Tag Archives: language

Who Needs an English Language Proficiency Test?

September 21st, 2018

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English proficiency tests are typically associated with international students, but there are a wide variety of reasons that organizations of all types would need an accurate English language proficiency test. Companies, governments, as well as educational institutions at all levels have a need to precisely determine the English language skill of large or small groups of people in order to compare individuals to one another, monitor language acquisition progress, or develop curriculum.

This article explores the ever-expanding uses of English proficiency tests in order to give an overview of how these tools are used across industries and sectors in our increasingly data-driven world. Most importantly, we’ll also explore why English assessment tools are used and the opportunities they create for those who use them.

Better Than Guessing or Praying

Before we look at how English proficiency assessments are used today, it may help to understand why they came into existence in the first place. My career in international education actually predates the introduction of TOEFL, the first English proficiency test, in 1964. Before then, there was not an English proficiency requirement for admission of international students to US colleges and universities. Administrators simply hoped the students they admitted had strong enough English skills to thrive at the institution.

Similarly, employers had no choice but to do their best to size up the English skills of their applicants and employees based on interviews and conversations. It was all based on gut feeling.

Finally, governments that might have been curious about the English level of their population were left to wonder about it. There was no feasible way to test English language skills on a wide scale.

Thankfully, English testing has come a long way. There are now so many applications for English assessment tools, that there are products designed for specific uses and situations. Let’s explore some of the most common.

Higher Education

One of the most important parts of higher education is the cultural exchange that comes from studying with people who come from different places and backgrounds. International students are a vital part of any vibrant campus. However, when their English proficiency skills are too poor to participate effectively in class discussion or to complete the assignments, it’s harmful to both the international students and their classmates.

As a result, essentially all U.S. colleges and universities now have an English language proficiency requirement for admission of non-native English speakers. Typically, the test is taken at a test center in the applicant’s home country and the score is submitted with their application.

Over time, institutions of higher learning have realized that there is so much more they can do with an English language proficiency test. For instance, by testing students upon arrival and graduation, they can measure how their English language skills improved over the course of their study. If they’re using a test like iTEP that scores specific language skills and sub-skills, the institution can come to understand which language skills their international students are acquiring most quickly, and which may require greater focus in the curriculum.

Intensive English Programs

All over the world, there are thousands of programs designed specifically to help non-native English speakers improve their English language skills. (This site lists over 600 in the US alone).

Since these intensive English programs, or IEPs, exist to improve English language skills, providing proof of English proficiency for admissions isn’t necessary. However, it’s crucial that the students in these programs are placed into the proper level where they are most likely to succeed. An accurate and easy-to-administer test is key this process. iTEP has been working with IEPs for over a decade to refine how proficiency tests are used in placement, and we now enable IEPs to comprehensively assess the English language skills of their students within a few hours of their arrival on campus.

In addition, the potential to calibrate how an IEP functions, using an English language assessment test like iTEP that provides rich data, is tremendous. IEPs can make sure that different instructors teaching the same level are producing the same results and evaluating their students in the same way, for instance.

Secondary Schools

The fastest growing segment of international students are not college students, but rather high school and even middle school students. The English language proficiency skills of these applicants are most accurately measured by an English test designed specifically for them. The word choices and scenarios presented in an English test meant for adults could be confusing or unfamiliar to young learners and skew the results.

Historically, this need has been neglected by the marketplace. ETS’s SLEP exam was a paper-based test that was widely used by private high schools and boarding schools favored by international high school students coming to the US. When it was retired in 2013, iTEP SLATE (Secondary Level Assessment Test of English) stepped in to become the industry standard.

Private Companies

The job interview process is so subjective. With the help of an English language proficiency assessment, comparing the English language skills of applicants is no longer guesswork. This is particularly helpful when a company grows and is rapidly hiring. Particularly if there is more than one person interviewing candidates, it helps to have concrete numbers to compare.

However, not all jobs use all language skills. Waiters, for instance, don’t need particularly good writing skills as long as they are able to speak and understand English quite well. They also don’t need to be able to discuss business or academic topics—their job is mostly focused on food and pleasant conversation. In recent years, iTEP has created English assessment tools for specific industries such as au pairs, real estate, and hospitality. In fact, we even create customized English tests for specific companies when they can identify unique language skills or scenarios they want to assess.

Governments

For governments, data is power. Knowing how well their population communicates in English can be a major help to employment initiatives, attracting international companies, or becoming a popular tourist destination.

Part of our goal at iTEP has been to make English assessment efficient enough to be implemented on a large scale. As a result, our tests have been used in massive initiatives in Colombia, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and more. In addition to national governments, state, county and municipal governments also rely on English proficiency testing, both to get a sense of the skills of their citizens, and to ensure that government workers have the necessary English language skills for their job.

What’s next for English language assessment?

When organizations started to come to us with ideas for how to use our tests that we had never thought of, we began to understand that we had succeeded at creating English assessment tools that were flexible, affordable, and convenient enough that they had taken on a life of their own. With the continued proliferation of English as the global language, I believe we’ve only just scratched the surface of how English language proficiency tests can help organizations of all types do what they do better.

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Perry Akins
iTEP International Chairman and Co-Founder

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The End of Foreign Language Education in US Schools

January 12th, 2018

language

When I read in a recent NYT’s article that the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran has decided to ban the teaching of English at primary schools because it views it as “culturally invasive,” I wondered why they are not considering doing the same for Arabic language which is now a required subject in Iran’s schools. Banning the teaching of English will be applicable only to public and government-funded primary schools, but this push to eliminate this required foreign language component that has been part of the school curriculum in Iran dating back to pre-Islamic Revolutionary days is alarming.

So, I decided to turn my attention back to home field, and see how our children are faring with foreign language offerings at our public schools here in America. It’s the old adage of before you judge another, first take a look at yourself. Well, I took a long look at myself aka USA, and guess what, there’s no difference between us and Iran, the country on our “enemy” list when it comes to our dismal track record on teaching foreign languages at our schools.

Recent studies paint a very grim picture of foreign language education in U.S. schools.

According to Education Week:

  • Only 1 in 5 students was enrolled in a foreign language course in 2014-15
  • Enrollment is lowest in cultural-need languages, like Arabic, which is considered crucial to national security
  • And almost 8 times as many students take Latin, a so-called “dead language”
  • Researchers say that lack of foreign language learning in public schools is a threat to U.S. economy and military security.

If written facts aren’t enough to shock you and visual graphics are more effective, take a look at this chart:

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Now, if you’d like to have more salt poured on our language-deprived wounds, let’s switch our focus and look across the Atlantic and see how foreign language education is addressed in European countries. According to a blog posted by Quartz Media, The Pew Research Center  reports that “almost every country in Europe requires students as young as six to learn a foreign language.  Even more impressive, over 20 European countries require students to learn two foreign languages in school for at least one school year. In 2010, over 90% of secondary school and 73% of primary school students in Europe were learning English in the classroom, according to Pew’s analysis of Eurostat data.”

Turning our focus back to this country, it is important to note that the US does not have any national requirement for learning a second language. In a 2012 article, Forbes reported that only 15% of American elementary schools teach a foreign language.

At the rate we’re going, without getting into the current political climate in the US and its recent anti immigration, anti-globalist, anti-anything that’s foreign sentiments, and how this is affecting public education, we need to brace ourselves and prepare to say, Bye-Bye, Ciao, Sayonara, Au Revoir, Adios, Auf Wiedersehn, Khoda Hafez, to learning a foreign language in our public schools.

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Frustrated Evaluator

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Global Youth

August 18th, 2017

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Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English, of making no effort to learn the languages of other cultures. For the most part, this is true. Unlike Europe, where an hour drive might find you in a completely foreign land, the furthest the average American will make it as far as edge of the state. But that’s not all of us.

In Southern California, from where I hail, the proximity to Mexico makes it not only worth it to speak at least some basic Spanish, it’s almost compulsory. And we are not alone. Foreign languages are being taught at younger and younger ages and it bodes well for the future of our region and the country in whole. Another language connects one more deeply to a culture, the nature of our world as one people, and most importantly, makes you sound like a fancy pants.

So, when I see a fluently bilingual toddler I am not only impressed but often more jealous than is reasonable for an adult toward a 5-year old.

Of course, there are the rare drawbacks:

In line at the ATM one day there was a young dad and his little girl, maybe all of four years old.

The father stands with his daughter, entering in his PIN:

Beep.

“Nueve!” the girl yells confidently.

In a quiet voice he replies, “That’s very good sweetie but shhh please”

He presses another button.

“Quatro!”

“Yes Clara that’s right but please we have to be quiet right now.”

He focuses on the screen tries to hide the buttons with his hand, keeps an eye on his daughter all at once.

Beep.

“Dos!”

“Clara!”

Clara erupts into giggles.

“Clara please”

The father, perhaps regretting just a bit his daughter linguistic skills, tries to turn her away, making a modestly curious little girl an obsessed investigator.

In what must have felt like a moment of glorious looney tune ingenuity Clara’s father points off to the distance,

“Clara look it’s a mariposa!”

Beep. The last button is entered.

“A butterfly? Where!?”

“Oh, I guess it flew away, let’s go li’l one.”

Better luck next time Clara. Like the rest of you baby geniuses, you give me hope for the future, a good laugh and a healthy dose of envy.

AlexB

Alex Brenner – When he is not helping international students as ACEI’s Communications Officer, Alex puts his writing chops to work as a script doctor for Hollywood screenwriters and guest blogs for ACEI-Global. Alex has a BA in English from UCLA and has been fortunate to have travelled to many corners of the world as a child and an adult.

For further information on the international credential evaluations, visit our website at www.acei-global.org or contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org.

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How to Be a Responsible Foreign-Language Learner and Speaker

August 25th, 2016

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As participants in the 2016 Many Languages One World essay contest, we had to submit an essay on multiculturalism and multilingualism. Writing about multiculturalism and multilingualism is a tough and broad task, but what we can do, as individuals, is write about our own experience. 

As a student in Chinese department and as a traveler, I do not believe in any so-called “clash of civilizations”, or in any “culture shock”. “The other” is always the result of a process of image-making. Moreover, I am strongly convinced that most of the distinctions we rely on are constructs and artificial distinctions, used by dominant groups to justify unequal situations and discrimination. Learning foreign languages aims to explore interstices, never to widen gaps. 

I would like to explain why my experience of multiculturalism and multilingualism has fostered a strong sense of responsibility, and has motivated my political and social commitment.

I was born in France twenty years ago, and was brought up in ten different countries, among which Spain, South Korea, Canada and China. I have been moving every one or two years because of my parents’ job as International School French teachers. I can relate to many different cultural habits and cultural backgrounds. “Where do you come from?” is a question I feel very uncomfortable with. Because I am unable to answer it and because experience has proven, it doesn’t actually tell a lot about the person you’re speaking to. I don’t feel like I belong to a specific country and don’t feel attached to one single language. I don’t want to choose between countries and languages. The first language I learnt was Finnish. My brother and I recently saw some videos of us speaking Finnish together, but we can’t understand a word anymore. It’s one layer among our multi-layered, multi-dimensional life. Since then, my little sister arrived in our family, adopted from China, and my brother left the French school system to take the International Baccalaureate. My parents have moved to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and started learning Russian. When we get together in France every summer, we speak bits and pieces of French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Each language allows us to express our ideas, hint at common references, play on words in a different way. In our case they are always related to a certain time period, linked to certain friendships, landscapes, food, books, movies and educational systems we’ve experienced and share, which thus inform our approach to each language. As my sister said once, what we truly share is our story, our passing by in many places and never settling down.

This had led me to think identity is not an enclosed and immutable entity, identity is evolution, identity is change, making one’s way between adapting and conflicting. Identity is like a tangled web, tying together places you lived in, people you met or crossed paths with, what you’ve seen and experienced. In my case, I feel that what has primordially influenced me are the most unbearable things I have witnessed. People suffering from leper, from hunger and thirst, children working in terrible conditions and whom childhood was stolen away, eager to escape from poverty and war, in the places I’ve visited or lived in. You can’t forget these things. You can only pretend, but somewhere deep inside, it’s calling out for justice and urging you to do something. I feel this is what ties all the puzzle pieces of my scattered life together.

Therefore my political and social concerns have always been the very basis, the starting point in the appreciation of the world and people around me. I have been volunteering for several NGOs. I have been working in Pnomh Penh for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), which takes care of children living in slums and dumps and offers them access to healthcare and education. I participated in the planning of Charity Runs in Taipei and other cities I lived in. When I was in Paris I participated in helping homeless people and families to fill in paperwork and have access to basics. I have been writing down all their stories and hope to get you to read them some day. What revolted me is, some people would sometimes stop near me and say we – volunteers – were encouraging the present-day “invasion” of “immigrants” and poor populations in France. Some seem to consider solidarity as crime – but as I said, I don’t make distinctions between “us” and “them”, and by helping them I’m helping us. Recently I have been working in Lyon for the Secours Populaire, helping out in annual events and working to improve the reading and writing skills as well as self-confidence of children left behind. Wherever I’ve been I have felt the same emergency. Wherever I will be living, and wherever you live, there is probably something going wrong outside your front door and you can always do something, at your level, to instigate change. Multi-culturalism is about lending a hand to others, wherever you come from and wherever they come from.

Moreover, I believe that we have a duty to reflect on our ability to bring some change, not only as young people but also as students in Language Departments. I am studying in the Chinese department of my University. I think it is important for us to concentrate on building “cultural bridges” : we can study common, parallel aspects in order to create dialogues rather than orchestrate sensational “West-East” breaking points. For instance last year I have read some interesting studies on links between some French twentieth century surrealist works and early Chinese Daoist works such as the Zhuangzi : provocation, striking images, humor, rejecting of forged boundaries and rigid categories. Drawing parallels often teaches us a lot more and is definitely more stimulating. Also, I would like to emphasize the fact that cultural understanding should never be taken for granted. We have to fight for it. Some of my classmates in the Chinese Department, studying Chinese language and culture at a high level, have never been in a Chinese speaking country, have no intention of going there, no desire to learn more about or meet people who live there – because, as one of them told me once, their interest in Chinese is only “theoretical”, “aesthetic” – and sometimes they have harsh, shocking words, and many prejudices against Chinese people and culture – very dangerous ideas.

I plan on maybe becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history; whatever I do later on, I hope I will never separate my work and my ideas. I was blamed once for refusing to complete an exercise in one of my Chinese courses. The problem was, the title was “Why women and men do not think alike” and the sentences we had to complete and read were very insulting. The teacher respected and understood my choice, but one of my classmates told me I should learn to separate the student and the “feminist” – that is schizophrenia – and then explained, China “never had and still does not have any feminist ideas” – which is completely false. Essentialism and distinctions between political and academic spheres are recurrent obstacles, and yet they can be overcome by raising awareness about our responsibility, our role as foreign-language learners and mediators. The issue is too important in our world today to be ignored.

That’s what I would like to conclude with: learning languages and traveling is a good start, but it is not enough. We need to stand up, and take action for what we believe in. We are responsible for what we do – and what we don’t do. Learning foreign languages is an urgent necessity but it won’t help if it’s just about playing with sounds and alphabets. It’s about making the others’ fear, anger and hope, our own.”

lea

Léa Buatois

About Léa Buatois: Léa was one of 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Léa  was born in Dijon, France, in 1996. Her parents teach in French international schools around the world. Because of her parents’ job as French teachers abroad, she has been moving a lot, approximately every one or two years. The first language she spoke was Finnish, and later she started learning English, French and Mandarin Chinese. She is now studying in the Chinese Department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, France. She is interested in becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history, or working in cultural diplomacy or international relations. She love traveling, reading and writing.

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Intensive English Programs (IEPs) Are in Trouble Again

July 28th, 2016

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Once again, we find ourselves in very challenging times for intensive English language programs in the US. These enrollment valleys occur once every ten years or so. One can cite a variety of reasons for the declining enrollments; however, the primary one is the decline in Saudi Arabian scholarship students. Other factors at play are the dollar, the “Trump card,” the Brazilian scholar program, the lousy world economy, more world competition (e.g. English in Malaysia), and some might even include “global warming” on their list of causes. But the primary cause of the situation we’re in today, the Saudi student decline, was certainly predictable. It was not a matter of “if,” but “when.”Along with the tremendous influx of Saudi students since 2005 came more IEP school openings. IEPs barely had to lift a finger to fill their seats thanks to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. There was really no reason to allocate resources to prime the pump of other potentially lucrative future international student markets. I am sure a few of the IEPs continued to cast their sales net far and wide and were able to groom some potentially new emerging markets; however, I suspect most did not. Life was good, so why make the effort?

Not the first IEP enrollment crisis, not the last

These major “market disruptors” such as the Saudi student decline occur about every decade for IEPs. For other examples, we can look back to the oil crisis of 1974, the huge Venezuelan scholarship program of the mid 1970s that saw a sudden end, and the Iranian take over of the American Embassy in 1979, as well as the 1997 Asian financial crisis and 9/11. In addition to these major market disruptors, there were minor ones such as periodic foreign government fiscal controls on travel abroad, major currency devaluations (or stronger dollar), Europeans no longer able to quit their jobs to study abroad and easily return home to better jobs (Switzerland in particular), and military conflicts, just to name a few.

So, here we are in this mess today with declining enrollments, instructors being laid off, administrators being placed in classrooms, program levels being combined (out of financial necessity), and IEPs closing (more by the end of the 2016). And then there is the possible impact on international education if Donald Trump becomes our next president, or a disruptor of some sort occurring in the People’s Republic of China, either of which would bring further hardship to IEPs.

How to survive the Saudi slump

There are few short-term solutions to getting us out of this mess. If the student numbers do not turn around soon, there will be an increasing number of IEP closures resulting in fewer IEPs, providing some enrollment growth among the remaining IEPs. Yes—you are all competing in the same markets for the same students with few exceptions. You are all friends, but you are also friendly competitors.

Those IEPs that are able to survive the carnage will be those that are best able to manage their expenses throughout this period. That is how they will survive. I say this because developing new markets is costly, time consuming and requires skill sets that might no longer be available at the IEPs. This is especially true since those IEPs that do survive into the fall of 2016 will have eliminated many administrative positions.

A common marketing mistake of many college/university IEPs is that they look to the “big name” schools to set the standards for recruitment. “Big name” schools do not require the same aggressive marketing efforts as those IEPs on lesser known campuses. So, if you are one of the “small name” schools, you need to be very creative and very aggressive in the ways you market your IEP program. You have to put the students first. For instance, if you have a program schedule designed to meet the schedule of your college/university instead of a schedule most convenient for your prospective students, well, need I say more?

Recruiting: an ongoing project

IEPs may sometimes forget that the sales effort does not end with receiving a student application. Special efforts need to be put forth to ensure that the student applicant will actually arrive and enroll for classes. And the sales effort continues. As you know, the student can easily pick up and transfer to another IEP if he or she becomes unhappy with yours. Regular blind student surveys will certainly go a long way to help you identify and rectify reasons behind unhappy student customers. When I think of the IEP program, I think in terms of 24/7. IEPs which do not accept 24/7 responsibility will be those programs which lose students to the IEPs which do think in 24/7 terms.

The surviving IEPs will be those that are customer centric and have carefully studied market conditions resulting in knowledge that will help them finely tune their sales efforts. They will need to be able to identify new potential markets utilizing recent US government visa statistics that are not readily available to the general public. Using student statistics such as those found in Open Doors can easily lead you astray. You need to know where the student activity is today, not where it was one or two years ago. A shotgun sales method will not yield the results you are looking for. Also, if you are not working with very qualified and carefully screened productive agents in key countries around the world, you will have great difficulty recovering from this downturn.

So, do your homework, target your promotion, keep your expenses in line with your revenue, work with good referral agents with whom you communicate by Skype once a month, and you will be around when the dust finally settles. And, yes, it will settle as new markets and new opportunities begin to appear on your radar.

See this article as it originally appeared on iTEP Chairman Perry Akins’ LinkedIn page. Follow iTEP on LinkedIn

Perry Akins
Chair
iTEP
http://www.itepexam.com/

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The Brain: Foreign Accents and Discrimination

March 17th, 2016

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I always cringe when I’m asked the dead-end question: “Where are you from?” (It’s got so old having lived here in the US for nearly 40 years.) And when I answer with a question: “Why do you ask?” The answer I get 99.9% of the time is: “I heard a slight accent.” Never mind that I speak English fluently along with a few more languages. What is bothersome about this question is that the person asking it isn’t at all interested in knowing more about me and engaging in a dialogue. The accent, no matter how slight, seems to trigger something in them and it’s not positive curiosity. If it was, they would have something interesting to say and continue the conversation instead they drop any chance for dialogue like a hot potato. 

In the post included in this link, it appears that our brains are wired to automatically switch to judge a person based on their accent, especially if we are not familiar with different accents or have had little or no exposure and interaction with people who have accents. However, as a resident of Los Angeles, a melting pot metropolis of ethnicities from around the globe, I don’t find this reasoning believable.

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I never forget my French friend Frederique who was so fed up with being asked this question that she finally began answering in her very distinct French accent: “I’m from Oklahoma City!” And the questioner simply nodded his/her head. Clearly the sarcasm escaped them.

In today’s world where borders are murky and we have such an incredible movement of people between countries and continents, discriminating against foreign accents or having an aversion to them is provincial and xenophobic. Let’s change the paradigm and if the need to be inquisitive about a person’s accent is just too much to suppress prepare for an engaging and educational discourse. Show genuine interest. You may just make a friend for life.

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Heroes, Activists, and Martyrs: Lending their names to the streets of Tehran

January 24, 2013

Tehran_Streets

When I heard the story of Granada, Spain planning to approve a measure to name a square in honor of the British punk band The Clash’s Joe Strummer http://www.theworld.org/2013/01/spanish-square-to-be-named-in-honor-of-the-clashs-joe-strummer/ I was reminded of the battery of street name changes that Iranian cities underwent immediately after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. The changing of names applied not only to streets and boulevards but to schools, colleges, universities and any building or organization that carried a name resonant of the former regime and all those it supported.

Besides serving as a practical guide to find one’s destination, street names and place names in general, create symbolic connections with the past, or recent past by commemorating and honoring the contributions of historical figures, military heroes, political leaders, inventors, industrialists, and athletes. According to the cultural geographer Wilbur Zelinsky in Nation into State, “the United States has a long history of naming places, especially streets, after patriot heroes and other notables.”

I first came across the term “commemorative landscape” a term referring to “a wide range of material sites devoted to remembering the past,” in an essay entitled “Commemorative Landscapes of North Carolina,” by Derek H. Alderman. We can safely agree that one of the most common of commemorative landscape types is the street name. In most cases, reasons to rename a street, monument or building are primarily politically motivated, reflecting the mood and sentiments of a new regime and its antipathy or respect for the past. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its satellites quickly set about a mission of de-Stalinization by renaming streets and building that once honored Stalin.

Though my recollections and understanding of Iran are memories frozen the moment I’d left the country in June 1978, I still remember those streets in Tehran named after American Presidents like Kennedy Square, Eisenhower Avenue, Roosevelt Avenue and British heads of state like Elizabeth Street and Winston Churchill Boulevard. Yet soon after the revolution these streets were renamed to honor martyrs of the Islamic Revolution and religious leaders. Kennedy Square is now Tohid Square, Eisenhower Avenue (named after the American President who helped the Shah topple Mossadeq) is Freedom Avenue and Roosevelt Avenue has been renamed Mofateh Avenue. Winston Churchill Boulevard, the site of the British Embassy in Tehran, was renamed Bobby Sands Street after the Irish Republican Army IRA member who went on a hunger strike and died in prison in northern Ireland in 1981. Apparently the British Embassy changed its entrance to another side of the building as they didn’t want the address to be Bobby Sands Street.

Tehran_Streets1

But not all American names have been censored in Iran. I read an LA Times article about Tehran’s decision to name a street in honor of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist who was killed while protesting against the demolition of Palestinians homes in the Gaza strip. The photo below is proof of the street sign, which also includes a brief profile of Rachel Corrie.

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“Tehran street sign named after American pro-Palestinian activist Rachel Corrie”

Iranian colleges and universities weren’t exempt from the name changing fever that had gripped the country following the 1979 revolution. Autonomous colleges, like the College of Surveying, or College of Statistics and Computer Science, or College of Mass Communication were phased out, merged and consolidated into university complexes named after revolutionary martyrs and religious leaders. Universities too saw their names changed, especially those that were named after the Shah or his family. Aryamehr University, known as the MIT of Iran, is now Sharif University of Technology, named after a former student who was killed in 1975. Melli (National) University was renamed Shahid Beheshti University. Farah Pahlavi University was renamed after the prophet Mohammad’s daughter as Al Zahra University. And the list goes on.

I haven’t returned to Iran since I left in 1978 but what I hear from friends and relatives who travel back and forth is that the old street names seem to still exist in people’s memories and used colloquially. It’s not unusual for passengers hailing a taxi to give their destination with the current name but also add its former name as backup. “Take me to Freedom Avenue, formerly Eisenhower.”

There’s a strange sense of belonging that happens when one sees and recognizes a familiar street sign. The main street leading to our home on Lane 8, off of Pakistan Avenue in northern Tehran, was Abbas Abad Avenue. That’s how I remember our ethnically diverse neighborhood of small mom and pop shops, the bakery, dry cleaners, and a vast empty dirt lot soon to be a large housing development. Our next door neighbor was a French diplomat. Across the street lived an American family from Maine whose eldest son was my brother’s best friend and attended the Tehran American School. A few houses down were a Japanese family whose patriarch would take strolls up and down our quiet street in the afternoons in his kimono and wooden shoes.

Abbas Abad Avenue has since been renamed as Shahid Beheshti Avenue. I have no connection to this new street and all that it represents, but one thing that seems to have not changed is the international flavor of the district that has carried on. Today, Shahid Beheshti, aka Abbas Abad Avenue, is home to embassies and foreign firms. Do you have any stories to share of the street names in your neighborhoods?

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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