There are a few reasons I’ve chosen Persian (also known as Farsi / فارسی) as my focus for 2013, and as the first foreign language that I have ever committed to learning ‘properly’.
The main reason is that it will be immediately useful to me. Half my extended family speak it natively. My parents-in-law live in central Tehran and do not speak English. By learning Persian I will be able to have my first fluent conversation with my wife’s Mum & Dad without her acting as my interpreter. That’s a big motivator!
Those who frequent this blog will know that my wife’s family are Armenian-Iranian, which actually means that they are bilingual in both Armenian and Persian. So why not Armenian? Well, for one thing, I can already speak it to a certain extent, having spent more than a year in Armenia itself.
But Persian will be far more useful from an (admittedly selfish) adventurous perspective. It is one of the core languages of the Middle East, my favourite region of the world. It is spoken throughout modern-day Iran, of course, and is also widely understood in parts of Kurdish Iraq, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Dialects of Persian are national languages of Afghanistan (where it’s known as Dari) and Tajikistan (Tajik).
That’s a huge area of the world to which fluent Persian (and my brand new Armenian passport!) will allow a new depth of access, which as I wrote yesterday is sorely needed now as my travelling motives evolve.
I also simply love the way it sounds. Spoken Persian is like singing. It’s like that moment in [insert well-known musical film here] where Character X is happily talking away and suddenly, spontaneously, breaks into song, lunging forward, arms spread, gazing wistfully into the distance. That kind of feeling. But without the lunges and open arms.
This mission will not exactly begin from square one. I already had a good grasp of the Perso-Arabic alphabet from my time on the road in Arabia in 2009. During the winter of 2011–2012 I went to a weekly Persian class at SOAS in London, where I learned basic grammar and social niceties.
At the end of Week 2 I’ll report on how the learning system I’ll need to design is coming together, write a little more about the journey I’m planning in Iran, and attempt to write a full paragraph in Persian (which you can then plug into Google Translate and laugh at).
This mission will involve working out how to learn rather than study a language as I did at school. If you’ve learnt a foreign language or are working on it this year, I’d be interested to know what resources and techniques you find useful.