In January of this year, Iran moved to cancel the teaching of English in primary schools in order to protect Iranian children from exposure to western originated English language propaganda designed to undermine the security, dignity and unity of the Islamic Republic. The move came after local protests in late 2017 were infiltrated by sleeper agents taking orders from the intelligence agencies of the US, UK and “Israel”, thus briefly causing the protests to spiral into obscene, violent riots.
The Iranian decision was taken with all the best of intentions and may prove to be a correct decision as English language classes will still be available for older students who have reached an age where they will be capable of critical thinking.
However, from a pedagogical standpoint, it has been shown that individuals master a foreign language most completely when they begin studying at a young age. As a language which remains international, English has become compulsory in many non-English speaking countries, even at a very young age. This has the advantage of preparing young people for potential internationally minded careers or hobbies, where speaking a widely used international language can be a personal and professional asset. Inversely, as the Iranian government determined, it can also expose children to dangerous material from countries like the US designed to undermine one’s culture and social values.
They key in such matters is to strike a proper balance which protects the very young from propaganda being delivered in a language their parents might not be able to understand, against giving young people multi-lingual tools which can help them to fight disinformation before an international audience.
Recently, Anton Gorelkin a Russian State Duma Deputy who sits on the Committee for Information Policy said that Russians should maintain social media profiles in English in order to counter disinformation coming from countries like the US.
“Russia has quite a few politicians and state officials who are registered on social networks, but they only write in Russian and only target a Russian-speaking audience. We need them to reach out to the world. This will not be difficult; they only have to register on social networks that are popular in certain countries and write there about what is going on in Russia”.
Praising the direct communication that is implicit in modern social media networks, the Duma Deputy for the ruling United Russia party continued,
“I am confident that public activity of our politicians on foreign social networks and in foreign languages would allow us to overcome all the distorted and deliberately scary stories about Russia that are now being imposed on Americans and Europeans by the biased local mass media. This would be a decent patriotic reaction to attempts to smear dirt on our great nation”.
When weighing the pros and cons of encouraging the teaching and use of English, Gorelkin makes a strong argument. One cannot underestimate the importance of English language social media that has allowed and continues to allow multilingual Syrians to tell the truth about the foreign war upon their country to audiences abroad who may not have access to media sources that explain the full story of the Syrian conflict. Likewise, Russia’s international multilingual news channel and online platform RT has been able to convey Russian perspectives on major national and international events in English, Arabic, Turkish, German, French and Spanish.
What is crucial when teaching the young a foreign language like English, is to teach them the nuances of what comes out of native language English speaking media in countries like the US, UK, Australia etc., at the same time as teaching the fundamentals of the language. For example, children should be gradually taught about the deceptive propaganda techniques of English language news media such as CNN and the BBC while also being taught lessons in how to ‘decode’ the subtext of ethno-centric media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian, to name but a few.
Such exercises are important skills for any critical reader and in providing such an education when combined with tips on how to decode the hidden propagandistic nuances in a foreign language, young people throughout the world will have the proper tools at their disposal to be able to state their case to an international audience, without being manipulated by English language propaganda outlets designed to acculturate, confuse and reduce the morale of geopolitical rivals. This win-win solution will allow education to continue without having to sacrifice national security, dignity or pride.