Crossing the threshold of Iranian TEFL


1 Ferdowsi University of Mashhad, Islamic Republic of Iran

2 University of Isfahan, Islamic Republic of Iran


Teaching  English  in  an  Iranian  and  Islamic  culture  poses  complex  questions  for  both  teachers
and learners. In this paper, the authors intend to shed light on what it means to teach English as
a  foreign  language  (TEFL)  in  an  Islamic-Iranian  context.  Having  reviewed  the  colonial  and
postmodern views of English language teaching, the authors took a look beyond the current state
of TEFL in Iran, which is marked by its continuing global tendency, and into the future with an
emphasis  on  the  importance  of  including  the  local  specificities  of  the  Iranian  culture  and
religion.  The  status  of  the  TEFL  in  Iran  and  the  direction  it  should  take  in  the  future  are
accompanied  by  offering  some  solutions  to  inherent  problems.  Iranian  TEFL  is  introduced  as
the successful assertion of Iranian  local culture against the  cultural and ideological domination
of  the  West,  which  can  be  an  antidote  to  the  harshness  of  all  marginalizations  Iranians  have
suffered for centuries.


Main Subjects

The  English  language  teaching  (ELT)
profession  has  been  developed  by  the
globalization  of  the  English  language.  Due
to  the  spread  of  the  English  language  as  a
lingua  franca  throughout  the  world,  English
proficiency  has  been  considered  a  key
priority  for  progress  in  different  areas  such
as science, technology, finance and business
in  order  to  facilitate  international
communication.  Based  on  the  results  of  a
survey  reported  by  the  British  Council  in
1995,  over  ninety  percent  of  the  English
language  teachers  around  the  world  who
participated  in  the  study  believed  that  the
English  language  will,  in  the  future,  be  the
dominant  language  in  world  media  and  that

it will be the world’s language for the next
twenty-five years (Crystal, 2003).
In one sense, globalization refers to the flow
of  information,  along  with  educational  and
expert  access  as  well  as  communication
across borders (Wong, 2007). Consequently,
globalization has undoubtedly facilitated the
transmission  of  knowledge  throughout  the
world the outcome of which has mostly been
observed  in  the  context  of  education
(Carnoy,  2005).  It  is  beyond  any  doubt  that
in this process, the English language _ as an
international language _ plays a pivotal role.
Despite  its  wonderful  appearance,  however,
globalization  is  regarded  as  the  agent  of
social  inequality  (McMichael,  2008).  Most
importantly,  it  has  a  propensity  for  the
homogeneity  of  cultural  norms  and  values
(Stromquist  &  Monkman,  2000).  That  is  to
say,  the  foreign  countries  are  supposed  to
give  up  their  own  cultural  values  and  adopt
the  American  way  of  life.  That  is  why
globalization, in Giddens’ (2000) words,  is
almost  equal  to  westernization  or,  more
specifically, Americanization.  
When  it  comes  to  English  education,
globalization directly influences the form of
English  and  the  method  through  which  it
should  be  taught  in  foreign  countries.  As
Matsunuma  (2011)  has  recently  put  it,  the
education  system  whose  obligation  is  to
close  the  gap  between  the  developed  and
developing  countries,  is  ironically  making
the  gap  wider.  She  further  argues  that
English  language  teachers  need  to  face  the
reality that “not only is the English language
itself  an  obstacle  to  some  learners  but  also
technological  access  and  cultural  innuendos
within  curriculum  have  created,  arguably,  a
silent form of virtual imperialism” (p. 36).
In  the  following  paragraphs,  the  ELT  field
will  be  discussed  with  regards  to  the
colonial and postmodern eras, along with the
need for the localization of English, granted
the  fact  that  the  cultural  identities  of  the
English  language  learners  around  the  world
must  be  respected,  embraced,  and  accepted
as  legitimate.  Next,  the  authors  will  refer  to
the  EFL  context  of  Iran,  and  via  discussing
some  inherent  problems  which,  if  not
resolved,  may  put  the  cultural  and  religious
identities  of  Iranian  learners  of  English  in
jeopardy,  will  further  argue  that  the  field  of
TEFL  in  Iran  is  in  urgent  need  of  critical
Colonialism  and  English  Language
The  English  language  has  become  a  global
language  due  to  its  colonial  and  imperialist
history (Pennycook, 1994; Phillipson, 1992).
In  fact,  the  spread  of  English  has  been
orchestrated  first  and  foremost  by  the
professionals  in  Core  countries  such  as  the
UK, USA and Canada (Phillipson, 1986). In
his  attempts  to  demonstrate  linguistic  (or
language)  imperialism,  Kachru  (1985)
proposed  a  concentric  model  of  global
Englishes including three circles, namely the
inner-circle whose ownership is taken solely
by the native English-speaking countries, the
outer-circle  which  comprises  countries  that
use  English  as  an  additional  language,  and
the  expanding-circle  which  involves  those
countries  which  need  English  for
international  communication.  He  further
argued  that  the  nexus  between  these
concentric circles reflects an unequal state of
power,  and  that  such  a  relationship
negatively  influences  the  cultures  of  those
societies in which English spreads.  

In  addition,  Phillipson  (1992),  whose  aim
was  to  preserve  minority  languages,  has
questioned  the  economic,  linguistic,  and
cultural  motives  of  the  ELT  profession.  He
has  shown  concerns  about  the  fact  that
English-speaking  professionals  view  the
ELT  field  as  a  business  whose  aim  is  to
provide  significant  economic  gains  for  their
countries’ industries to such an extent that it
makes us cast doubt upon the identity of the
ELT  field  as  to  whether  it  is  really  a
profession or an industry. On the other hand,
these  professionals  do  not  seem  to  be  much
worried about ethical language teaching, i.e.
language  teaching  aimed  solely  at
empowering  learners;  they  merely  intend  to
improve  their  trade  and  protect  investments
In another vein of argument,  Kachru (1988)
contends that the English-speaking countries
such  as,  the  United  Kingdom,  the  United
States,  Australia  and  Canada  have  always
wanted  to  maintain  the  gap  between  the
colonizer and the colonized countries (those
nations  outside  of  the  English-speaking
countries  such  as,  Iran,  Malaysia,  India,
Saudi  Arabia,  Syria  and  Turkey,  to  name
just  a  few).  That  is  to  say,  the  English
language  was  considered  a  tool  of  power  in
the  hands  of  colonizers  not  only  to  further
marginalize  and  bulldoze  the  peripheral
countries but also to stereotype, dehumanize
and  treat  them  as  undistinguishable  masses
(Said,  1978),  the  acts  which  were
condemned by many prominent critics (e.g.,
Ashcroft,  2001;  DeGraff,  2005;
Hornscheidt,  2008;  Kachru,  1996;  Karmani,
2005; Pennycook, 1998; Phillipson, 1992).
In the case of English language teaching, the
English-speaking  professionals  have  gone
too  far  in  constructing  images  of  the  non-native  learners  of  English.  These  images
have now become stereotypes for the whole
populations  of  the  periphery  countries.  For
example,  Malay  people  are  depicted  as
merely  good  imitators  who  lack  originality
in thought and culture (Alatas, 1977). Arabs
are  also  seen  as  dogmatic,  narrow-minded
people  (Porter,  1994).  Moreover,  Chinese
students’  resistance  to  informal  class
discussion  is  interpreted  as  their
backwardness  (Pennycook,  1994).
Unfortunately, these biased stereotypes have
been overgeneralized to all Asian students to
such  an  extent  that  they  are  generally
thought  to  be  lacking  the  skills  for
evaluation  and  critical  thinking
(Samuelowicz,  1987).  It  has  also  been
argued that Asian learners are not willing to
take  part  in  class  discussions  (Devos,  2003;
Liu  &  Jackson,  2008).  Besides,  unfair
evaluation  of  international  students  merely
on  the  basis  of  their  non-native  accent  can
lead  to  these  learners  being  granted  lower
grades  in  most  classroom  activities  (Munro,
Derwing & Sato, 2006; Nakane, 2006).  
Pennycook (1994) finds part of Phillipson’s
(1986,  1992)  argument  about  the  notion  of
“English    linguistic    imperialism”
convincing  that  ELT  is  an  outcome  of
imperialism  due  to  its  intact  representation
of  the  values  and  beliefs  of  the  Core
countries.  To  give  but  one  example  of
Phillipson’s English linguistic imperialism,
it  might  be  useful  to  return  to  Daniel
Defoe’s (1910) Robinson  Crusoe  in  which
Crusoe sought to teach Friday, a black slave,
“everything that was proper to make him
useful,  handy  and  helpful”  (p.  195).
Therefore, instead of teaching Friday’s own
language,  Crusoe  made  every  attempt  to
teach him the English language, the fact that
is exemplary of the global spread of English, 
along  with  its  political,  economic,  and
ideological implications.
As shown above, English language teaching
has  been  a  tool  in  the  service  of  colonizers
for  a  long  time.  Not  surprisingly,  ELT
theories  and  practices  also  represent  aspects
of  the  dominant,  i.e.  Western,  culture.
Accordingly,  in  a  propensity  to  marginalize
other  languages  as  well  as  their  cultures,
Western  teaching  methods  are  also  deemed
to  be  superior  to  other  traditional  ones  (Ha,
2004).  From  a  traditional,  colonialist
perspective,  the  native  English-speaking
teacher  is  regarded  as  the  best  English
language  teacher,  and  monolingual
instruction  as  the  best  form  of  teaching  the
English language. This is in line with Said’s
(1993)  remarks  that  imperialism  should  be
examined  not  only  in  relation  to  material
exploitation and control but also in terms of
cultural  practices,  theories  and  attitudes.
Such exploitation in Freire’s (1985) words is
called ‘cultural invasion’ in which “invaders
penetrate  the  cultural  context  of  another
group,  in  disrespect  of  the  latter’s
potentialities; they impose their own view of
the world upon those they invade and inhibit
the creativity of the invaded by curbing their
expression” (p. 133).
Simply  put,  a  great  part  of  linguistic
imperialism  involves  cultural  imperialism.
That is to say, the spread of English around
the globe has brought forth the idea that the
Western  culture  is  superior  to  the  culture  of
the periphery countries, as are the theories of
English  language  teaching  they  tend  to
prescribe. Such a view of culture is endemic
to a great deal of the ELT profession. Hence,
as  Phillipson  (1992)  puts  it,  the  English
language  imperialism  still  continues  in  the
sense  that  the  linguistic  and  cultural  realms
of  the  Periphery  countries  are  being
controlled  by  professionals  in  the  Core
countries.  For  example,  the  English
language in India is said to be a “means of
continuing  the  suppression  of  Indian
thought,  and  of  preserving  an  alien,  elite
culture” (Tully, 1997, p. 157).
A  major  drawback  of  such  linguistic  and
cultural  domination  is  ESL/EFL  learners’
loss  of  identity.  This  unfortunate
phenomenon  is  still  prevalent  in  English
language  classrooms  when  learners  are
asked  to  assume  English  names.  According
to Pennycook (1998), renaming learners is a
sign  of  disrespect,  contempt  and
insensitivity  to  the  different  linguistic,
historical  and  cultural  backgrounds  the
learners  bring  to  the  language  classrooms.
The  same  ethnocentrism  is  observed  in
Defoe’s  novel  “Robinson  Crusue”  when
Crusoe  shows  a  sort  of  indifference  and
disrespect to Friday’s identity by renaming
him  and  asking  the  black  man  to  call  him
English  Language  Teaching  in
postmodern era
However,  the  time  finally  arrived  when  the
political,  social,  economic  and  ideological
domination of England, as one of the largest
colonizers and imperial powers in the world,
began  to  diminish  thanks  to  the  emergence
of  Postcolonialism  as  a  liberation
movement.  Postcolonialism  significantly
delegitimized authority and opted for a more
egalitarian  society  (Pishghadam  &  Mirzaee,
2008).  When  it  comes  to  SLA,  the  aim  of
Postcolonialism  is  to  decolonize  the
colonized ELT (Bressler, 2007).  
During  the  1960s  and  1970s,
Postmodernism,  along  with  its  elements  of
subjectivism,  constructivism,  relativism,
localism,  and  pragmatism,  cast  doubt  upon
the  credibility  of  the  mainstream  Western
scientific  practice  (Kuhn,  1962).
Accordingly,  during  the  postmodern  era  of
ELT,  the  idea  of  method  which  was
associated  with  colonialism  was  put  into
serious  question  by  many  prominent  critics
such  as  Kumaravadivelu  (1994,  2003),
Pennycook  (1989),  Prabhu  (1990),  Richards
(2003),  and  Stern  (1991).  These  critics
denounced  the  idea  of  method  on  the
grounds that, in Brown’s (2000) words, it
tended  to  introduce  a  set  of  specified
classroom  techniques  to  be  prescribed  for  a
wide  variety  of  contexts  and  audiences
around the world.
Most  importantly,  Kumaravadivelu  (2003)
regards  the  concept  of  method  as  a  way  of
marginalization  in  the  sense  that  it
“valorizes  everything  associated  with  the
colonial  Self  and  marginalizes  everything
associated  with  the  subaltern  Other”  (p.
541). From the theorizer’s point of view,
each  teaching  method,  be  it  a  language-centered,  learner-centered,  or  learning-centered  one,  is  a  composite  of  theoretical
principles  and  classroom  procedures.  From
the teacher’s point of view, on the other
hand, none of these methods can be realized
in  the  emergent  classroom  conditions
(Kumaravadivelu,  1994)  because  they  are
not informed by actual classroom experience
but  are  awkwardly  imported  into  the
classroom  (Nunan,  1991;  Pennycook,  1989;
Richards, 1989).  
Therefore,  Kumaravadivelu  (1994,  2003)
encourages the practitioners of the ELT field
to  find  an  organized,  meaningful,  and
relevant  alternative  to  method  instead  of  an
alternative method. He further argues that in
order  to  decolonize  the  English  language
teaching,  there  is  a  need  to  shift  from  the
notion  of  method  to  the  notion  of
postmethod. Inspired by Widdowson (1990),
who  believed  that  the  connection  between
theory  and  practice  can  only  be  realized
through  the  immediate  act  of  teaching,
Kumaravadivelu  (1994)  introduces  the  idea
of  “principled  pragmatism”  whereby
classroom learning is supposed to be shaped
and controlled by teachers as a result of their
sense  of  plausibility,  or  their  subjective
understanding  of  their  own  teaching
(Prabhu,  1990).  Such  understanding  should
therefore  be  sensitive  to  English  language
practitioners’,  and  not  theorizers’,  local
Another  contribution  of  Postmodernism  to
the ELT field was that native speakers were
no  longer  considered  the  sole  owners  of  the
English  language  and  native-like
pronunciation was no more considered to be
the only English proficiency benchmark. For
this reason, learners were allowed to violate
the British and American pronunciations and
structures unless these violations made their
language  unintelligible.  Accordingly,  many
scholars  (e.g.,  Swales,  1993;  Walker,  2001;
Widdowson,  2003)  contend  that  there  is  no
longer any particular distinction between the
native  and  non-native  speakers  of  English,
and that non-native speakers have now taken
the ownership, through appropriation, of the
English language.  
Moreover,  during  the  postmodern  era  of
ELT,  the  idea  of  World  English  was
replaced with the notion of World Englishes,
with  an  emphasis  on  the  inclusivity  and
pluricentricity  of  new  varieties  of  English
(Kachru,  1982).  To  rest  solely  on  the
Standard  English  was,  as  Kachru  (1990)
states,  inadequate.  Hence,  instead  of
adhering  to  the  norms  of  one  global
language,  i.e.  British  or  American  English,
learners were allowed to use varieties of the
same  language.  Therefore,  in  the  process  of
learning  English  as  an  international
language,  learners  were  not  necessarily
recommended  to  internalize  the  cultural
values  of  English  native  speakers  (Smith,
1976).  Moreover,  in  this  process,  the
ownership  of  the  English  language  became
de-nationalized  (Smith,  1976;  Widdowson,
1994). Last, but by no means least, learning
the  English  language  entailed  enabling
learners  to  communicate  their  ideas  and
cultural  values  to  others  (Smith,  1976).  In
this  way,  the  juggernaut  of  the  Standard
English  was  bound  to  diminish  due  to  the
emergence of other language varieties.
 As Widdowson (2003, p. 46) puts it, “the
point  about  the  control  of  people  by
language is that it is bound to fail because as
soon  as  the  language  is  used  it  cannot  be
kept  under  your  control.  People  appropriate
it.” That is to say, the  English  language  is
not a set of stable forms or norms; rather, it
is  a  language  which  can  be  employed  in
diverse  ways  for  different  purposes.  The
ESL  textbooks  which  allocate  units  to  the
variations  and  adaptations  of  the  English
language  are  but  some  examples  in  this
regard.  In  fact,  postmodernism  may  be
regarded as the cultural crisis of the Western
countries  in  the  sense  that  they  are  not  the
unchallenged  center  of  the  world  any  more,
and  that  other  cultural  possibilities  are
increasingly being generated and introduced
to the world (Young, 1990).
Postmodernism  seems  to  have  influenced
the  ELT  profession  in  other  ways  as  well.
For  example,  the  teacher-centered
instructivism of the modern era was replaced
by  learner-centered  constructivism
(Cahoone,  2003).  Moreover,  more
importance  was  attached  to  the  styles  and
strategies of individual learners and teachers
(Oxford, 1990; O’Malley & Chamot, 1990;
Reid,  1987)  thanks  to  Gardner’s  (1983)
proposal  of  the  diversity,  and  not  unity,  of
intelligences. There was also another line of
argument,  namely  chaos/complexity  theory,
which  Larsen-Freeman  (1997)  applied  to
TESOL,  and  maintained  that  second
language  learning  is  a  complex,  dynamic,
non-linear, emergent, unpredictable and self-organizing  system.  Finally,  as  another
element  of  Postmodernism,  the  emergence
of  critical  theories  (Pennycook,  1999)  is,  as
Kumaravadivelu  (2006a)  says,  concerned
with “connecting the word with the world,”
“recognizing language as ideology, not just
as system,” “extending the educational space
to the social, cultural, and political dynamics
of language use,” and “creating the cultural
forms  and  interested  knowledge  that  give
meaning to the lived experiences of teachers
and learners” (p. 70).
To summarize thus far, English is no longer
the property  of the Core countries; rather, it
is  now  the  property  of  whoever  chooses  to
speak  it  (Pennycook,  1998).  Even  the
universality  of  Western  teaching
methodologies has been discredited by many
scholars  such  as  Ellis  (1996),  Kramsch  and
Sullivan  (1996),  Pennycook  (1994,  2010)
and Phillipson (1992).  

Localization  in  English  Language
Although  one  liability  of  Postmodernism
was to liberate the colonized countries from
the  confines  of  the  Core  countries,  it  seems
that  the  effects  of  colonialism  on  colonized
nations still linger today (Pennycook, 1998).
A  major  part  of  these  effects  are  cultural
issues  which,  Pennycook  believes,  have
survived  colonialism  and  still  live  on  in
many forms today.  
In  the  context  of  language  teaching,  a
composite  of  sociopolitical  and  historical
factors is involved in shaping a learner’s
self-identity  and  voice  (Kumaravadivelu,
2006b).  As  Weedon  (1997)  has  correctly
pointed out, language is “the place where
actual  and  possible  forms  of  social
organization  and  their  likely  social  and
political  consequences  are  defined  and
contested. Yet it is also the place where our
sense  of  ourselves,  our  subjectivity,  is
constructed” (p. 21). This seems to be even
more  applicable  to  L2  learning  where
languages  and  cultures  come  into  a  close
contact.  Norton  (2000)  maintains  that  this
contact  between  the  cultures  of  two
languages  can  lead  to  identity  conflicts
among learners. Therefore, there is always a
danger  that  language  teachers  might  ignore
the  sociocultural  conditions  that  form
learners’ identity in the classroom.
Accordingly,  Pennycook  (1998)  calls  for  a
movement  towards  the  de-colonization  of
the  English  language,  seeking  alternative
possibilities which, he states, “need to be in
our  classes,  our  English  classes,  our
linguistics  and  applied  linguistics  classes,
our ESL classes, our teaching materials. We
need  to  work  in  and  against  English  to  find
cultural  alternatives  to  the  cultural
constructs  of  colonialism;  we  desperately
need  something  different”  (pp.  217-8).
Deeply  inspired  by  Foucault’s  (1973)
concepts of discourse and power, Pennycook
further  warns  us  that  the  unequal  status  of
the  colonizer  and  the  colonized  will  persist,
unless  ELT  professionals  in  Periphery
countries  try  their  best  to  separate  the
discourses  of  colonialism  from  the  English
language  and  to  introduce  alternative
discourses around the world.  
Having  denied  both  the  total  efficiency  of
the  Western  ELT  and  the  total  inefficiency
of  its  Asian  version,  Pennycook  (1994)
suggested  that  “perhaps  language  –  and
particularly  English  as  an  international
language  –  should  also  be  replaced  by  a
vision  of  powerful  discursive  formations
globally and strategically employed” (p. 64).
That  is  to  say,  English  language  teaching
professionals  around  the  world  should
appropriate  the  language,  along  with  the
materials for teaching the English language,
to  the  local  specificities  and  the  situated
conditions of their own countries.  
This  is  quite  in  line  with  Giroux  and
Aronowitz’s (1991)  statement  which  refers
to teachers as ‘transformative intellectuals’
rather  than  merely  professionals  whose  first
and  foremost  job  is  to  transfer  a  body  of
knowledge to students. Teaching should thus
involve,  among  other  things,  teachers’
political  engagement,  and  curriculum
development  should  be  concerned  with
issues  which  are  socially  relevant  to
particular  groups  of  students  (Pennycook,
1994, 2010).
In  a  similar  manner,  Kumaravadivelu’s
(2006b)  first  pedagogic  parameter,  namely
the parameter of particularity, states that any
postmethod  pedagogy “must be sensitive to
a  particular  group  of  teachers  teaching  a
particular  group  of  learners  pursuing  a
particular  set  of  goals  within  a  particular
institutional  context  embedded  in  a
particular sociocultural mileu” (p. 171). Put
another  way,  advancing  a  location-specific
pedagogy  which  is  based  on  a  clear
understanding  of  linguistic,  sociocultural,
and  political  localities  of  particular  students
is  of  prime  importance  to  any  postmethod
pedagogy.  Such  an  attempt  necessarily
entails  a  critical  understanding,  on  the  part
of  English  language  teachers,  lesson
planners,  materials  developers,  and  policy
makers,  of  the  local  conditions  of  learning
and  teaching.  Teachers’  understanding  of
local  conditions  matures  over  time  as  they
practice, either individually or as team work,
observing  and  assessing  their  teaching  acts,
while  trying  to  figure  out  solutions  to
inherent problems.
As stated above, drawing on Pennycook’s
(1989)  words,  there  is  a  need  in  ESL/EFL
teacher education “to validate other, local
forms  of  knowledge  about  language  and
teaching”  (p.  613).  Most  importantly,
learners’  local  culture  and  the  culture  of
their  learning  style  should  be  respected  in
English  language  classes  (McKay,  2000).
English  teachers  are  also  recommended  to
help  learners  reflect  on  their  own  culture
whilst  learning  the  English  language.  For
instance,  Canagarajah  (1999)  reported  that,
motivated  by  their  own  cultural  and
historical  backgrounds,  English  learners  in
Sri  Lanka  refused  to  accept  the  English
language  and  culture  as  depicted  by  the
West.  Rather,  they  adapted  the  language  to
their  own  aspirations,  needs,  and  values
through  re-writing  and  re-interpreting  the
content  of  their  Western-produced
textbooks.  As  a  case  in  point,  they  included
their  comments  and  graphics  in  the  margins
of  their  ESL  textbooks  which  Canagarajah
regarded as an archetype of “the strategic
ways  by  which  discourses  may  be
negotiated, intimating the resilient ability of
human subjects to creatively fashion a voice
for  themselves  from  amidst  the  deafening
channels of domination” (p. 197).  
Many  scholars  from  different  parts  of  the
world have thus called for the localization of
English  language  teaching;  among  these
scholars  are  Kramsch  and  Sullivan  (1996)
and  Ellis  (1996)  who  have  appreciated  the
works  of  those  language  teachers  from
periphery  regions  who  have  been  teaching
English  effectively  without  blindly
following  Western  teaching  standards.
Similarly,  some  countries  have  made
attempts at influencing the English language
by their local cultures and languages through
acculturation  and  indigenization,  and  in  this
way,  they  have  developed  their  own
varieties  of  English  (Kirkpatrick,  2007).
These new varieties are regarded as forms of
a  nativised  English  which,  in  Pishghadam
and Saboori’s (2011) words, best suits  their
local  context  of  language  use,  represents
their culture and nationality, and helps them
express  their  own  experiences  and  ways  of
The  current  status  of  TEFL  in  Iran:  A
call for localization
Iran  has  been  marginalized  like  any  other
country of the Periphery. Its subjugation has
recently been intensified due to the political
sanctions  imposed  by  the  West.  Not
surprisingly,  the  practice  of  TEFL  in  Iran
has  not  been  able  to  leave  this  predicament

untouched.  Although  a  great  part  of  this
marginalization  may  be  due  to  the  political
issues  between  Iran  and  the  West,  it  may
not,  however,  be  the  best  option  for  us  to
point  a  blaming  finger  solely  on  the  Core
countries  for  the  marginalization  of  the
Iranian  culture  or  the  loss  of  Iranian  EFL
learners’  identities,  because  language
institutes  in  Iran  are  themselves  very  much
responsible  for  such  marginalization  and
identity loss. Regrettably, it seems that these
institutes  are  indirectly  smoothing  the  way
for the maintenance, via  the legitimation, of
the  status  quo,  i.e.  the  dominance  of  the
Western  culture  in  an  Iranian  and  Islamic
context,  under  the  guise  of  competitiveness
and professionalism.  
One  of  the  most  unfortunate  facts  about  the
current status of TEFL in Iran is that Iranian
English language teachers place a very high
premium on acquiring and conforming to the
Standard English which is often regarded as
a key criterion for the recruitment of English
teachers  by  most  language  institutes.
Likewise,  learners  of  English  are  often
obsessed  with  imitating  a  particular  variety
of  English,  either  British  or  American
English,  because  the  more  native-like  they
are,  the  more  proficient  they  are  considered
to  be  (Pishghadam  &  Saboori,  2011).
Javdani,  Mahboudi  and  Ghafoori  (2009)
reported  how  English  language  learners  in
Iran  show  positive  attitudes  towards  the
American  culture,  while  trying  to  act  like
native speakers of English.  In a similar vein
of argument, Pishghadam and Navari (2009)
maintain  that,  contrary  to  the  Bakhtinian
beliefs,  when  two  cultures  come  together,
there is no guarantee that the two cultures be
automatically  enriched.  As  Pishghadam
(2011) points out, English language learning
classes  have  the  potential  to  be  the  sites  for
developing the cultural and national identity
of  language  learners.  Therefore,  English
language  teachers  play  a  pivotal  role  in
shaping  learners’  national  and  cultural
identities.  However,  if  they  are  not  well-trained  enough  to  cope  with  cultural  issues,
cultural  derichment  is  inevitable.  Moreover,
in  their  attempts  to  study  the  relationship
between  mimicry  of  the  native-like  accent
and  Iranian  EFL  learners’  deculturation,
Pishghadam  and  Kamyabi  (2008)  found  out
that  there  was  a  negative  relationship
between accent and culture in the sense that
the  more  the  learners  tried  to  mimic  the
native-like  accent,  the  more  they  were
alienated  from  their  home  culture  (Persian
culture).  This  does  not  at  all  mean  that
aiming  a  high  English  proficiency  (i.e.
Standard  British  or  American  accent)  could
lead  to  marginalization  and  cultural
derichment; for these things, by themselves,
may not necessarily hurt students’ culture
and  identity.  What  the  authors  do  intend  to
convey  is  the  fact  that  this  way  of  learning
English limits people’s creativity in using
the  language  and  does  not  let  them  express
their  way  of  thinking  and  present  their
culture  through  language;  rather  it  makes
them turn into a tool for it, which is similar
to  what  has  been  done  through  linguistic
In  another  vein  of  argument,  from  a  critical
discourse  analytic  perspective  to  analyzing
the  culture  of  Iran  in  English  language
textbooks,  it  can  be  easily  discerned  that
Iran  is  now  experiencing  an  unprecedented
era  of  marginalization  more  than  any  other
country  of  the  Periphery.  For  instance,  in  a
recent  series  of  English  textbooks,  namely
World  English  3/the  Middle  East  edition
(Johannsen  &  Chase,  2011),  designed
specifically  for  the  Middle  East  region  in
which  Iran  is  one  of  the  most  important
countries,  there  is  no  sign  of  Iran  in  texts,
maps  and  pictures  in  terms  of  its  people,
culture, religion, history, etc. as though  Iran
has been an ethnic minority not worthy to be
mentioned  at  all.  This  is  in  line  with
Fairclough’s  (1995)  notions  of
foregrounding  and  backgrounding  in  the
sense  that,  in  this  series  of  English
textbooks, Iran and Iranian people are in the
background  while  other  countries  in  the
Middle  East  are  in  the  foreground.  On  the
other  side  of  the  coin,  no  exaggeration,  it
seems  that  without  Iran,  the  puzzle  of  the
Middle  East  is  incomplete.  As  a  case  in
point,  there  are  different  historical  and
monumental places in Iran such as, to name
just  a  few,  Persepolis/Pasargad  in  Shiraz,
Hegmataneh  in  Hamadan,  Mosques  with
unique  architectures  in  Isfahan,  the  Burnt
city in Sistan o Balouchestan, and the Castle
of Falakol Aflak in  Lorestan, which may be
interesting  and  fascinating  not  only  for  the
Middle  East  residents  but  for  all  people
around the world.  
Hence,  it  may  not  be  unfair  to  suggest  that
what  can  be  seen  from  the  current  practice
of  TEFL  in  Iran  is  reminiscent  of
colonialism  and  the  global  conditioning  of
the  modern  era.  Teaching  the  English
language  to  learners  who  bring  with
themselves  a  confluence  of  political,  social,
historical,  cultural  and  religious
backgrounds to the ELT classrooms may not
be  fully  accomplished  through  mere
exposure  and  blatant  ballyhoos  of  the
Western  culture  which  is  prevalent  in  the
market  of  their  English  teaching  materials.
Hence,  it  is  recommended  that  Iranian
professionals  within  the  field  be  cognizant
of  their  dual  role  in  the  alleviation  or
maintenance  of  the  unfortunate  loss  of
identity among Iranian EFL learners.
It  is  therefore  suggested  that  ELT
professionals  in  Iran  not  lose  sight  of  the
real  localities  of  the  Iranian  culture.  It  may
be  implied  that  a  shift  from  seeing  learners
as  followers  of  Western  norms  and  values,
which  is  seemingly  the  current  practice  of
TEFL  in  Iran,  to  seeing  them  as  socially,
culturally,  religiously  and  historically
located  individuals,  which  is  the  future
direction  that  TEFL  in  Iran  should  take,
needs  to  be  a  mandate  for  Iranian  English
teachers,  materials  developers  and  policy
makers.  As  is  clear  from  recent  research  on
teaching  English  in  Iran,  we  need  to  take  a
look  beyond  the  current  state  of  TEFL  in
Iran and into the future, with an emphasis on
the  importance  of  including  the  local
specificities  of  the  Iranian  culture  and
religion,  coming  up  with  a  new  notion,  i.e.
Iranian  TEFL,  which  reflects  not  only  the
Iranian people’s Islamic thesaurus, as part of
their  religious  identity,  but  also  their
cultural, social, and historical perspectives.  
For this reason, it is suggested that language
teachers  in  Iran  pay  greater  attention  to  the
extent to which Iranian EFL learners, out of
individual  and  social  interest,  reshape  the
resources  which  are  available  to  them,
becoming, in this process, not mere imitators
of  Western  way  of  life  but  constructors  of
their  own  English  varieties  through  which
they  become  capable  of  expressing  their
unique ways of thinking and presenting their
local  cultures.  Similarly,  another  obligation
would  be  to  make  attempts  at  fostering  the
development  of  local  teachers  who  have  a
high degree of knowledge regarding Iran’s
local conditions and Iranian EFL learners’
local needs.  

If  TEFL  in  Iran  thus  wants  to  liberate  itself
from  the  bonds  of  Western  domination,  it
must  first  recognize  its  purpose  within  the
context  of  the  Iranian  culture.  First  and
foremost,  elements  of  the  Iranian  culture,
history,  religion,  values,  customs,  etc.
should  be  outlined  exclusively  by  Iranian,
not  Western,  ELT  professionals.  Next,  it  is
recommended that new English textbooks be
designed  by  teams  of  native  and  non-native
experts within the ELT field. That is to say,
taking  a  Kachruvian  approach,  there  should
be  more  communication  between  the  ELT
professionals in both the Core countries and
Iran  to  better  understand  the  pragmatic
needs  of  the  Iranian  English  learners.  The
design  of  these  textbooks  should  be
informed  by  what  Pishghadam  and  Zabihi
(2012)  refer  to  as  life  syllabus  which
highlights  the  importance  of  enhancing
learners’ life qualities, say cultural identity
(as  it  is  the  primary  concern  of  this  paper),
in  ELT  classes  alongside  their  language
Concluding remarks
In  this  paper  the  authors  have  tried  to  show
how  the  West  has  made  every  effort  to
ensure  that  the  English  language  in  its  pure
British  and  American  forms,  along  with
their  specific  ideological,  cultural,  and
attitudinal  views,  are  kept  as
uncontaminated  as  possible  by  other
localities.  Be  that  as  it  may,  the  continuing
global  tendency  of  TEFL  in  Iran  is  making
matters even worse.
The  authors  have  also  attempted  in  this text
to discuss what it means to teach English as
a foreign language in an Iranian context and
to  remind  the  Iranian  professionals  within
the  field  of  their  national  commitment.
Having  considered  the  colonial  and
postmodern  views  of  English  language
teaching,  it  was  argued  that,  regrettably,
TEFL  in  Iran  still  lives  in  the  modern  era
and  that  the  ELT  professionals  in  Iran  are
themselves  very  much  responsible  for  the
marginalization  of  Iran  by  showing  positive
attitudes  towards  the  American  culture.  It
also  seems  that  most  of  the  Iranian  learners
still  try  to  conform  to  the  Standard  English,
as  the  prestige  language,  and  tend  to
consider  it  superior  to  other  varieties;
accordingly,  they  try  their  best  to  strictly
imitate either of these varieties in every way
The  authors  further  argued  that  there  were
obvious dangers with this for, as they saw in
the  discussion  of  the  current  practice  of
TEFL  in  Iran,  the  more  the  learners  tried  to
achieve a native-like mastery of English, the
more  they  were  alienated  from  their  own
home  culture.  This  deculturation,  in  turn,
was  found  to  lead  to  learners’  loss  of
identity.  This  potential  problem  is
accentuated  by  the  fact  that  the  West  is
working side by side with the Iranians’ self-marginalization,  to  further  subjugate  the
national, religious and historical identities of
Iranian people.   
As it was pointed out, language learning for
Iranians  cannot  be  something  simply  found
in  Western-produced  textbooks  but  should
be  nationally  and  culturally  accomplished
and  struggled  over.  It  was  therefore
suggested  that  we  take  greater  control  of
what  takes  place  in  the  Iranian  context  of
English  language  teaching.  Though  it  is  the
fashion  of  Western  countries  to  denigrate
other,  not  prestigious,  English  varieties,  the
progress  of  the  Iranian  TEFL,  i.e.  the
successful  assertion  of  Iranian  local  culture
against  the  cultural  and  ideological
domination of the Core countries,  can be an
antidote  to  the  harshness  of  all
marginalizations  Iranians  have  suffered  for
centuries.  A  crucial  part  of  our  argument
was  thus  the  attempt  to  show  the
significance  of  going  beyond  the  simple
representation  of  Western  cultural  values  in
an Iranian context.  
Due to the emancipatory potential of Iranian
TEFL  and  its  contribution  to  the  betterment
of  language  teaching  in  Iran,  it  is  thus
recommended  that  further  research  into  the
application  of  Iranian  TEFL  be  carried  out,
and  that,  having  sought  consultations  from
teams  of  native  English  and  native  Iranian
experts in the field, this research should lead
to  the  construction  of  a  national  language
curriculum  which  is  domesticated  to  reflect
the real localities of the Iranian culture. This
curriculum would then be appropriate to the
local  needs  of  Iranian  EFL  learners,  and
would  consider  language-related
components  as  well  as  learners’  specific
sociocultural,  historical,  and  religious


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