Farsi Friday Week 1: Why Persian? And Where To Begin?

Learning Persian Books

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.

Comments (skip to respond)

7 responses to “Farsi Friday Week 1: Why Persian? And Where To Begin?”

  1. Hi Tom, as a fellow cyclist and Iranophile I hope you don’t mind me using your page to tell the world that there is now a Facebook group for learners of Persian in London https://www.facebook.com/groups/837656206572831/

    1. Absolutely not! If only I lived in London!

  2. Persian is a beautiful language and when I get closer to starting my Bachelor’s degree I’ve considered majoring in it. Besides, I’ve never met an Iranian I didn’t like.

    I find it strange that we have to justify why we study what we want to study. I’m studying Turkish in my spare time and every time I’m asked something like, “Why are you studying Turkish? You should study Arabic or Mandarin, you can make a lot of money with those languages” as if they know what they are talking about. 

    Tom, best of luck to you. I look forward to following your progress.

    1. Although my Farsi is very basic and this website is intended for more B2-C1 levels, this is a good resource to get a hang of the Persian language: http://persian-language.com/learning-list.html

    2. It seems to be the status quo to consider a language a ‘skill’, and for skills to be judged by their economic value alone. But if you’re outside that mode of thinking, no justification should be needed! And thank you for the link to the resources — I like the fact that they’re 100% Persian.

  3. I taught Japanese myself a few years ago and I think the worst enemy is boredom.
    The good news is that probable thanks to internet you will have tons of things to watch and listen in the language you plan to learn and will help you to keep in touch with the language.
    My advise is to identify the most used words (around 1000) note that I said identify this means that since they are words commonly used you really don’t need to memorize them you will end up learning them. On the other hand make an approach to grammar the simple way as possible. Present, past, future, desire… try not to study them and remember by hart everything but to learn how to identify in others speech.
    Like I said try to avoid study by hart as much as possible because this will lead most likely to boredom and it will take to much willpower and you will need that energy to keep on studying on the first months when you will that you make almost no progress at all.
    Hope it helps.

    1. Thank you for this, it sounds like you’ve had plenty of experience with the pitfalls of language learning. I’ve made a careful note of your advice.

Something to add?