After almost a year I have finally picked up my studies of Farsi where I left them. This amazing language has been laying dormant on my wish list for a long time, I started learning it twice already and twice have I failed to carry on. The fact, that there are or were no Farsi speakers around was one of the reasons for my pause, but not a very good excuse for it to have taken such a long time.
Either way it is or was, not having anyone around to practice the language at the beginning is not a very good motivating factor. I know now, how some people really have no choice but to rely on course books and I express my deep respect to those who live in places with little chances of meeting speakers of their target language and can mostly rely only on course books, make the most of their studies and really learn a foreign language to fluency this way.
Farsi really is a wonderful language and the sheer thought that I could freely converse or read in it one day is very exciting so one month ago, I have decided, that I just have to force myself into my studies and be persistent. I wanted to write a short blog entry about where I stand and what ideas I have about the language now.
Farsi is an Indo-European language with heavy lexical influence from Arabic and it uses the Arabic script. I was a bit afraid of this first, not because of the fact that the script would be difficult to learn (I mean, I learned how to read Chinese) but rather because it would slow the learning process down. Luckily, there are plenty of materials in transliterated Farsi with good audio, so I could skip this part until I would (hopefully) be fluent one day and learn the script then. I am not an expert when it comes to which language course is the best, but I used Assimil Romanian once and I thought it was ok so I tried Assimil Farsi and am currently on lesson no. 56.
- Transliterated texts all the way to the last lesson
- Male and female voices (nice to listen to) in the recording
- Slow recording speed, gradually picking up
- Gradual introduction of sounds from easy to difficult
- Good order of grammar introduction, except for the fist couple of lessons
- Review lessons every 6 or so lessons
- Good vocabulary choice, very few unnecessary words (like spoon, knife and so on)
- Vocabulary explained nicely
- Grammar is explained in a slightly confusing way at the beginning (introducing past tense first in order to explain the existence of two verbal radicals)
- Practice sentences are random and have no logical sequence (some might consider this to be good practice, but for me, I find it better to have dialogues or texts in a logical sequence because I can remember them easier. Plus sentences in a logical sequence often pop up in real life discussions in the same sequence as well making guesswork easier.)
- Sometimes the practice sentences are intentionally artificial to show the possible combinations of Farsi grammar, but in real life the occurrence of these practice sentences is minimal. They only prove a point, but are not very practical.
- For me, I find the grammar to be explained in a very slow way. It is often distributed into several lessons (for instance the 3 persons in plural and singular past tense of the verb to be were introduced gradually in 4-5 lessons)
- In my opinion, the whole course could be jammed into 40 lessons instead of almost a hundred, but then it would be aimed at a different type of a student and would abandon the Assimil philosophy.
The grammar of Farsi is not too alien to me, because I speak Italian and German, but the vocabulary is very distant and so similarly to Chinese, I have to learn almost every word. I am not sure how correct this is, but I read somewhere, that 40% of the Persian vocabulary is Arabic. There are some very nice cognates with Romance and Germanic languages though. Apart from the most obvious ones like bad (bad), tche (che), barâdar (brother), nou (new) and others, there are also a few mind blowing vocabulary relations to Slavic languages:
vopors – to ask (Rus vopros – question, Svk prosiť – to ask)
Zohré (Venus, Svk Zornička - Venus)
zohr – morning (Svk zore – morning red sky)
zan – woman (Svk žena - woman)
zemestân - winter (Svk zima - winter)
zamin – ground (Svk zem - ground)
Here’s a list of some other cognates I found so far:
Hast – there is, il y a, es gibt
Barâdar – brother
Markaz - market
Mâdar - mother
Dochtâr - doughter
Kelid – key
There are a lot of other cognates as well, but they are obviously much younger:
garson – boy
botri – bottle
taxi – taxi
Understand first approach
I am trying to use something similar to when I was learning Russian and something that I think could be used for any language, even Chinese to a certain extent: that is to be able to understand effortlessly what people say first and learn how to speak later. This is a bit different from the silent period method, because I think trying to speak from the beginning is very ok, I just don’t concentrate on speaking itself and don't make a big deal out of making mistakes for now.
I am trying to get to the end of the book, have a decent understanding of the grammar and be able to passively understand every dialogue without much effort. Because of the lack of Farsi speakers around me, I can only talk to myself and I do that only now and then to see what expressions I’m looking for and try to review the grammar of those, but I don’t stress it too much if I can't remember the correct grammar forms.
In the first 20 or so lessons, I tried not to look at the romanized transliterations of the texts as much as I could in order to not get negatively influenced by the pronunciation of the roman letters in other languages and only listened to the recordings. I tried to remember the translations by heart and associate them to the Farsi sound. After these 20 or so lessons, when I felt comfortable enough, I started to read the transliterations as well.
Why I like this approach is, that I really do not have to put a lot of actual study time into my learning process – or at least what I call study time. Study time for me is all the bad stuff when I have to sit and read the course book, try to understand the explanations and memorize vocabulary. What I do is, I read the texts a couple of times, try to understand the accompanying grammar explanations, memorize the new vocabulary using simple mnemonics and then just play the text recording over and over again until I can understand it effortlessly. I then listen to it whenever I’m in the gym or on my way to somewhere else and just by listening to the recordings I review the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, but by putting much less effort into it.
Another thing is that with this approach, I am not stressed out from trying to find correct words, grammar, pronunciation and on top of that try to understand what people are saying to me. I can see a lot of progress, which keeps me happy and motivated.
When it comes to grammar, luckily there was almost nothing so far that I couldn’t have related to in other languages. I try to associate everything I come across to something I already know from other languages to make the progress easier. The goal really is to simply be able to understand every sound recording in the course book as fast as I can. Then again, I only put in around an hour per day or so, so I don’t think I could achieve much more anyway.
Assimil is of course only a course book, and however well or bad it may be written, learning how to speak and understand the living language is a completely different story. I will try to find a conversation partner when I get to the end of this book and learn the language by simple conversations and living language audio input (bbc Rooze haftom podcast, or NHK Farsi News podcast).