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'English, Baby' Seeing Interesting Conversations From Members In Iran

Iran’s clamp-down on independent reporters has pushed a lot of news onto social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook.

But it’s not just name-brand sites that are providing inside information. As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, an Oregon website says it’s also hosting a vibrant discussion on the disputed election.

English, Baby!, is a site where anybody who wants to learn English can go to chat. Members talk about different issues — depending on which country they’re from — and they correct each other’s grammar and syntax.

Anyone can join, but if you pay  the Portland-based company a monthly fee, you can also get lessons.

SOUND EFFECT: English, Baby!

Here’s a video lesson that explains slang:

VIDEO SOUND: “Maybe you’ve heard the expression, someone got clocked and wondered what that means. Well getting clocked is like getting hit, maybe with a fist….People use it lots of different ways, like someone got cold clocked or people on the street get clocked a lot. Boxers get clocked. It’s a versatile sort of phrase…."

The video goes on to show the narrator hitting his friend over the head.

SOUND: ‘You just got clocked with a clock! That was extreme. But I’m so much more extreme that Mason that he is going to get it in the next edition of Extreme English, Baby!”

It’s different from the English lessons you might remember at school. But that’s the point. It’s meant to be fun and perhaps a little more engaging than Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Jane Eyre.’

To make it even more compelling, English, Baby!, is set up like a social media site. So students post their favorite music picks and  make friends with each other online.

Lesson developer, Alexis Nelson, says the site has about 10,000 members in Iran and it’s easy to find discussions about the election.

With a mouse, she highlights one thread started by a 16-year-old boy titled, quote: “Why Mr. Ahmadinejad the president of Iran, reelected, and what [sic] you think of Iran.”

Alexis Nelson: “And so he talks a little bit about the election. Gives his opinion about what happened. He’s for the opposition. And then he says that: This is no the Iran of the past and that nowadays he says Iran have a bad face to all the countries of the world. And so he’s really concerned about that and so he goes through and says a number of things about what makes Iran a great country.”

Kristian: “Now does he identify himself? It just says Payam, is that his name and could he get in trouble for this for posting this in Iran?”

Alexis Nelson: “You know I don’t know what the rules are I mean. So I’m not sure.”

The founder of English,Baby!, John Hayden, says he’s been surprised by the wealth of opinions expressed. 

John Hayden: “We see a lot in the Western media a lot of the protests and a lot of the bloodshed. And we’re seeing conversations talking about that as well on English, Baby! But there’s definitely another side to that, that we’re seeing. Support for the election and wanting to abide by the results of that.”

Kristian: “The Iranian government has been making sounds about shutting places down. Is that a concern for you and would it be possible for them to do that?”

John Hayden: “You know, it’s tough. I think the major sites, the Facebooks, the Youtubes and the Twitters, it’s really easy to target those URL’s but the internet is so broad now. There are so many niche sites, where people can communicate and have conversations, like English,Baby!, where we feel like we’re pretty safe, underneath the radar and people are freely discussing their views on there. So we’re not concerned about being shut down and if that does happened, we’ll deal with it then.”

Right now, the discussion on English,Baby!, is all written.The company doesn't offer a way for participants to communicate using an internet phone system. But Hayden says, that’ll be coming soon.

Meanwhile, it provides  another window into Iranian life.

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