In 1977:

  • Pele played the last game of his profession soccer career.
  • The world’s last case of smallpox was diagnosed.
  • The Bee Gees’ soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever became the best-selling record ever.
  • The Concorde supersonic jet began service between London and NYC.
  • Shakira, Kanye West, and Psy were born.

And perhaps most importantly,

  • IEI began teaching English to international students.

When IEI was founded in 1977, Nashville did not have an intensive English language program. Meharry Medical College had briefly operated a program for its own students but had stopped funding it after only a year.

One of the teachers in Meharry’s short-lived program was Frances Clark. She strongly believed that Nashville needed an intensive English program to serve all internationals in the city. Her husband, Ande Clark, was head of the English department at Belmont College (now Belmont University). He convinced the administration at Belmont to allow him to start an intensive English program there. Belmont did not want to fund this new program but agreed to provide space in an unused house on campus and to grant I-20’s for students who wanted to come to the United States to study there. The Clarks owned and funded the program themselves.

Originally called BELI (Belmont English Language Institute), the school began classes in September 1977 with three students. One was the sister of a Meharry student from Iran. The others were the wife and a friends of the owner of the newly-opened Kobe Steak House. Frances taught beginning-level classes to the three students.

“Our language lab in the fall of 1977 was portable cassette players,” recalls Frances. “However, there were very few listening materials. We used paper and pencils and face-to-face interaction. We could take a lot of field trips into the ‘real’ world to learn how to speak, listen, and read”

We used paper and pencils...

The school more than doubled in enrollment its second term with seven students total, including a 70-year-old Iranian former Supreme Court Judge and an English teacher from Hiroshima. BELI hired another teacher and added another level of classes.

Over the years, many students learned about our school from friends and relatives who had previously studied here. As word spread of the excellent English instruction and family-like atmosphere at BELI, enrollment increased rapidly. Needing a larger space to accommodate many classrooms and offices, the school left Belmont’s campus in 1981 and moved into a building on 16th Avenue, right in the heart of Nashville’s famous Music Row. The now-independent school was renamed International English Institute.

A lot has changed since the early days of IEI. We moved to a larger and more modern space in 2007. The Clarks retired ten years ago, leaving the school in the hands of its second owner, Allison Cavopol. Our teachers have a wide range of materials to choose from, and students use a Mac computer lab in addition to pencils and paper.

home away from home

However, many of the qualities that make IEI special have changed very little over the years. We still expand classroom skills with lots of field trips and cultural activities. Our teachers are still among the best-qualified, all having or working toward master’s degrees in English instruction. And just like those first few students, our students in 2016 still experience a “home away from home” as part of the IEI family. Therefore, it’s not surprising that IEI is Nashville’s oldest and most respected intensive English program.