Persian school in London embraces HLE Network's "9 Myths" outreach tool
April 29, 2023
When HLE Network recently made public its infographic debunking several common misconceptions about heritage language education, we hoped it would be a useful tool for any language community worldwide confronted with negative views about multilingualism. The infographic has only been available for a few months and we are already able to share with you an example of one such language community in London, which has unfortunately been faced with outdated views from parents and mainstream teachers. They were eager to translate the infographic and put it into action!*
*Much of the content and all of the quotes in this news post come from this publication on the Iranian news site Kayhan London and from the Rustam Persian School's website.
The "9 Myths" infographic
In December 2022, HLE Network published an infographic on this website that debunked "9 Myths about Heritage Language Education." We created the outreach tool by asking our partners in North America, Europe, and Australia "What are the most common misconceptions about HL education that you encounter?" We boiled them down to the nine most common myths -- all of which can be refuted by current research.
Our hope was that this infographic would be a useful tool in helping people better understand heritage language education. We were pleased to hear that it made an immediate positive impression on a Persian school in London.
Rustam Persian School in London
The Rustam Persian School in London is a Persian heritage language program that was established in 1981 and has grown to have about 50 staff members. Their website states that they believe that "every Anglo-Persian child should grow up proud of their heritage and articulate in their language and culture, feeling part of a community they are able to positively contribute to . . . we endeavour to teach the whole child [which] means we teach them about Persian language and culture . . . whilst at the same time nurturing their Anglo-Persian identity, celebrating diversity and actively promoting and respecting bilingualism." The school has the NRCSE Quality Mark and offers preparation for the British secondary school GCSE and A-level exams for the Persian language.
A decreasing interest in mastering Persian
The head of the Rustam Persian School in London is Mrs. Shahla Taheri White, who has seen the number of applicants for official Persian exams in the U.K. at the GCSE and A Level decreasing over the years. Mrs. White believes that an important reason for this is the misconception that it is not useful to study and pursue official exams in the mother tongue -- an idea held by both the mainstream schools and many Iranian parents.
"These obstacles should be removed from heritage language schools and mainstream teachers should encourage children who speak a minority language to learn that language."
Mrs. White has identified the need to take serious collective action to encourage children to learn the Persian language. She has started to campaign together with a Persian school association in London (with seven member schools) together with an Iranian special interest group to battle the myths that have unfortunately lead to new Iranian generations being discouraged from mastering the Persian language. She states, "These obstacles should be removed from heritage language schools and mainstream teachers should encourage children who speak a minority language to learn that language."
When approaching mainstream teachers for support with promoting heritage language education, Mrs. White discovered that a number of teachers doubted the benefits and said things like, "These children do not know English yet, so Persian is a hindrance to their English learning," or "If a child learns Persian, he does not pay enough attention to English." Mrs. White sees that although these myths have been seriously questioned by language experts for years, they continue to survive.
The convenience of a snazzy infographic
Mrs. White learned about the "9 Myths" infographic from one of HLE Network's international contacts at the Home, Heritage, Community Languages Advisory Group (HHCL) in England. Mrs. White saw value and potential in the infographic created by HLE Network, which she said "has done an interesting job of displaying the results of its research in the form of short sentences on a single sheet of paper."
"It is necessary to extract the content of research to make it available in language that is accessible and attractive to the general public."
Mrs. White -- who has travelled to Germany and Austria in the past to learn about research into heritage language education and who has contributed to books concerning mother tongue teaching -- said, "research has been conducted in countries such as Sweden, Norway, Great Britain, and Germany. But naturally, one cannot share long and dense research full of scientific language with ordinary people and non-experts in this field, but rather it is necessary to extract the content of these studies to make them available to broad classes of people, in language that is accessible and attractive to the general public."
In February 2023, Mrs. White and her team sought and received approval from HLE Network to translate the infographic into Persian. You can view the "9 Myths" infographic translated into Persian here below.
Mrs. White plans to use the Persian translation of the infographic as a tool in her school's ongoing public awareness campaign. "We need to face the issue from several angles because one direction is not enough."
They will target mainstream teachers in Britain so they will take more seriously the teaching and learning of heritage languages. They aim to convince mainstream school teachers that heritage language education is beneficial for students, not harmful; that learning the mother tongue does not hold children back nor is it a heavy burden on them.
They will target the entire British Iranian community so parents will encourage their children to learn the heritage language.
They will target parents who have children enrolled in Persian lessons to explain that it is worthwhile to continue beyond the first few years of Persian school to complete exams. This way they can grasp some Persian poetry and literature and enjoy the beauty of the Persian language.
Reaching Iranians worldwide
The translated infographic caught the attention of an online news organization Kayhan London who interviewed Mrs. White in an article (in Persian) published on April 29, 2023, entitled "Common misconceptions about teaching immigrants' mother tongue in the host country." Kayhan London is a Persian-language news site that is part of the Kayhan media group, which also includes the English-language site Kayhan Life, an independent media outlet that offers news coverage of Iran’s politics, society, and culture, and spotlights prominent Iranians around the world. The expectation is that the online coverage of this translated outreach tool will reach Iranians globally.
HLE Network will also share the translated infographic with the Persian language groups in our region Eindhoven, which are the Eindhoven Persian School and PARVAZ. These groups have worked successfully to prepare the Persian book section of Eindhoven's International Children's Book Collection and to participate in the multilingual storytelling series during this year's National Read Aloud Days in the Netherlands -- but they too face challenges that follow from misconceptions held by the Persian-speaking community and Dutch mainstream educators. (A Dutch version of the infographic is already available.)
We will also share the translated infographic with the Persian-language representatives of the U.S. Coalition of Community-Based Heritage Language Schools, who are located across the U.S. Thank you to these representatives for passing the information along to the vast Persian-speaking community in North America.
We are thrilled to see that the work carried out by HLE Network and adapted by the Rustam Persian School has the potential to promote Persian-language education across the globe!
Many thanks to Jim Anderson from the HHCL, to Mrs. Shahla White from the Rustam Persian School, to Joy Kreeft Peyton from the U.S. Coalition for their help in making these connections.