After a lot of thinking, postponing and excuse finding I finally realized that it’s time to give Farsi my best shot. The sound of this language, the whole region and music has intrigued me for a long time and I was willing to learn Farsi for a long time as well, even dabbed with it once or twice before, but never actually persisted. Now finally I have time and most of all the will and interest to do so, so I will try to do what I can.
A very important reason for me to do so is, that I have only very scarce knowledge of the Muslim world, which is a shame and I feel that I have this huge cultural gap in my mind ranging from Morocco to Xinjiang and Kazakhstan to Sudan which is embarrassing to say the least and now that I look at the map, Iran is almost in the middle of that region. Another reason why I want to learn Farsi is that should I ever want to learn Arabic, knowledge of Farsi will provide sort of a vocabulary bridge between the two.
I don’t know why, but for the past 3-4 years, I kept experiencing this terrible lack of interest to learn anything, especially languages. I realized that I was spending much more time reading/writing about learning languages, than actually learning languages themselves.
When it comes to my studies, I don’t have any method. I will just try to solve problems as I’m on my way, based on my experience that I have from learning relatively easy (Russian), moderately difficult (Italian) and difficult (Mandarin) languages as an adult from scratch. I also want to write this log, because I know that time will come when I will not study for 2-3 days which will easily extend into weeks and eventually fade again and this log might keep my study morals up a bit.
My only resource right now is Assimil Persan sans peine with audio. I was never a fan of using textbooks to learn any language but here’s the deal: Assimil audio is fun, systematically chosen and well balanced. The accompanying explanations are very nice too, but it is the development of the audio content from lesson 1 to 86 that make it good basis for progression onto real life material. The best thing of course would be to go to
Iran for some time, but since I don't have this possibility right now, I will have to hope that Assimil will give me a good basis.
While learning Chinese, I eventually realized that it was a bad idea to write things down to memorize them in the beginning, because pinyin negatively influenced my pronunciation and characters gave me additional unnecessary burden in the beginning phases. Apart from that, it also made me waste too much time and energy, because whenever I thought of a word I had first seen the character in my mind, then the pinyin and eventually I came up with the sound. So for the first 30-40 lessons (roughly) I don’t want to write down anything, work with audio and concentrate on understanding the sentences that I hear. I will use the Assimil book to read the nice explanations and read the translations and transliterations. The transliterations I will read as little as I can in order to make as little association between the sound and the letters as possible. I will also try to spend the bulk of my time listening to the lessons, getting used to the vocabulary and sentence structure without forcing myself to reproduce the sounds too much.
I will also try to pre-listen to each lesson a couple of times before looking at the transliterations and translations. This way, some sounds that stand out should be much easier to remember. For instance I kept hearing this “Manzel” which is almost the same as the Slovak “Manžel“, which means „husband“ and kept wondering what the heck it was. Turns out it means „House“ and it is this kind of associations I am looking for, since I remembered the word without seeing it in writing at all.
My plan is to go through the entire Assimil book, and then start listening to real-life radio broadcasts/podcasts in Farsi with a good dictionary. I will then try to work my way through the audio, pause the podcast after every word that I just can’t move on without, look it up and write it down. I hope that by the time I get there (if I ever get there) I will not have to worry about the transliteration of Farsi negatively influencing my pronunciation, so writing down things for bulk-learning will be ok.
While studying Russian, It was a great thing having listened to Russian news all day (provided I had the time) and writing out unknown words, because when I finally came to
Russia, I didn’t have to worry about not understanding people. Even if there were words here and there that I didn’t know, I could still understand them from context and this is my goal in Farsi too. My mid term goal is to be able to understand real-life radio dialogues well enough, so that I can learn from context and not the dictionary.
I heard some call this the “passive phase”. As there is no Farsi speaker around, I will remain in this “passive phase” until I am confident enough to talk to myself and eventually talk to someone. Luca for instance says that for him it is important to start speaking as early as you can. I don’t know. You might end up learning a great deal of things wrong and I’m not in a hurry anyway. I will just talk to myself or some friends that speak Farsi here and there and will not push myself to do anything. I really think that it was listening to those Russian news what taught me to “speak” Russian. If I improvise as early as I can, learn some things wrong, later I will sound like a foreigner even if I have a very good accent and grammar, because the constructions will just seem unnatural. Since Farsi is fairly different from the languages I am familiar with and my goal is to eventually sound as native and natural as I can, I prefer this – listen and learn first, wisely improvise later - approach. Of course one develops and adjusts his skills as time passes by, so I understand what Luca is trying to do, but I don’t know. A lot of listening is much more relaxing in the beginning than seemingly endless demotivating struggles with the simplest of sentences. My experience was that after I’ve heard the constructions, words or grammar patterns many many times, later when the need to use them occurred, they just popped up naturally.
So to sum up my method (if there is a method), is to build up a basis through Assimil in order to move on and start bulk learning vocabulary with real life material and eventually go to
Iran. During the listening period I will experiment with what I’ve learned talking to myself, until I am confident enough to talk to someone else.
For bulk-learning of vocabulary, I use mnemonics. I read somewhere that they should not be used for many reasons one of them being that you end up remembering the memory hook instead of the sound and in order to get the word into the long-term memory you need to practice and not create artificial memory hooks, but I disagree. In my experience, I’ve always eventually forgot the memory hook and remembered the sound.
I was also big fan of Anki before, but while learning Chinese it proved to be very inefficient when it came to sound reproduction and recognition, so I will not use it now either and just write down new words in a word file the old fashioned way and review them every evening (hopefully) without having the stress of forgetting a couple. Right now I got up to Assimil lesson 20 and think that I have a decent vocabulary basis for a total beginner. I will make a short brake now and will just listen to the dialogues over and over which is basically spaced repetition but much more fun than Anki.
While learning Chinese I also realized that knowing how to handwrite a foreign script is not necessary in the beginning and only takes up a lot of time and effort. It also speeds down the learning process immensely and I don’t want to make something even harder than it already is. I do want to learn how to read and write of course, but I don’t want to push it. If I ever get to that point, where I will speak and understand people decently I should be able to learn the alphabet and orthography much easier, just as while studying Russian. The transliterations will serve just fine for the meantime.
With all these nice words said and plans set out, after my experience with Chinese, where I was also very confident about my plans and skills in the beginning and my plans turned out to be a complete disaster in the end and the only real way to learn Chinese was full immersion and no strategy, my humble goal now is to approach problems one by one with no plan, keep up consistently studying Farsi and in 6 months time hopefully be able to understand Farsi radio and reach basic fluency. As I said in the beginning, I eventually realized that I spent way too much time reading or writing about learning languages rather than actually learning them, so I will try to update this log only once every now and then.
.. not the shortest journal entry for a person who talks about keeping it short in order to spend more time learning and less time talking about it. Thank's to anyone who read this far.