Dr. Amoukhteh, Master in teaching and translation
A master who intends to leave a legacy
An interview with Dr. Ramin Amoukhteh, the university professor and researcher who established the relationship between transformational grammar and translation in Iran:
Using transformational grammar, a linguistic theory proposed by Professor Noam Chomsky, Dr. Ramin Amoukhteh has been able to make a dramatic change in teaching foreign languages by doing a contrastive analysis of the grammar of Persian and English languages.
This method has been developed using contrastive analysis through an 11-year continuous effort. In this process, the structures of the two sources and target languages were compared to find an equivalent structure in the target language for each structure of the source language and an algorithm was formulated for the resulting equivalents. The result of this great achievement is a comprehensive formula that meets students’ needs for comprehension of specialized texts in all academic disciplines.
The following is an interview published in a widely circulated newspaper and is being shared on this site for those who are interested.
How old were you when you began to study English?
In the fifth grade of the elementary school, my teacher was an English-speaking woman who had taught English in many countries and had come to Iran that year. Until that age, I had not seen anyone who could not speak Persian, so it was a bit hard for me to believe it. I gradually became accustomed to the situation. Over time, my interest in my teacher made me interested in English as well. I was very interested in music at that age and often listened to English songs. On the spur of my age, I sang with them and I put down the lyrics. I can assure you that the foundation of my English language was formed at that time by listening to English songs and writing the lyrics. Thanks to these songs, my listening skill was improved, and my speech was improved gradually by singing along with them and pronouncing the exact words.
How much did the English language influence other aspects of your life, such as education and employment?
I received my diploma from Hashtrudi high school on Taleghani Street. Since my English was good, I didn’t have to spend my time studying English all four years of high school and I always got the highest grades. I began to translate English texts into Persian from the age of 16. I started my work with Ardalan translation office. I then continued my work in Golha translation office and so many other centers. Of course, I learned translation academically in Ardalan translation office, and it was not too long before I became the notary of the translation office. I continued this process in the same way. I got my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature. Beside it, I did another degree in translation. Then, I got my master’s degree in linguistics from Tehran University. Following it, I studied Ph.D. in “wave physics of speech voices” at Melbourne University in Australia. As there were few specialists in this field, I did a project for the defense industry, which aimed to enable computers to analyze human voice in Persian.
Tell us more about this project and making the computers intelligent.
That application worked in computers like Auto Typer software. The basis of this work was the “Sentence Analyst”. That is, it turns sentences into clauses, groups, words, and voices when someone speaks. In the last step, the voices are conveyed to a spectrophotometer to detect speech. In this project, we aimed to design an intelligent computer in such a way that an equivalent was provided for each word so that the translation software could eventually be developed. This project helped me come up with a bright idea that it would be more effective to educate students and train them to carry out all these steps one by one to be able ultimately to translate.
Where was the start of this spark?
This work, or better to say, this spark, was actually the comparison of English and Persian structures. At that time, transformational grammar was well known in the world and it was used more or less in our universities. This work required a lot of research. To start, I made detailed comparisons of English and Persian structures in my M.A thesis. Since it was a very vast project, I started working on the noun phrase to begin the comparison, that is, I worked on noun modifiers and their equivalents in English and Persian. After a while, I began to think about teaching this method. So, I started to teach the method in 1993 at the Telecommunications Faculty of the University of Judicial Sciences, and I obtained very good results. Then I started teaching it at the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research of the Literature Faculty in 1994. Thenceforth, I developed the method further and taught it at various universities.
Where did the teaching method of specialized language in various disciplines lead to?
It took 11 years to complete the method to become a fully integrated system. After this period, I started to implement it and strengthen its educational aspects. I continued to teach in this way at Al-Zahra University, Allameh Tabatabai University, Tarbiat Modares University, and in the period when I was the head of the English department as well as a faculty member of the University of Judicial Sciences. Along with teaching at universities, I also signed contracts with various centers, including the Statistics Bureau in which the senior staffs were supposed to read documents in English, the Research and Planning Institute of the Ministry of Education, senior directors of the Organization for the Promotion of Islamic Culture and so on.
Could you provide a description of your teaching method in your training courses?
I teach grammar rules in the first semester. The second semester is very specialized and the language of different disciplines, including basic sciences, medicine, humanities, art, etc., is presented in the form of formulas. Graduate and postgraduate students attend these courses with the aim of translating their specialized articles. In such conditions, in addition to being familiar with the structures, the instructor must also know the specialized terminology of various disciplines, because the smallest mistakes will make the students distrustful. Meanwhile, some people have misused my method. For example, one of my students who had completed my training courses and had gained proficiency in his discipline started to teach based on my method. Although he was unaware of other disciplines, he held some courses in which he had divided the first semester of my curriculum into three parts. In other words, to compensate for his lack of information about other disciplines in the second and third semesters, he taught the first semester in the form of three semesters. This is very unethical. There is no intellectual property in Iran and it cannot be practically pursued. Someone may be able to teach grammar rules presented in the first semester only by memorizing them, but he/she cannot continue the first and the second semesters which are specialized and vary in different disciplines.
Have you used mass media to advertise your courses?
I have never had any direct advertisements for my courses. I believe that the language course will attract the students and the interested people and will promote itself if it is suitable in all respects. Any student attending these courses will bring 10 other people with himself at the time of enrollment for the next semesters if he is satisfied and achieves a good result.
Have you ever intended to establish this teaching method in the higher education system?
In every university that I’ve ever taught, I have tried to educate students based on this method. Of course, the problem is that the students of different disciplines pass only a two-credit course of the specialized language, during which I can only teach the first semester of my curriculum. However, I have planned three semesters for my training courses, namely 3 semesters of 10 sessions, which form totally 30 sessions. For example, when I was the head of the English department at the University of the Judicial Sciences, I would have to teach all the courses of the “Principles of Translation”, “Simple Texts Translation”, and “Advanced Texts Translation” if I wanted to implement this method. As a result, I was charged with teaching all courses related to the English language in the university, but I was not going to be there forever. So, this did not work in the university, unless I encouraged the students to enroll in the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research where I taught my method. Of course, I taught desultorily the key topics in the university and the students who learned about this method and supposed it a new and comprehensive technique followed up my classes and participated in the classes held in the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research.
Do you know how many people use this method in Iran?
Unfortunately, this method is implemented only by me in Iran. If anyone wants to do this, they must first implement the method in the English and Persian languages, and then compare them so that they can achieve a presentable formula after finding the differences and similarities.
Are you thinking of teaching your method to another person, or so-called leaving an heir?
It took me 11 years to do this work. If I want to give my notes to somebody as well as to help him and transfer him what I have learned, it will take about 8-9 years. My 20-year experience in the translation of the texts of various disciplines due to working in the translation offices has created this background for me. Therefore, in addition to passing my courses, a person who wants to learn my method should study and translate papers in various disciplines to obtain a background of them. This cannot be done in one or two years. I am fully prepared for training my teaching method, and I have tried to transfer it to many people. However, nobody has been able to spend such a long time on this work. Of course, a young man came and lasted 3 years, but he abandoned the work after this period of time.
Do you have generally any plan to survive this method to be transferred from generation to generation?
If anyone decides to be on this path and continue it, he/she must have at least a master’s degree or be a Ph.D. student in linguistics and work for about 8-7 years to be trained. I’m trying to present a part of my method as an educational software and teach another part of it in the interactive classes. That is, I can virtually answer my students while I’m at home.
Have you informed the authorities of higher education system about the teaching method of English language that belongs only to you?
There is a rule in our country that any new thing is opposed and confronted. My method is not an exception either. When I intended to devise such a method, I shared it with some of my relatives and even with some teachers who were in close relationship with me, and they proposed to me to withdraw from it. However, since I insisted on this work, I continued it and obtained good results. When some people who have higher social position request me to abandon this method, my first reaction is to oppose them because I have worked hard for many years to achieve it. I have struggled for a lifetime to learn and teach it.
So, how did you succeed in teaching and educating students in the English language in spite of these disagreements?
When I encountered different objections, I actually resumed my work. I trained about 2,000 graduate and Ph.D. students every semester when I was working in the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research. I had a student who could not pass the postgraduate examination due to the weakness in the English language. I taught him so that he mowed the English language down and he could read and understand all the English papers related to his field of study. He introduced my training courses to other students when he entered the university and this trend continued in the same way. I had a student whose knowledge of the English language was at the diploma level. I taught him so that he could read and translate extemporaneously after 9 months. Even some professors refer to me. A professor came to me and asked, “What did you do with my student?” He initially could not read any English sentence and now translates so fluently”. Now, the professor introduces his students to pass my language courses. Interestingly, when I broke off my cooperation with the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research and I established my own institution called “Amokhteh” in Tehran’s Tohid Square about five years ago, all the students of the Academic Center referred to my institute. There are about 180 to 200 students in each of my classes. I’ve broken almost all Guinness Records. I have held the courses in which I have taught seven days of the week, 17 hours in each day. I have taught by this method not for 1 or 2 years, but for 15 years. You can ask the Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research and receive the program of my classes from there. I had classes from 8 am to 10 pm and even had one class from 6 am to 8 pm outside the Center. I have tried totally to help Ph.D. students to read the English papers in their fields of study. Anyway, these people need to know the English language.
In this way, is the process of learning English in your courses faster and better than universities?
I never say this myself. Two years ago, one of the students of the Allameh Tabataba’i University, born in Los Angeles, compared, in his master’s thesis, my training courses with the English Language and Literature BA program presented in Allameh Tabataba’i University. In this thesis, a student studying in the first semester of my training courses and a sophomore of the university were selected as the samples to be compared, while a student studying in the third semester of my training courses was also compared with a senior student of the university. This comparison was done scientifically under the supervision of a professor of the university, Dr. Akef. They concluded that the student who studies English for four years at the university and receives a bachelor’s degree is significantly different from a student who has trained for 90 hours by my method in terms of the performance and the level of literacy and the student trained by my method acts much better. It is worth noting that 10 to 15 percent of my students are graduates of the English language discipline, who have not gotten any results from the universities. Just look at the translation offices across the Enqelab Street in Tehran and get statistics to find out how many of my students are working in these translation offices! Then, you can judge yourself whether the level of students graduated from my courses is higher or the students graduated from the universities.
As a professor who has been researching and teaching in this field for many years, what do you want from the higher education system to help this method survive?
I want two things from the higher education system. Firstly, I request them to look realistically at my teaching method. Even if it seems necessary, they can appoint a research team to do a comprehensive research on my teaching method and the teaching method represented at the universities to teach English literature. They can compare my method and the method used in the universities in terms of the improvement of students’ proficiency in the English language. If they conclude that my work is better than the universities work by not only 20-30%, but 500%, then they should plan to enter this method into the educational system. Secondly, all professors know well that teaching is not a money-making job and I’m not a businessman. I am not the owner of the property where my training courses are held. It is an old building as well as a rental property. I could not afford to spend here more than this. I do not want them to give me a property, but it request them to sell me a property in such a way that I can pay its cost by installments or give me a loan so that I can provide a decent space for this work, a place to befit the students who come here to study the language. I always have anxiety that the owner of the property will expel me from here. In general, I beg them to provide the facilities to extend this work.
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