Culture Iran, the most difficult country in the world to study Spanish

In recent years, Spaniards have discovered that their language is finding thousands of new students in regions of the world that until recently seemed like very distant cultures: India, Ivory Coast, China

Culture Iran, the most difficult country in the world to study Spanish

In recent years, Spaniards have discovered that their language is finding thousands of new students in regions of the world that until recently seemed like very distant cultures: India, Ivory Coast, China... All of these stories are similar and have a comforting sound: Interest in Hispanic culture and the professional value of Spanish now reaches all parts of the world.

There is an exception portrayed in an article in the latest Cervantes Institute Yearbook; Spanish in the world 2023: Iran. The Islamic Republic, a society with exceptional political conditions but with a huge middle class, of approximately 35 million people according to various calculations, is one of the few countries in which Spanish has an anecdotal demand. The study published by Cervantes explains that Spanish does not exist in early childhood or secondary education, it is only taught in six private academies in Tehran and it is only studied in three university departments in Tehran, three drops of water among the 2,300 active universities. in all the country. Learning Spanish in Iran is an extravagance that only attracts a few hundred students.

Does this lack of interest respond to the "exceptional political conditions" that were mentioned in the previous paragraph? The answer is complex. The Iranian Government's policy is well known around the world with regard to foreign relations, sexual conduct, women's rights and religious freedom. Educational and linguistic policies are less known and have an appearance of relative normality: "Foreign languages ​​continue to be taught in schools from secondary school onwards and in universities. English is a compulsory subject in high school; French and German are available electives," explains Maryam Haghroosta, professor at the University of Tehran, and author of the article on Iran in Spanish in the World 2023. "The Arabic language is also compulsory teaching because it is used to pray and read the Koran. In the private schools, there are English classes also in primary schools. The languages ​​spoken in Iran other than Persian, for example Turkish, Lurdish, Kurdish and others, are not taught either in primary schools or in secondary schools or in the universities".

French, German and even Korean and Chinese are languages ​​more studied than Spanish. There is a logical explanation: French was the preferred language of the old regime and retains its traditional prestige. German is the language of the European country with the largest Iranian community (317,000 people), more than those living in the United Kingdom, France, Sweden and the Netherlands combined. In Spain, on the other hand, 12,000 Iranians reside and in all of Latin America there are another 4,000 emigrants. Instead, Chinese is the language of the main foreign investors in the country and Korean represents the country with the best model of liberal democracy and economic growth in Asia.

"Before the [Islamic] Revolution, the situation was much better," Haghroosta continues. "Interest in Spanish was alive among Iranians and there was a lot of enthusiasm for learning foreign languages. Later, I don't know for what reason, that interest decreased."

The total blackout of Spanish lasted almost a decade, from the fall of the king of Persia to the reopening of the Spanish department at the private Azad university. In between, all Iranian universities suspended their work with the birth of the new republic and lost the 1979-1980 and 1980-1981 academic years. In 1998 and 1999, two public universities, Alameh Tabatabaie and Tehran, once again offered Hispanic studies. In 2017, the University of Tehran opened its Hispanic Studies Research Center, which organizes cultural and academic events, publishes a magazine, and advises companies with interests in Latin America. Among the three universities, Haghroosta has 12 Iranian academics. His must be the strangest job in the country.

What moves students who are interested in Spanish in Tehran? Cultural friendliness or the promise of professional use? "At first, students approach the Spanish language through music, literature, culture, soccer, Spanish cinema... And through tourism. But then they learn more about the Hispanic language and culture and broaden their interest to Latin American countries and learn that there is a lot of work that can be accessed with Spanish.

In practice, Iranian Spanish students are dedicated to "simultaneous translation for political and commercial delegations, they work in Spanish-speaking embassies, they translate commercial texts and literary works, they teach Spanish in private academies, they are tourist guides... .". And is it easy for you to access Hispanic culture in Iran? "Yes. It's very easy. Football is watched on Iranian television just like music and some movies, censored of course. Through the Internet, people have access to everything that happens in Spanish-speaking countries. They can "watch recent movies online, read novels. The translation of Spanish literary works has also increased."

Reports have often appeared in the Spanish press about small marginal communities of Colombian women in Iran and information about the friendship of the governments of Venezuela and Iran. Haghroosta says she doesn't know much about her early work but she quotes in her report for Cervantes naming the cooperation between Tehran and Caracas as an incentive for the study of Spanish in Iran. Of all the attractions that the Spanish language can have, the Bolivarian dream is the most unexpected.