In Iran, as in many other countries around the globe, the craze for learning English has been on the rise. This tendency is attributed to, inter alia, the country’s rather young population who need the language for various purposes such as furthering education abroad, immigration or trade. As a consequence, all kinds of English teaching have become big business. While the majority of learners of English attend private English language institutes, private tutoring, too, has mushroomed in the past few years.
In the past few months, I have been collecting marketing materials for private English language tuition in Isfahan. While well-established language institutes usually rely on local newspapers, magazines or TV channels to promote their English classes, individual language tutors choose less expensive methods of advertising. The main promotional method is the distribution of brochures, fliers and business cards.
Despite the low costs associated with their production, these advertising materials can easily be distributed among target audiences which often include those who need a certain score on standardized tests such as TOEFL or IELTS in a rather short period of time. Business cards are usually personally distributed among tutors’ networks. Additionally, they are also found in the city’s language bookshops. Brochures and fliers are found in all kinds of public spaces frequented by young people.
A close look at such marketing materials enables us to explore social issues embedded in the discourse of the private TESOL industry in Iran today. In my corpus of more than 100 marketing materials for private tutoring, the following ideologies of English language learning can be found:
- Learning English is associated with personal success. One business card, for instance, has the Persian mottoدانش زبان انگلیسی قدرت دنیای امروز است on the front and the English translation “English knowledge is power” on the back.
- The ideal tutor is a person who has the experience of living in an English-speaking country, usually in Australia, Canada and the UK. Another business card, for example, describes the tutor as a person who has lived in Australia for five years (٥ سال زندگی در استرالیا) and uses the slogan Learn English from one who has lived in an English-speaking country.
- The ideal tutor is linked to an international organisation. Examples of such organizations, which are typically included in brackets after the tutor’s name, include “TEFL Canada”, “British Council” and “ETS”.
- English learners come in distinct groups based on age, gender or occupation. One example promotes semi-private English classes for housewives (انگلیسی برای خانمهای خانه دار), who, as the description on the flier reveals, “are usually free in the morning and are able to attend English classes.” In this context the English language is dividable into different packages which are separately accessible. Other examples includeانگلیسی برای کودکان (English for children), انگلیسی برای نوجوانان (English for teenagers), انگلیسی برای توریست ها (English for tourists) andانگلیسی برای تجار (English for businessmen), to name a few. No information is provided about the course content and the name of the course corresponds to the social role of the target group (e.g., ‘housewives’).
Overall, the unprecedented demand for English has caused English tutors in Iran, as in many other countries in the world, to compete for students. In this respect, English language tutors are driven by the competition for profit and English language learning is thus marketed in specific ways. As my corpus shows, private tutors typically use a variety of strategies in order to be deemed legitimate and meritorious. It appears that in this context the quest for a better tutor (as a form of identity) has long replaced the identification of practices designed to address the complexity of language learning.