question is how did they become doctors when they can't even speak or read basic English?"

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became as infamous for his English deficiency as for other, more internationally notorious matters. "Yes, happy new year," he responded to a simple "How are you?" from Russian Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev.

On June 9, 2011, then acting Iranian Oil Minister Mohammad Aliabadi's English accent as he read his opening statement from a sheet of paper at the OPEC summit in Vienna prompted many to joke about it having been transliterated in Persian.

In the video posted above, a reporter from Iranian state television's Channel 6 "News Network" (IRINN) asks participants in a meeting where a U.N. representative is delivering a speech in English whether they understand any of it.

No, they say, with a shrug. Many look like they may be members of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The second half of the video features the head of the Iranian Football Federation, Ali Kafashian, struggling to deliver a speech in English at the Asian Sports Awards in Kuala Lumpur on November 29.

Kafashian previously served as secretary-general of Iran's National Olympic Committee, a job that also requires fluency in English.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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